Pastiera: history, information, interesting facts


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Pastiera: history, information, interesting facts

THE HISTORY OF NEAPOLITAN PASTIERA, INFO AND INTERESTING FACTS. LET’FIND OUT ITS INGREDIENTS. LET’S SAVOR ITS CHARM BY VISITING ITS PLACES, MEETING ITS PEOPLE AND LISTENING TO ITS MUSIC. LET’S ENJOY ITS AUTHENTIC FLAVOR THANKS TO THE MOST TRADITIONAL PASTRY SHOPS.

‘Pastiera’ is a traditional tart from the Italian city of Naples. A specialty with very ancient origins, rich in symbolic elements connecting it to important divinities of the past (such as Ceres, goddess of fertility) and to the theme of resurrection: it’s therefore no coincidence that it’s considered the Easter dessert par excellence. Let’s find out where the great charm of this delicacy comes from and many interesting facts. Let’s visit the historic pastry shops making it, so as to savor its authentic taste.


Pastiera: the Neapolitan Easter pie.

What is ‘Pastiera’?

‘Pastiera’ is a shortcrust pastry cake, not very different from the classic tart, stuffed with a soft filling made of, among the other ingredients, wheat, ricotta cheese, candied fruit and orange blossom essence. Although it has always been considered the most traditional Neapolitan Easter cake, nowadays it’s sold by many pastry shops throughout the year.
Thanks to its great qualities, Pastiera has been included in the list of the most Traditional Agri-Food Products from the Italian Region of Campania (P.A.T.).


Napolitan pastiera. Napolitan pastiera.

Neapolitan Pastiera: ingredients.

eHre follows the list of ingredients for the shortcrust pastry and the filling used to make the classic Pastiera:


Shortcrust pastry for Neapolitan pastiera. Shortcrust pastry for Neapolitan pastiera.

SHORTCRUST PASTRY

00 flour;
Butter or Lard;
Sugar;
Eggs;


The filling for Neapolitan Pastiera. The filling for Neapolitan Pastiera.

FILLING

Ricotta cheese (made with cow’milk);
Sugar;
Whole milk;
Cooked corn;
Eggs;
Candied orange and cedar;
Orange blossom water;
Lemon and orange zest;

The most famous legends about Pastiera.

Mermaid Parthenope (img-01)

Many and full of charm are the legends describing the birth of Pastiera, the Neapolitan Easter dessert par excellence.
Among them, the most famous tells of a mermaid, Partenope (* 1), who at the beginning of every spring used to cheer the people of the Gulf (*2) with her enchanting singing. People who, each year, as a sign of gratitude, commissioned seven beautiful girls to offer her the most precious gifts of nature: flour, wheat, eggs, ricotta cheese, orange blossom water, sugar and spices. The story ends with the siren that, also thanks to the help of the gods, mixes these ingredients giving life to Pastiera.
Another legend tells of the families of some fishermen, worried about the fate of their missing relatives. To gain the favor of the sea, they leave on the shore baskets full of wheat, eggs, ricotta cheese and candied fruit. During the night, the waves mix these ingredients, thus creating the famous dessert.

Notes:
*1: The mermaid Parthenope is still the symbol of the Italian city of Naples. From her name comes the adjective ‘parthenopean’.
*2: The Gulf of Naples.


View of the Gulf of Naples.

The history of Neapolitan Pastiera.

Although many of the legends about the birth of Pastiera are nothing but beautiful fairy tales, they could be useful to identify the historical period in which this dessert began to take shape, namely the classical era. In this regard, it should be remembered that many testimonies refer to the existence of similar desserts over the centuries.
That said, most of the sources agree in tracing the origins of Pastiera, as we know it today, to the 16th Century. The same sources go further, identifying its first makers: the nuns of the monastery of San Gregorio Armeno, a fascinating place of worship located in the very heart of Naples (*1).



Despite this attribution of paternity (or, better, motherhood), may not be entirely true, it’s certain that these nuns were particularly skilled in preparing the cake: not by chance, during Easter, they used to send their Pastieras to the most important aristocratic families of the city.

Note:
*1: The monastery can be visited still today: for more information, visit this page.

Pastiera and Maria Theresa of Austria.

Maria Teresa Isabella of Habsburg-Teschen (img-02)

‘Pastiera’ is included in several anecdotes, more or less real, involving personalities who have played an important role in the history of the city of Naples. The most interesting and fascinating of these anecdotes has as its protagonist Maria Theresa of Austria (*1), wife of Ferdinand II of Bourbon (*2), a woman so austere and reserved to be known as a person who never smiled. Some verses composed by an unknown author, handed down to the present day, Ferdinand II of Bourbon (img-03) tell of the circumstance in which a slice of the cake was offered to the queen, stressing the fact that, when she tasted it, her face suddenly changed expression, finally looking happy (*3). A true miracle, so surprising and unexpected to make her husband exclaim “E che marina! Pe fa ridere a tte, ce vò a Pastiera?” (“My goodness! It seems that, to make you laugh, Pastiera is absolutely needed!”), prompting him to order the cook to prepare the dessert more often: “E mò c’o saccio ordino al cuoco che, a partir d’adesso, stà Pastiera la faccia un po’ più spesso. Nun solo a Pasca, che altrimenti è un danno; pe te fà ridere adda passà n’at’ anno!” (*4).

Notes:
*1: Maria Teresa Isabella of Habsburg-Teschen (1816-1867), Queen of the Two Sicilies, not to be confused with Maria Teresa of Habsburg, mother of Marie Antoinette.
*2: Ferdinand II of Bourbon, ruler of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies from 1830 to 1859, nicknamed the “Bomb King”, after his order to bomb the city of Messina.
*3: It is said that the queen, referring to the Pastiera she was tasting, said “E’ o’Paraviso!” (“it’s paradise!”).
*4: “Now that I know this, I will order the cook to make Pastiera not only at Easter, since I can’t wait another year to see you smiling”.


Egg Castle, Naples (img-04)

Pastiera and Easter.

La Resurrezione di Gesù Cristo, Raffaello (img-05)

‘Pastiera’ is the type of dessert that, at Easter, must be present on the table of every true Neapolitan. After all, the symbolism connecting this specialty to the religious holiday celebrating Christ’s resurrection is very strong, starting with its ingredients: above all the egg (*1), representing in many cultures the rebirth, and wheat, the emblem of life itself. Impossible not to mention the orange blossom water, whose flavor reminds of spring.

Note:
*1: It is said that, in ancient times, the priestesses of the mother goddess Ceres carried the egg in procession as a symbol of rebirth: centuries later the same symbol was inherited by the Christian religion.

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The most traditional desserts, the historic pastry shops.

Pastiera and literature.

Giambattista Basile (img-06)

Many are the references to Pastiera in literature. One of the oldest quotes dates back to the 17th century and can be found in the fairy tale ‘La gatta Cenerentola’ (original name ‘La gatta cennerentola’), written by Giambattista Basile and part of the collection ‘Lo cunto de li cunti’ (1634-1636).
Here follows the excerpt of the book in which the famous Easter dessert is mentioned:

“E’ venuto lo juorno destenato, oh bene mio: che mazzecatorio e che bazzara che se facette! Da dove vennero tante pastiere e casatielle?”

“The day was finally come my dear: what a great feast it was! Where all those pastiere and casatielle came from?”

Images of Naples.

Here follows some images very useful to understand the incredible beauty of the city of Pastiera: Naples.

Pastiera: the origins of the name.

The origins of the name ‘Pastiera’ cannot be determined with certainty. There are at least a couple of interesting theories:
The first, perhaps the most plausible, suggests that the word could derive from the pasta (spaghetti or, better yet, capellini) still used, especially in the province of Naples, to make an unusual type of Pastiera: the ‘Pastiera with sweet pasta’.
According to another theory, ‘Pastiera’ comes from the Neapolitan dialectal term ‘pastenare’ (‘to plant’), which in turn could be the evolution of the Latin verb ‘pastinare’ (‘to hoe’). This hypothesis would confirm the deep connection between this dessert and the ancient rites once used to propitiate the fertility of the soil.


Neapolitan Pastiera, detail.

Naples, the bithplace of Pastiera.

Naples, the ‘city of the sun’, is the county seat of Campania region. Its origins date back to the 8th Century BC.

Neapolitan Pastiera: video recipe.

Here follows an interesting video showing how to make the traditional Neapolitan Pastiera.

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Music for Pastiera.

The music of Roberto Murolo, one of the most famous Neapolitan singers of all time, is the ideal soundtrack to accompany the reading of this article:

Note: join Spotify and listen to the full songs.

‘Ruoto’ for Pastiera.

‘Ruoto’: the baking pan for Pastiera.

‘Ruoto’ is the Neapolitan dialectal name for the particular aluminum baking pan generally used for the cooking of Pastiera. Round in shape, its edge is smooth and of varying height. Given the fragility of the dessert, the Neapolitan pastry shops usually sell whole Pastieras with their own ‘ruoto’.

Pastiera with Parmesan by Antonio Latini.

Pastiera with Parmesan by Antonio Latini.

One of the most interesting testimonies about the evolution of Pastiera over the centuries can be found in the book ‘Lo scalco alla moderna’, written by Antonio Latini and published in 1693. The ingredients mentioned by the author in the recipe of the famous Neapolitan dessert are particularly fascinating: they include Parmesan cheese, pistachios and even Marzipan!

“ROLL UP GUYS! PASTIERA IS HERE!
IT’S A FLOWER BLOOMING IN SPRING,
PLEASING WITH ITS UNIQUE AROMA
THE NOSE FIRST, THEN THE BELLY.” (Author unknown)

Pastiera: calories and nutritional values.

Pastiera: calories and nutritional values.

It’s almost needless to say that Pastiera, like all desserts, is a kind of food hardly suitable for a diet: the average caloric content of a 100gr slice can vary, approximately, from 400 Kcal to 500 Kcal. As for nutritional values, this cake is rich in sugars (simple sugars and carbohydrates) and fats; proteins are also present, albeit in a lower percentage.

The right wines for Pastiera.

The right wines for Pastiera.

The right wine to accompany a tasty slice of Pastiera should be sweet, with good acidity and aromaticity. For example a Sweet Superior Marsala or a raisin wine such as Passito di Pantelleria.

Pastiera: historic pastry shops.

Neapolitan Pastiera: historic pastry shops.

We are working to locate the oldest Neapolitan pastry shop still in business. Here follows a brief list of some of the most traditional places to taste the authentic flavor of this dessert.
Gran Caffè Gambrinus
Via Chiaia 1/2, 80132 Naples;

Official website
Pasticceria Caflisch
Viale Colli Aminei, 66, 80131 Naples;

Official website
Pasticceria Scaturchio
Piazza San Domenico Maggiore, 19, 80134 Naples;
Official website
Pasticceria Carraturo
Via Domenico Cimarosa, 44, 80129 Naples;
Official website




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The following images are public domain:

img-01 (**) – Mermaid Parthenope, British Library HMNTS (Wikipedia Link) {PD-Art} {PD-US}
img-02 (*) – Maria Theresa of Austria (Wikipedia Link) {PD-Art} {PD-US}
img-03 (*) – Ferdinand II of Bourbon (Wikipedia Link) {PD-Art} {PD-US}
img-04 (*) – Egg castle, Antonie Sminck Pitloo (Wikipedia Link) {PD-Art} {PD-US}
img-05 (*) – The Resurrection of Jesus Christ, 1499/1502, Raffaello Sanzio (Wikipedia Link) {PD-Art} {PD-US}
img-06 (*) – Giambattista Basile (Wikipedia Link) {PD-Art} {PD-US}

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(**) Image released in public domain by its author.