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Pastiera Napolitana Di Grano

This beautifully complex Easter cake is from Napoli. It takes between one and three days to make depending on whether you can buy rather than make the unique ingredient of wheat, which is soaked then cooked with milk, lemon rind, vanilla and cinnamon.

It tastes of soft sunshine and the perfume of spring. It's best made no later than Good Friday so that the fragrance and flavours can mingle and it gets better and better as you eat the left overs in the week after, so make sure you always make a big one. It's light but rich and the recipe is old and unchanged from time when the nuns of San Gregorio Armeno made it. It perfectly reflects the unique history and nature of this crazy city we love so much and transports us back every Easter.

San Gregorio Armeno in Naples was built in the 10th century over the remains of a Roman temple dedicated to Ceres the goddess of the harvest which makes the use of wheat even more appropriate. It was for a group of nuns escaping from the Byzantine Empire in the 8th century with the relics of St. Gregory, bishop of Armenia at the time when the Christian Church was fiercely split over the issue of the use of religious icons.

The first time we had this delicious cake was when it was made as a treat by our dear Neopolitana friend, Teresa who packed slices for us to eat on the train from Napoli to Roma.

Considering I don't have a Neopolitan Nonna or a Nun to watch and learn how to make it, I have tried a few written recipes and eventually landed on the one I think is best. It is Antonio Carluccio's Mothers' recipe in his book Complete Italian Cooking . (she was from Naples and so I assume it is authentic).

In recent years, we have been able to buy jars of pre-cooked wheat from any good Italian Alimentari which makes the process much easier and quicker.

Here is the recipe. If you choose to do so, you wont regret adopting this delight as part of your annual Easter spread.

Pastiera Recipe

For the pastry

150g of caster sugar

150g of butter

yolks of large eggs

300 g of plain flour

In a large bowl, work together the butter, sugar and eggs until smooth, gradually add the flour and mix to make a smooth pastry. put in the fridge or a cool place for at least 1 hour or even overnight.

For the filling

(If you are making the wheat from scratch)

200 g whole wheat

500ml full cream milk

rind of 1/2 lemon

Soak the wheat for 24 hours with a few changes of water, then simmer the grain in the milk with the lemon rind of for 3-4 hours. Take off the heat and let cool.

(If you have a jar of cooked wheat - grano cotto per pastiera)

500g of cooked wheat in a jar or a tin

grated zest of a lemon

a big pinch of ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons of vanilla sugar

grated zest of 1/2 orange

500g fresh ricotta

4 large eggs, separated

1 small wine glass of orange blossom water

150g candied peel, finely chopped

225g caster sugar

butter for greasing the pan and icing sugar for dusting

Put the cooked wheat in a bowl and add the cinnamon, vanilla sugar, and lemon and orange zest. Leave overnight in the fridge for the flavours to mingle.

The next day, in a large bowl, beat the ricotta with the egg yolks and the orange blossom water. Add the candied peel, and the cooked wheat to the mixture.

Beat the egg whites with the sugar until still and then fold this gently into the mixture.

Grease a 3cm flan pan with butter. Roll our the pastry and line the pan covering the bottom and the sides.

Pour in the filling.

Roll the left over pasty into thin strips and make a lattice pattern on the top.

Bake for about 45 minutes at around 190 degrees until light golden brown.

Allow to cool and then dust with icing sugar before you serve.

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