9 April 2014

Memories of Ravello with an Easter Wheat Pie (Pastiera di Grano)


One of the joys of travelling is reliving those precious moments even years later. When I travel I have always taken hundreds, if not thousands, of photos. Long before blogging I was taking photos of the food at my table while on even the smallest of adventures. There’s something so evocative to me about pictures of food and the power they have to vividly remind me of mouth-watering meals and moments that I’ve had on my travels. I can look at my culinary photos and remember exactly where I was, the scent of the dish placed in front of me, and the way the flavours opened up on my palate. In many cases the taste or smell of something in my past is capable of painting a picture with richer, deeper brush strokes than any snapshot in my photo album. Recreating those same dishes in your own kitchen is pure magic.




Many years ago, while flipping casually through a travel magazine, I saw a photo that took my breath away. It showed a ragged mountainside, lush and green and covered with golden hued buildings that seemed to crawl slowly down the mountain toward an incredibly azure blue sea. The beauty of it was staggering and remained etched in my mind. This was the Amalfi Coastline. 

Did the Amalfi Coast live up to my dreams? It goes without saying that I was struck by its beauty. As I travelled along the coast either by Sita bus or car each and every turn was a promise of a jaw-dropping sight more beautiful than the last. Pastel coloured villages were perched high on the cliffs or cascaded into the cobalt sea with its wash of green and blue hues. Tiny coves with ancient fishing cottages and sandy pebbled beaches littered with brightly coloured wooden boats lay in hidden nooks and crannies along the twisted road. The sun gleamed on golden domes and colourful ceramic mosaics beamed on proud churches that stood sentinel over every small town. Winter was upon us but there were still many sun-drenched days perfect for strolling the cobblestoned streets and window shopping, or even swimming along the coast. I spent many an afternoon on a pebbly beach taking in the ambiance in November. 

Driving on the Amalfi Coast Road, you’ll spot terraces of lemon and orange groves climbing high up the steep cliffs. They are protected from winter winds by an elaborate armour of chestnut tree scaffolding and trellis systems. It is quite the experience to spot the bright citrus fruits caught somewhere between the majestic mountains and the blue sea. Once only reached by mule along difficult mountain paths, the isolation of this stunningly scenic region also attracted writers and artists in abundance. Homer made the limestone islands southwest of Positano the home of his Sirens in the trials of Odysseus. 

As I took the Sita bus from Amalfi with some new found friends we approached a turnoff where signs pointed inland to Ravello.  Here the road becomes steeper and the air became crisper. The road was quite narrow but still easily accommodated two lanes of traffic.. in most places.

The town of Ravello is set like an eagles nest above the dizzying landscape overlooking the sea.  It felt completely different to Positano and the other towns that had been my home for the last few days.  It was very romantic, with its sleepy lanes and medieval looking churches and buildings. Hovering 350 metres above the sea, it commands the greatest panorama of all. AndrĂ© Gide evocatively described it as “nearer to the sky than it is to the sea.” Wagner chose it as the magical garden setting for his opera Parsifal.
"But for all its grand inhabitants and visitors, the magic of this unique area lies in its simplicity. It’s in the abundant lemon trees, the olive groves and fragrant cypresses, the vibrant market stalls, narrow streets and charming churches; it jostles among the pretty fishing boats, lingers on the secluded beaches, and grabs your attention with its Roman villas, ancient watchtowers and fascinatingly evocative history." (John Brunton)
We steadily climbed Ravello's quiet streets of coloured stucco houses, lemon groves and wrought iron gates occasionally disappearing down alleys passing flat-capped men playing dominoes on our ascent to the gardens at the Villa Cimbrone. We wandered among the arbours and rose gardens, and paused for the heart stopping views of the Gulf of Sorrento from the Terrace of Infinity. After spending some time in the gardens, we walked back down to the piazza of Ravello to window shop and grab a snack and reflect on the activities of the day. I chose a pastiera and a macchiatto at one of the little shops in the square. As the sun was setting the golden light was bounced off the buildings, bathing everyone in the square with an angelic glow as we sat gathering our own thoughts.  

The Amalfi Coast seduces its visitors not only with the wonderful panoramas and the intense blue sea, but also with the flavours and tastes of the local cuisine. Sheltered amongst plantings of olive trees, bright orange and yellow lemons, oranges, and mandarins dot the lush green landscape where almost every inch of space seems to be used. If you celebrate holidays with Italians, you probably associate Easter with a lot of delicious foods. We must never forget dessert and since it is Easter it brings to mind a golden, creamy, almost-cheesecake-like pie called pasteria or “wheat pie.” It’s made with a sweet pastry dough, and the filling includes a combination of creamy ricotta and orange or lemon zest along with the texture of cooked wheat.
Easter is filled with traditional desserts, the most important being this Neopilitan treasure... pasteria, a centuries-old disc that appears in innumerable versions.  Each family has its own closely guarded recipe and discusses it at length with friends and neighbours, everybody tasting each other’s and commenting on them all. This pastry is offered to guests for at least a week around Easter time (and that is how long the pasteria will keep if kept refrigerated). 
"The first thing that strikes you about Pastiera Napoletana is its scent. It’s like smelling a bouquet of orange flowers. Indeed orange flower water and orange peel go into this pie, which has a crisp golden crust and a soft, creamy filling of ricotta, sugar, eggs and cooked wheat, flavoured with cinnamon and vanilla."
These days you can purchase the cooked wheat in cans at your local Italian grocers. It is a little more time consuming but you can also make your own as in the recipe below. Once the wheat has soaked the recipe comes together quite quickly. Why not try a taste of the Italian coast at your Easter table this year with this lemony version based on a recipe from Food.com

**Easter Wheat Pie (Pasteria di Grano)**

Filling

18 ounces whole milk
3 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons freshly grated lemon zest
8 large eggs
2 1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest
1 lb whole milk ricotta cheese (drained if very wet)

Wheat

2 cups cooked wheat (about 1/2-3/4 pound of dry wheat should = 2 cups cooked) or 1 1/2-2 cups cooked drained arborio rice
1/2 cup whole milk
4 tablespoons butter

Crust

1/2-3/4 cup butter
3 eggs or 2 extra large egg yolks
2 1/2-3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/2-1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon rind

Lightly butter 2 9-inch cake pans. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

To Prepare the Crust: Mix flour, sugar and lemon peel together in a bowl. Work butter into flour using your fingers until it is the size of peas. (I always like to grate my butter into the flour mixture. A tip I learned years ago on the Food Network). 

Add eggs one at a time, mixing with a wooden spoon.

Knead the dough lightly until it holds together well and clears the bowl. Form dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and chill it for about 1/2- 1 hour before using.

To Make Filling: Fill the bottom of a double boiler with enough water so that its insert doesn't quite touch the water; bring the water to a boil.

Mix the whole milk, 3 egg yolks, sugar, flour, 2 tablespoons lemon zest together in the insert of the double boiler which has been set in to the bottom pan.

Cook the"cream," stirring constantly until it has thickened and is the consistency of a thick pudding (about 20-30 minutes).

Remove the insert from the boiling water and set aside to allow the"cream" to cool, stir occasionally to keep a skin from forming.

Note: I sometimes put the insert pan with the"cream" mixture into a bowl of very cold water, to help it cool down faster, don't forget to stir it.

To a saucepan add the cooked, soaked, well drained wheat (see below) with the milk and butter.


Cook the wheat mixture, stirring occasionally until the butter melts, and mixture starts to boil; boil for 1 minute.

Remove from heat and let cool.

In a separate bowl mix ricotta, 8 eggs, sugar and 2 teaspoons lemon zest together. Beat mixture by hand, with a wooden spoon, until smooth and creamy.


Add the"cream" mixture and the cooked and drained wheat mixture to the ricotta filling, stirring until all is well blended.

On a lightly floured board, roll out the chilled dough to about 1/8 inch thick and line the bottom and sides of two lightly buttered 9-inch glass cake pans.

Leave a 1/2 inch overhang of dough. Re-roll scraps and cut into 1/2 inch wide strips to use as a lattice top for the pie. 

Pour or ladle the filling into prepared pans (to within 1/4 inch of the top of the pan).

Place the strips of dough across the filling, spaced about 1 inch apart (at right angles) forming a lattice top.


Fold the 1/2 inch overhang over the edges of the lattice and flute well.

Bake pies in a preheated 350°F oven for about 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the bottom of the crust is light brown, the center is set, and the top of the pies are golden.

Turn off oven and let the pies cool for an hour in the oven with the oven door slightly ajar.

Remove pies from oven and place on a wire rack. When completely cooled, cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill until serving.

If you like, you can give the pie tops a light sprinkle of powdered sugar before serving.

A hint: Its best to serve this pie directly from the pan, as trying to plate the whole pie is more trouble than its worth, and causes breakage.

NOTE: PreparingThe Wheat: If"soaked" or"precooked" canned wheat is not available, dry wheat may be used.

Cover the dry wheat with cold water (water should be about 2 inches over the wheat) and boil it for 15 minutes or until the wheat berries crack open.

Remove pan from heat and allow wheat to soak for a full 24 hours.

After soaking, drain well before using.

If canned wheat is used, add the wheat to a pan of boiling water and cook it for about 5-10 minutes (most of the wheat berries should be open and they should be chewy but tender).

Drain well, let cool.

Other Easter Pies on the Web…

Ciao Chow Linda
Barefoot Kitchen Witch
Pastiera with Balsamic Strawberries and Basil - Sass and Verasity
Due SpaghettPasteria, Neapolitan Ricotta and Rice Pie
Pastiera Napoletana



You are reading this post on More Than Burnt Toast at http://morethanburnttoast.blogspot.com. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author/owner of More Than Burnt Toast. All rights reserved by Valerie Harrison. Best Blogger Tips

27 comments:

  1. Wonderful post. This is a part of Italy that I have never visited but your description makes me want to go back just to see this. Beautiful! And your post reminds me of two desserts I had in Budapest at two different tea salons, and those and one or two meals are the strongest memories I have of that trip. Funny, isn't it? I love this tart, this crostata, love the ricotta filling. I must try this.

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    1. Food memories are so evocative Jamie. I have never been to Budapest but it is on my bucket list.

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  2. Lovely memories and fabulous place! This pie sounds and looks absolutely divine. A great Easter treat.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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  3. You've captured the Amalfi coast in all of it's beauty. Wish I was there right now, sitting on a little balcony sharing your Easter pie.
    Sam

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  4. Lovely post and photos of your Amalfi coast trip, Val. I've ever been and loved reading about it. Your travels through Italy are always make for a great p=ost.
    Never have heard of this pie...but it sounds (and looks) delicious. Italians love ricotta!

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  5. Really, one of the best parts of travel is the food.

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  6. I'm going to be in Ravello soon. Fantastic pics! I'm also going to taste pastiera soon... I think it is an amazing cake.

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  7. That pie has been a family Easter tradition. My sister took over making them from the generation before us since I don't bake. Many people add citron or chocolate chips (we do chips).

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    1. I also saw that some people add orange blossom water as well. I imagine there are many different recipes. This may be our new family tradition.

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  8. one of my mom's favorite things EVER is grain pie! And I've never made it for her. Shame on me! Thanks for sharing this...I'll have to try it!

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  9. Travelling is a gift that keeps on giving. One can live years of one memorable trip. Food memories are the best, they take you back to the place, fragrance, flavours...Great description of your tour, I felt like I was there travelling up that road.

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  10. Lovely memories Val and I love the pie!! xo

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  11. I think I will steal this recipe for my Easter dinner....

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  12. Oh Val, what a magical fulfillment of your dream!!! Ravello looks amazing, as does this beautiful pie. :-)

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  13. Oh yes, food memories from our travels do stay with us. I can remember pulling off at a tiny cafe on the edge of the narrow Amalfi road and being served grilled fresh sardines and vegetables. I have heard about the easter pie but have never had it…I'm sure it is delicious.

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    1. There are surprises around every corner Karen.

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  14. Your photos are stunning and need to put this destination on my bucket list! I take so many photos on holidays too. Now it just the issue on how to back them all up and to find them when you need them. Still working on that one. Food memories are always something very personalized. Sometimes you can taste something you have not tried since your childhood and then within seconds it can take you back in time. Great post!

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    1. I am still working on my organization too Bam:D A work in progress.

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  15. Oh, what a beautiful tour you've given us, Val! And this citrus-y Easter pie is gorgeous! A piece with strong coffee, please!

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    1. You make the coffee Susan!!

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  16. Beautiful! Your Pastiera looks great, and your photographs are absolutely stunning! Happy Easter to you and yours!

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  17. I love your opening paragraph Val, your words drew me in immediately! Ravello is on my bucket list, I must go there and you just made me want to go there even more!
    Everything about this post is beautiful!

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    1. You absolutely must go. It is something we must experience at least once in our lifetime.

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  18. Such beautiful photos. Amalfi coast is a party of Italy I have never been too and hope see someday. *Sigh* It's a big world and a short life.

    My family, despite being of heavy Italian extraction didn't always do a lot of traditional Italian Easter foods. We always had my great-grandmother's pizza rustica ("Easter Pie") recipe though. My mother says she has memories of Nonni doing a sweet version. I'm sure it was quite a bit like this.

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  19. Such a beautiful post full of tribute to a glorious place on earth and with a timely, delicious Easter Pie on top! I know that I'm making an Easter Pie this year!

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  20. Val - I took photos of food long before I blogged! Such a heartfelt post! Love your version of the pie - pretty close to mine! We cannot get the wheat in MN so must use farro or wheat berries (boo.) I grew up with this pie and it's just not Easter without it. (Confess to being jealous - much better photos than mine!)

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Welcome to my home. Thank you so much for choosing to stay a while and for sharing our lives through food. I appreciate all your comments, suggestions, daily encouragement and support.

Val

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