In ‘Foods of the World’ by Time Life Books, Waverley Roots says that Napoli (Naples) is the culinary capital of the south. Hennie Fisher explores Italian flavours
ON A recent trip to Napoli we were very fortunate to meet up with Pretoria restaurateur Fortunato Mazzone (also known as Forti, the man behind Ritrovo Restaurant in Waterkloof and the BICCCS shops in Gauteng and the Western Cape). He and his family were on their annual visit to Pietrastornina, the village from where his father originated. The Mazzones graciously showed us around the village and the surrounding Campania province. We visited numerous market stalls and coffee shops where we were offered many tasty little morsels along the way, ending the day with a gigantic and delicious meal at a restaurant in Napoli.
Research into “traditional” Neapolitan Christmas tarts and pies delivered few definitive results. Rum Babàs, deliciously moist, ever so elegantly light and moreish yeast buns soaked in rum syrup known to the locals as babà napoletano, were available in every pastry shop around Christmastime. At the B&B where we stayed, our hostess offered us a traditional Christmas tart of the region — Pastiera Napoletana — for breakfast. However, none of us really got into the tart, thinking that it tasted slightly “soapy” and we (unkindly) thought it had just been hanging around for too long. Ricotta is of course often used in Italian pastries, and the following recipe (which I found in the Könemann Culinaria book on Italy) combines ricotta with a surprise element — wheat. The recipe suggests soaking the grains over a three-day period, with frequent changes of water. I cooked the wheat in a pressure cooker with successful results.
While this tart makes a delicately flavoured, delicious dessert with a dollop of thick yoghurt, cream or ice cream on day one, it developed the same soapy taste from day two onwards. So, if you do not plan to finish it at once, it would be better to keep it refrigerated in an airtight container. Traditional Neapolitan Ricotta tart 90g butter, room temperature 90g castor sugar 3 egg yolks 5ml (1t) vanilla essence 180g flour FILLING: 60g (1/3 cup) uncooked wheat or pearl barley — cooked in a pressure cooker in enough water to cover for ½ hour 1 cup milk ½ lemon, finely zested ¼t ground cinnamon 15ml (1T) sugar 100g lemon peel, crystallised, chopped 2 eggs, separated 15ml orange flower water 150g raisins or sultanas 150g ricotta 100g sugar While the wheat is cooking in the pressure cooker, prepare the pastry case. In a bowl mix together the butter, castor sugar, egg yolks and vanilla essence. As soon as the mixture looks slightly amalgamated, add the flour and combine into a smooth mass. Knead very lightly. Wrap in plastic and chill. Remove from the fridge and roll out on a floured surface. Line a 25cm pastry ring, and reserve the pastry offcuts for decoration.
Drain the wheat from the water and gently boil again with the milk, 15ml sugar, the lemon rind and the cinnamon. Stir now and again to ensure it does not burn, but until all the moisture has been absorbed or evaporated. Cool slightly, and then mix in the lemon peel, ricotta, egg yolks, sugar, and orange flower water. Beat the egg whites until stiff and fold gently into the mixture. Pour into the prepared pastry case and smooth over the mixture. Decorate with the remaining pastry and brush with a little bit of egg-wash or milk. Bake at 180°C for about 35 minutes until the pastry is golden and the filling has risen slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature dusted with icing sugar.