PASTIERA 2013 AND CANDIED ORANGE PEEL
Every year my nieces and I get together to make Pastiera di Grano. The recipe we use is one I have written about before. It comes from my Grandmother who was born on the island of Procida in Italy over a hundred years ago. Of course she never wrote it down, but she taught it to my mother, who was also a great baker. Mom and I figured out the measurements to get the cake to look and taste just like Grandma’s. You can find the recipe in my book 1,000 Italian Recipes. I think that my Grandmother would be very proud to know that we celebrate her memory this way every year.
I can find most of the ingredients to make Pastiera easily in my area of New York City. I buy the grano, which is wheat grain that has been polished to remove the hull, at Kalustyan’s, and fresh ricotta from Calabro at Fairway Market or Whole Foods. I bought a big bottle of orange flower water the last time I was in Italy (though many markets like ALC Italian Grocery in Brooklyn or Di Palo’s in Manhattan sell it) as well as a whole piece of candied citron. The biggest problem for me is always the candied orange peel. The commercially made peel is dried out and lacks flavor, so this year I decided to make my own. It was easy to do and a perfect project for the cold rainy day we had earlier this week. I made a big batch, so that we would have plenty for our cakes plus more to nibble as a small sweet after dinner. The pieces are crunchy with sugar, yet tender inside and the flavor is intensely orange. Next time, I will dip some in dark chocolate, a flavor combination I adore.
Wishing all a Buona Pasqua!
CANDIED ORANGE PEEL
Makes about 4 cups
4 or 5 large navel oranges, preferably organic
4-1/2 cups sugar
Scrub the oranges with a brush under warm water. Cut off a 1/4 inch slice from each end. With a small sharp knife, score the peels into six wedges, cutting just down to the flesh. Remove each segment of the peel and cut it into 1/4-inch thick strips. Reserve the oranges for another use. (I made them into a salad with arugula, fennel and black olives.)
Have ready a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper or foil.
Bring a large pot of water to boiling. Add the peels and cook for 15 minutes. Drain and rinse the peels.
Rinse out the pot. Add 3 cups cool water and 3 cups of the sugar. Bring the liquid to a boil and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add the orange peel and bring the liquid to a simmer. Add a little more water if needed so that the peels are just covered. Cook over medium low heat until the peels are tender, about 40 to 45 minutes.
Drain the peel well. Toss the pieces with the remaining 1-1/2 cups sugar to coat. Separate the pieces and place them on the parchment paper.
Preheat the oven to as low as it can go, about 175 F. Place the baking sheet in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes so that the peels can dry out slightly. Let stand at room temperature until the surface coating is dry, about 24 to 48 hours. Cover them with a clean kitchen towel if you like.
Store in an airtight plastic bag for 1 week or in the freezer for 3 months.