Friday, April 03, 2009

A Taste for la Pasqua

La Pasqua (Easter) is next week and as well as the observations across the river - I'm told Big Ben and boys have a real bang up series of events planned - Italian families will be celebrating the holiday gathering for traditional meals. Every region has its particular foods or dishes associated with Easter though most include lamb as a main course. Last year, at my friends Simonetta and Renato's we began with broad beans, pecorino cheese and sausage. I don't recall if this was a Roman tradition or just a household one, but I do know it was a traditional start to the Easter meal.
Renato is cutting the sausage to accompany the pecorino and broad beans. Simon, Simonetta, Alberto Testa (a renowned Italian dancer, choreographer and critic) and Renato enjoy the beginning of the meal.

Natale con i tuoi, la Pasqua con chi vuoi -- "Christmas at home and Easter with whomever you wish" is an old Italian saying but most people still try to spend Easter weekend with families. However given distances and time it is not always possible. Take for example my friend Marco - you may recall he's the Napoletano who was teaching us to swear a while back. His family is not able to be together this Easter so he's heading down to Napoli this weekend. And even though he may not be getting to enjoy a traditional Napoletano Easter meal, he is going to be keeping up at least one local tradition: La Pastiera. Though many families leave the making of this Easter pastry to their local pasticceria, he tells me that his mother has always made her own and for many years its been a tradition for him to work along side her.

When I asked about her recipe he shrugged and said: About the recipe, I think every Napoletano has his own. A check on the Internet revealed the truth in his statement. The variations in preparation time and measurements are many but the basics remain the same: wheat kernels, candied citron, candied orange peel, orange flower water, and fresh ricotta.

There are several versions of how the recipe began. First there is the old legend of the mermaid Partenope and her use of the gifts given to her by the people of the Gulf. There is another story that says, like many things Napoletano, the sweet was born out of a time of want and hunger. The city had been gripped in a long famine and just before Easter a grain ship arrived. People were so hungry that rather than grind the wheat for bread they threw it directly into boiling water. Still another story suggests a nun in one of the many convents in Napoli was making a dolci for Easter and wanted to capture the scent of the orange blossoms in the cloister - thus orange flower water became a main ingredient.

Whichever story you choose to believe I have been told that it is possible to taste spring in every bite. And my friend Jolka tells me you can only get authentic Napoletano Pasteria one place in Roma. However Marco scoffs at that thought - he assures me that it isn't Pasteria if it isn't made in the shadow of Vesuvius and then is really only authentic if it comes from his mother's kitchen!

Maybe I should just ask him to save a piece and bring it back for me? I just wonder what the chances are of there being any left at the end of Sunday's dinner.

Here are a few sites that have recipes for "Authentic" Napoletano Pasteria:

http://www.eat-online.net/english/habits/easter/pastiera_napoletana.htm

http://www.dianasdesserts.com/index.cfm/fuseaction/recipes.recipeListing/filter/dianas/recipeID/128/Recipe.cfm

http://www.bakingobsession.com/2008/03/21/neapolitan-ricotta-and-wheat-berry-easter-pie-pastiera-napoletana/


And back in 1990 the New York Sunday Times published a Neapolitan Easter Menu that included a recipe for the traditional desert.

03 aprile - San Luigi Scrosoppi

4 comments:

sageweb said...

Those are the biggest beans I have seen in my life.

I want some pie now!

yellowdog granny said...

sweet goddess! them's some texas size beans..and i'd kill for some of that salami..sigh*

Doralong said...

OMG!! You has dinner with Alberto Testa??!! I seethe, seethe I tell you!

What, no ham??

evilganome said...

I'll be having Easter dinner in the bosom of my family. (The niece and I couldn't get out of it) I unfortunately will not be having Pizzagena this year since Nona is no longer working in the department

Sigh!

Instead I will be treated to every variation on Jell-o salad known to man. I suppose I have to pay for my sins somehow, since I don't observe Lent.