Tra­di­tional Neapoli­tan

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

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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.

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