Casatiello – Savory Easter Bread from Campania
Tradition, faith, and family are expressed in the holiday dishes that are so important in Italian life. Comfort foods express hard times, joyous occasions, and even political situations. A child growing up with these traditions learns history, culture, and an appreciation for life just by growing up and experiencing the family gatherings. Casatiello is an important part of this process in Campania.
Casatiello is full of symbolism both religious and cultural. This Easter bread rolls the dough around salami and cheeses while whole eggs are embraced by laces of bread that hold tight to the main body of the bread. The salami represents an antique pagan ritual where pigs were sacrificed in exchange for fertility of women and the land. Pecorino cheese represents the milk of the lamb or the innocence of Christ. A meal unto itself, this bread is a must in southwestern Italy at Easter.
For two 10 inch tube pans
Note: The cheeses indicated here, are part of the original recipe. Many families have substituted the Provolone with Swiss, Gruyere, Gouda, smoke Scamorza and/or smoked mozzarella. If you decide to make this bread do not substitute white shortening for the pork lard. Natural foods are healthier.
Ingredients for the dough:
1 cup (200 g.) Biga
2 ½ teaspoons (7 g.) active dry yeast
½ cup warm water
1 teaspoon sugar
5 cups (650 g.) unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 oz. cold lard, cut into 4 pieces
Preparation of the dough:
In a measuring cup dissolve the sugar in the warm water. Stir in the yeast and let sit for 10 minutes until creamy.
In the primary mixing bowl add the Biga, then pour in the water-yeast mixture and stir through the biga for about 2 minutes.
In a separate bowl put the flour, stir in the salt and the 4 cubes of lard. Squish the lard a bit with your hands to get them distributed and covered with flour.
Finally, stir flour into the biga-yeast mixture. If using a bread mixer allow the mixer to run on lowest speed for about 7 minutes. If working by hand, work until the liquid is distributed then pass to a floured surface and knead for 15 minutes. Be aggressive, this is an important step.
Place in an oiled (olive oil) bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about 2 hours. I also cover the bowl with a towel to cut out the light. I know this does little but I feel that yeast grows more evenly and the bread rises more uniformly.
Ingredients for the filling:
4 oz. lard, at room temperature
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup grated Pecorino cheese
¾ cup Provolone cheese cut into small cubes
2 tablespoons freshly ground pepper
¾ cup diced salami
6 uncooked eggs with shells
Note: wash the eggs with warm water and dishwater soap, rinse and pat dry before using.
Preparation of the filling:
Simply mix the ingredients together with a spoon or your hands.
Cut a small handful of dough from the ball and set aside. Cut the remaining dough into two parts. Roll each part into a rectangle about 15 x 11 inches and ½ inch thick. With your hands spread the warm lard over the two pieces of dough. Spread the filling evenly over both pieces of dough. Beginning at the far side roll, the dough toward you. Pinch the seam to close. Place in a 10 inch tube pan or form into a circle on a baking sheet and pinch the seams.
Roll the remaining piece of dough into a 2 grissino 24 inches long. Cut the each roll into six pieces four inches long. Place the eggs evenly on top of the two tubes and press down until about 1/3 of the egg is enveloped by the dough. Using two pieces of the 4 inch rolls crisscross the dough over the top of the eggs and pinch the connections to the tube. Repeat for each egg.
Let rise again for 2 hours.
Baking: Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Place the Casatiello in the oven and immediately raise the temperature to 350 degrees and cook for 1 hour. Cool on a rack. Do not serve until completely cooled.
Wine: This is a “heavy” meal. The wine must be up to the task at hand. I suggest a good Montepulciano d’Abruzzo like Villa Gemma 1997 (Masciarelli), or Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Rosso 2000, or Taurasi Radici 1997 (Mastroberardino)
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