Neapolitan Noodle Kugel — for Easter Brunch – Arthur Schwartz

I often refer to this recipe as Neapolitan noodle kugel, so I wasn’t surprised when some of my friends called it just that when I served it at a party last week.

It is the perfect buffet dish: It can be prepped and assembled ahead of time. It is easy to eat with only a fork. It is delicious hot from the oven, but also as it cools, and even at room temperature. Besides, it is always a huge hit. I was really happy I had prepared two of them, because everyone wanted seconds, if not thirds. And it is very rich, too.

It is ideal for an Easter brunch even if you are not having a buffet and even if you are having a small number of people. Although the recipe serves at least eight, it is excellent reheated. I bake mine in a large, round Spanish clay dish I bought years ago from Williams Sonoma, but a conventional rectangular lasagne pan is perfect, or any shape, shallow casserole.

The word “pastiera” usually refers to the Neapolitan ricotta pie made for Easter, the one that contains whole grains of wheat, which symbolize re-birth, the theme of the holy day. The pie is also called pizza piena, meaning stuffed pie, or pizza “gain” in Italian-American dialect, the word “gain” coming from “piena.” Rustica means savory, as in the opposite of sweet, but further usually refers to a food containing a mixture of chopped or diced preserved pork products and cheese. Obviously, it also refers to the rusticity of these dishes. No one I know in the city of Naples proper knows of a baked pasta liked this called “pastiera,” but I do know people from surrounding areas, even from what we would these days consider Naples suburbs, who do. It shows how regional food still is in Italy.

For more on this recipe, and several other baked pasta recipes and egg recipes appropriate for Easter buffets and brunches, check out Naples At Table.

Pastiera Rustica di Tagliolini

Serves 8 to 10

1 pound (or 1/2 kilo: 2 8.8-ounce packages) dried narrow egg pasta (the narrower the better): tagliolini, tagliarini, tagliatelle or, only if those are not available, fettuccine
4 tablespoons butter (1/2 stick), cut into 6 to 8 pieces
2 cups cold milk
4 large eggs, beaten to mix well
2/3 cup loosely packed, freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (about 2 ounces)
2/3 cup loosely packed, freshly grated pecorino (about 2 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or slightly more to taste
2 tablespoons butter or lard (for greasing pan)
4 ounces sharp provolone, cut in 1/4-inch dice (about 3/4 cup)
4 ounces pancetta, cut in 1/8-inch dice (about 3/4 cup)
4 ounces soppressata or dried sausage, cut in 1/4-inch dice (about 3/4 cup)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Cook the pasta in boiling, salted water, until slightly underdone, usually about 3 minutes.

3. Drain the pasta well and place it in a large bowl. Toss with the butter. Pour in the milk. Toss and stir well; let stand, tossing every 5 to 10 minutes, until the pasta absorbs all except perhaps a tablespoon or so of the milk. This can happen almost immediately or take as long as 30 minutes.

4. While the pasta is standing, in another bowl, beat the eggs with the grated cheeses and pepper. With 2 tablespoons of butter or lard, grease a baking pan or a shallow casserole of at least 4-quart capacity.

5. When the pasta has absorbed the milk, add the egg mixture, then the provolone, pancetta, and soppressata. Mix well. Pour into the greased baking pan. (May be made ahead to this point. If refrigerating, bring back to near room temperature before baking.)

6. Bake for about 50 minutes, or until the top and edges have browned lightly.

7. Let rest 10 to 20 minutes before serving, or serve warm instead of hot, or at room temperature.

Note: Cut into individual portions, the pastiera reheats very well, uncovered, in a microwave. Or, don’t cut into portions, cover with foil, and reheat at 300 degrees, in a conventional oven.