Easter Sunday is exactly 10 days away! In Naples, Italy, several specific dishes are prepared for the celebration that is considered as important, if not MORE important than Christmas. Following the 40 days of Lent – a period when the consumption of many different foods (notably meat, fats, dairy etc.) is prohibited – Easter Sunday is a day that celebrates not only the resurrection of Jesus, but also when Catholics and Christians can finally indulge in their favorite opulent dishes once again. This period of family gathering and eating copious amounts of delicious food, is of course, also their way to celebrate the joy of the return of Jesus Christ.
One of my favorite Easter dishes, that originates from my hometown, Naples, since the 1500’s, is the Casatiello! This popular Easter bread is often made with many left over cured meats and cheeses that are mixed together with a lard induced dough, creating a mouth-watering, sinful masterpiece! The shape and the decoration are both very symbolic of the special day. The round hollow shape represents the thorn crown worn by Jesus on the day of his crucifixion, and the 5 eggs placed on top are symbolic of the 5 wounds Jesus had when placed on the cross. Therefore, it is extremely important to maintain the shape and number of eggs for this particular dish.
Each Neapolitan family has their own recipe for Casatiello. Here is my own take! I like to add San Pellegrino sparkling water, as it adds extra moisture to the final bread. Normally eaten over several days, it tends to dry out over time. With the addition of sparkling water, the moisture is better retained, allowing for a more tasty Casatiello for a longer period.
In the case where you are unable to find ciccioli (which is the Italian version of pork belly cracklings) and lard, I have included the recipe further down below.
I highly recommend trying this bread, though I warn you in advance, you may not be able to stop devouring it once its ready! I hope you enjoy it was much as I do and as we say in Italian – in advance – Buona Pasqua! Happy Easter!
280 ml San Pellegrino sparkling water
10 g dry yeast
85 g pork lard
500 g flour (Caputo tipo 1)
10 g salt
85 g pork lard
100 g Pecorino
100 g Parmigiano
50 g Provolone
200 g Ciccioli (cut in 1 cm cubes)
150 g Prosciutto cotto (cut in 1 cm cubes)
150 g Prosciutto crudo (cut in 1 cm cubes)
100 g Salami (cut in 1 cm cubes)
8 g ground black pepper
8 hard-boiled eggs (5 for decoration on top with egg shell intact / 3 eggs – shells removed)
- Mix San Pellegrino water with yeast and pork lard in a standing mixer with the dough hook (medium speed) until well combined, and yeast is melted (around 1 minute).
- Add 250 g of the flour to the mixer and mix for another 1 minute.
- Whisk salt into remaining 250 g flour and continue to mix for around 8 minutes.
- Add all the hams, ciccioli, cheeses, additional 85 g pork lard and black pepper inside the mixer, and on medium speed, mix for another 2 minutes. Then add 3 whole peeled hard boiled eggs and mix for another 1 minute until the eggs break apart into the dough.
- The dough should start detach from the sides of the mixer by this point. If it is still sticking to the sides of the bowl, then mix for a little longer until the dough starts to detach.
- Remove the dough from the mixer bowl and place in a Bundt pan (25 cm diameter / 11 cm high). No grease is needed to coat the pan, as the dough itself already contains large amounts of lard.
- Place the 5 remaining hard-boiled eggs (shell intact) evenly on top of the dough and press each egg down, half-way. The tops should still be revealed.
- Cover with plastic wrap or a tea towel and allow to rise for 2 hours, in a warm area with no draft. About 30 minutes prior to the end of the rest period, pre-heat oven to 175 degrees Celsius.
- Place the Casatiello in the oven for 1 hour and 30 minutes.
- Remove from the mold onto an oven grill rack, and if you feel it is still a bit raw, return to the oven at 175 degrees Celsius for another 5-10 minutes.
- Allow to cool for an hour at least.
FOR THE CICCIOLI:
500 g pork belly (with as much fat as possible)
1 bay leaf
1 pinch of salt
100 ml water
- The pork belly I bought was 1 cm in width (normally used for Korean BBQ or Japanese Yakiniku), that I further sliced into 2 cm long slices.
- In a medium sized pot, add water, bay leaf, salt and the slices of pork belly and cook over medium heat, boiling until water is evaporated (around 20 minutes).
- Once water is evaporated (you’ll be left with clear oil), turn heat down to low and continue to boil for 1 hour or so to extract all the fat from the slices, until you are left with browned crunchy ciccioli and a lot of oil.
- Strain the ciccioli in a strainer lined with paper towels, so as to catch all the pieces of meat, and keep the oil in a separate recipient. Once the oil has reached room temperature, store in the fridge overnight to allow it to harden. It will become completely solid and white in color.