The other day, at almost 30 years old, I finally witnessed the creation of one of the dishes I love most: my grandmother Rita’s pastatelle.
Pastatelle has been a permanent part of my life, ever since I was little. I remember around Easter, when it is typical to prepare them, the pastatelle arrived at the table enclosed in the box with other biscuits – the Danes, or those of the “Ore Liete“. From that moment I had to fight for them with my greatest rival: Uncle Pinuccio.
When I moved to Milan, that moment gradually disappeared, but fortunately the pastatelle have remained a constant. Nonna began to prepare them especially for me, sending them weekly. I anxiously awaited that “pacco da giu” (package from the south) as a kid awaits Christmas day. Today, I have returned to Conversano permanently to do what we now call “south working”, yet I continue to receive my private box of pastatelle.
And so, now back in my hometown, I can finally allow myself the luxury of documenting the preparation for you… although I haven’t yet explained what pastatelle are. A typical sweet of the Bari area in Puglia, half-moons of shortcrust pastry, filled with cherry and grape jam and walnuts. In the case of my grandmother, the jam is strictly homemade, using local Ferrovia cherries (a story for another time).
Nonna learned to make pastatelle relatively late, around the age of 30, but at 89 years old today she has more than half a century of experience. I ask her if she remembers where and how she learned, she doesn’t, but recalls it was likely in her small house in the historic center of Conversano. She has two distinct memories: the first is that, initially, the pastatelle were two superimposed discs and did not have the typical shape reminiscent of a panzerotto; the second is linked to the jam – or better, mustard – which was prepared by squeezing the pulp of the table grapes on a sieve that held the grains and skins.
Grandma always had a great passion for sweets, but – paradoxically – she is not a sweet tooth. She has always made them for others, and for this reason she enthusiastically accepted my request that she show me and allow me to write how to prepare them at home, along the way revealing some tricks of the trade.
Makes about 25 pastatelle
- 1kg (35.3oz) of flour
- Extra virgin olive oil
- A cup of white wine
- Half a spoon of thin grain salt
- A tablespoon of sugar
- A pinch of cloves
- A pinch of cinnamon
- 1 orange
- 800g (28oz) of cherry and grape jam
- 20 walnuts
- 3 biscuits
- Take a cup, pour in the flour, add oil and a pinch of salt.
- Meanwhile, start heating the wine until it boils.
- Start working the dough. As soon as the wine boils, gradually pour it into the cup and start mixing with your hands.
- Let the flour absorb by working the dough, and add the wine little by little.
- Work it for a few minutes until it has absorbed all the wine. The dough must have a smooth appearance.
- Take the cherry and grape jam. If homemade it is better, but store bought one will do.
- Mix the jam with a pinch of cinnamon and cloves and grate a little orange peel.
- At this point, add the coarsely chopped walnuts and the cookies crushed into small pieces. (This will help you to absorb the sugar of the jam to prevent it from melting and coming out of our half-moons.)
- Once the jam is ready, focus on turning the shortcrust pastry into many half moons. Cut the dough into sausages.
- Divide them into smaller pieces, and knead them to turn them into balls. At this point, create discs of about 8 cm in diameter by rolling out the ball with a rolling pin.
- Put a little jam in the center. Not too much. Close the disc and create our crescent.
- Press the edges with your fingers and fold a flap of dough to create a cornice. At this point, it’s time to seal the lock. Tradition would have it that a key – yes, a key – was used to do this. My grandmother, on the other hand, has an old orange bic pen: it is her unmistakable signature.
The batter is almost ready. Turn on the ventilated oven to 175 °C degrees, arrange the batter in a pan and brush with a little olive oil “by feeling”, that is, by eye. Finish with a sprinkling of sugar without abounding and piercing the pastry with a fork.
Bake and wait 40-45 minutes. When the pastries are golden on the belly and cooked underneath they are ready.
Let them cool and… enjoy one of the best sweets in Puglia. A dessert that I have always loved for its simplicity and never cloying taste.
Thanks grandma Rita.