Pastiera is the queen of Neapolitan sweets, yet its composition is relatively simple. Shortcrust encases a filling of ricotta cheese, eggs, boiled grains of wheat, custard, candied fruit and aromatics, including orange flower water. All of this is topped with a lattice of the same pastry.
As with almost all the great Neapolitan pastries, pastiera was born in a convent – specifically, the Convent of San Gregorio Armeno in Naples’s centro storico. The nuns there were the first to bake hundreds of pastiere for the Neapolitan bourgeoisie. And that’s why the best pastiera is still to be found around the monastery.
And, as with many great pastries, this one has a legend associated with it. Here’s how it goes: Maria Cristina of Savoy, wife of King Ferdinand II, who ruled Sicily and southern Italy in the first half of the 19th century, was nicknamed “the Queen who never smiles.” One Easter, the court chef prepared pastiera for her. The Queen tried just tried a little bit and was so enraptured that she let out a beautiful smile in public. The king, like all husbands who complain about their sad wives, said: “We needed a pastiera to make my wife smile. Now I have to wait until next Easter to see her smile again.”




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