This famous Easter cake is a wonderful survivor of Naples' culinary traditions and is now much appreciated in all of Italy. Its exotic ingredients are a reminder of the past, when Phoenicians, Arabs, crusaders, and Romans would come into Naples harbor with their bounty of new found spices and flavorings. Whole soft spring wheat kernels (grano) are part of the filling and represent the importance of wheat in ancient Rome as well as the season and the earth's return to fertility.
Although somewhat tedious in preparation and rich in ingredients I guarantee to convert you to this marvelous and light Easter tradition.
Prepare The Grano
3/4 C. soft wheat kernels (grano)
2 Qts. whole milk
1 piece lemon peel
2 T. sugar
2 drops vanilla extract
2 T. butter
Soak the wheat kernels overnight in a large bowl filled with cold water to cover. Next day, drain the grano, and rinse it with cold running water. Drain well and let stand in the drainer until needed.
In a large saucepan combine the milk, lemon peel, cinnamon, salt, sugar, vanilla, butter and the drained grano. Bring to a boil and then gently simmer for about 3 hours or until the grano kernel is completely opened. Remove and discard the lemon peel, transfer the grano to a platter to cool.
Prepare The Pastry Cream (Crema)
3 extra large egg yolks
3 T. sugar
2 tsp. potato starch or flour
1 small piece of lemon peel or orange peel
1 C. cold milk
Put the egg yolks in a bowl; add the sugar and the starch. Stir with a wooden spoon until the egg yolks turn a lighter color. Slowly add the milk, then the lemon peel. Put some water to a boil on the bottom of a double boiler. Transfer the mixture to the top part of the double boiler and insert the top after the bottom water is boiling. Stir the mixture constantly until thick enough to coat a spoon. DO NOT BOIL. Remove from the heat and continue to stir for about 2-3 more minutes. Remove and discard the lemon peel; transfer the mixture to a bowl to cool. Prepare The Pastry (Pasta Frolla)
6 T. butter (or 3 T. butter and 3 T. lard)
1 1/2 C. flour
1/4 C. sugar
3 extra large egg yolks
Mix the flour and sugar in a bowl. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Mix in the egg yolks. Gather the dough into a ball, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Butter or lard the inside of a 10 inch spring form pan. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
After the pastry dough has rested, roll it out between 2 pieces of parchment or waxed paper to form a round of dough about 1/8 inch thick. Carefully line the inside of the springform pan with the round of dough, allowing the extra dough to hang over the edge.
Prepare The Filling
1 lb. whole milk ricotta
1/2 C. sugar
3/4 C. finely chopped mixed candied citron, orange peel and lemon
Grated rind 1/4 lemon
1 T. rose water or 2 T. orange flower water
2 tsp. orange extract
2 extra large eggs – separate the yolks from the whites
Cooled pastry cream
Place the ricotta, sugar, rose water, orange extract, lemon rind and cinnamon in a large bowl, mixing thoroughly. Add in the egg yolks, one at a time; then the candied fruits, cooked grano, and the pastry cream.
Separately beat the egg whites until as stiff as snow. With a rubber spatula, gently fold the beaten egg whites into the ricotta mixture. Pour or spoon the mixture into the pastry lined pan. Cut off the excess dough from the edge of the pan. Form the excess dough into a ball, roll it out and cut into 1/2 inch wide strips. Place the strips in a crisscross pattern over the filling to form a lattice.
Place the pan in the oven and bake for about 2 hours, until browned. If the top begins to brown too early, cover it with a tin foil circle. Remove from the oven onto a wire rack and let it stand in the pan until cool. Remove the springform ring and transfer the pastiera to a large platter. Sprinkle with confectioners sugar and serve, slicing it like a pie.
Serve when cool, or refrigerate and serve the next day. This tastes better if prepared one day ahead and will last 1 week under refrigeration.