Eleonora Galasso’s taste of home
Making the glorious ricotta and candied fruit-filled pastiera with her favourite nun from convent school is
t Christmas time, the kitchen rejoices with reassuring smells. While a festive cotechino cooks quietly in the oven, I sometimes take a break from the boiling and chopping to sit down by the fire and peel some wrinkly, often gigantic, oranges.
As I throw the peel on to the fire, the scent of orange oil brings back memories of the cakes I made as a child. Many Italian cakes celebrate citrus, but the most splendidly citrussy of them all is pastiera, a glorious pastry pie stuffed with a symphony of soft
Aricotta, cooked wheat, eggs, orangeblossom water, spices and candied fruits. It’s actually an Easter recipe traditionally, but its ingredients sing of Christmas, and you can find it on Italian tables all year round.
I spent my childhood in a convent school. I was an unruly kid and was often put in the corner to “reflect”, so to speak. On a good day, my favourite nun, Suor Fortunata, would take me to the kitchen to help her cook. She was not only a teacher but took charge of the school refectory, overseeing what was served to the pupils. On Thursdays, the day before the traditional magro – a day of abstinence from all animal products and sweet indulgences – we would regularly be served pastiera. We were a rowdy lot, but just the sight of the pastiera had us goggle-eyed and orderly with anticipation.
Oranges are the essence of this cake. When eating it, I can’t help but be taken back to those childhood days when their bittersweet fragrance wafted through the air. The smell, the taste and the ritual of making pastiera makes me feel at home.