Cassata di Pasqua - Sicilian Easter Recipe
Easter in Sicily is considered by many Sicilians as the most important holiday of the year. Sicilians away from home will do their outmost to get back to the island to enjoy the numerous colourful processions and catch up with family and friends. People even refer to the past through descriptions of the quality of these processions and the events that took place during them. My grandfather would often say "Back in the year when the procession changed its path around our neighborhood" or "You know... the year when the head of the procession was Santino".
There are many dishes that feature on the Easter tables of Sicilians but the Cassata di Pasqua described here is one of the simplest ones and a long time favourite of my family.
The name itself - cassata - can be traced back to the Arab word quasa'at, which means bowl or the shape of cacio cheese with reference to its round shape.
The recipe I am presenting is not to be confused with the now famous Cassata Siciliana. It also used to be an Easter exclusive, but can now be found all year long all over Sicily, and it is a rich and complicated affair with almond pastry, candid fruit, colourful decorations and ricotta at its heart.
This simpler version of the Cassata di Pasqua also symbolises the dichotomy of Sicilian cuisine when compared to the rich Cassata Siciliana. On the one hand you have elaborate dishes enjoyed in aristocratic homes, where the chefs (or monsù as they were known in Sicily - a distortion of the french monsieur) tried to outdo each other, and on the other hand peasant cooking, where people tried to make the best of basic ingredients.
In this simple recipe the Cassata di Pasqua just requires durum wheat flour, sugar, olive oil or lard, baking yeast, ricotta and lemon zest.
Click on to the next page for the full recipe.
The key to a successful cassata is fresh ricotta and good lemons, while the challenge for the person preparing it is managing to construct the casings - a fun experience that can be enjoyed by everyone in the family.
500g hard wheat flour
40g lard or olive oil
5g baking yeast
Water at room temperature
500g of ricotta
175g of sugar
Lemon zest of 1 lemon
How to make:
Mix the yeast with a glass of water and the lard or olive oil (olive oil gives a slightly crunchier end result while lard gives a softer dough). Then add that to the flour and mix well together. Keep adding water until all the flour is absorbed and you get a nice, consistent and slightly bouncy feeling to the dough. It usually takes about 2 or 3 glasses depending on humidity in the room. Allow the dough to rest for about 30-45 minutes.
While the dough is resting mix the ricotta with the sugar and lemon zest. You need to amalgamate all three quite well, especially the sugar and ricotta. However, if you get a slightly grainy texture that is ok.
The next step is to create the casings for the cassatas. First roll out the floor (a bit like pizza) to about 1 - 1/2 cm thickness. Cut out the base of the cassata using a small dish as the guide and with the remaining flour cut long strips. These strips are used to create a sort of wall around the base. The technique is to take a strip of flour and join in to the base by pinching the base into the strip. Have a look at the pictures to get the idea. Once you have the casings ready you are done!
Fill the casings with the ricotta mix and place in a heated oven for 8 minutes at 190C°. To serve sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar or even chocolate.
Enjoy and Buona Pasqua!