Friday, March 11, 2016

QUICK BITE: Pasticciotto Leccese

I'd been to the Salento area of Puglia a few times before I'd heard about a local pastry specialty called Pasticciotto Leccese. And then I finally tasted the thing -- normally considered a breakfast item (often paired with the local coffee finished with almond milk) -- at which point I thought to myself, where have you been all my life?

I am a chocoholic and not big on sweets senza chocolate, to be honest. I make a few exceptions (carrot cake, cheesecake, and fruit pies, oh my!) -- when the sweet is done really well, or is simply delicious enough to warrant my chocolate waiver. Pasticciotto Leccese, consider yourself waivedAs I said, this is really a breakfast item -- the perfect "Continental" breakfast pastry, much more interesting than your standard cornetto or croissant. There is a firm but creamy center of the pastry, a cooked pastry cream that, in many versions I tasted, had a mild hint of almond in it (something that wouldn't surprise me as an ingredient in the pastry cream, considering the Salentini's fondness for almond milk in place of regular dairy milk).
The crust of the pasticciotto is no ordinary pasta frolla (never a favorite of mine), the standard dough for Italian pastries. Frolla owes its bright yellow color to the gorgeous Italian orange egg yolks, and the particular flavor is thanks to the addition of its signature orangeflower water. The pasticciotto dough is more delicate, tender, and flakier. It's firm enough to hold the pastry cream center within its walls, but lard in the dough is what makes this baby so damned different.
The pasticciotto was created in a small town south of Lecce (as in "Leccese"), called Galatina, in the mid-18th century. Pasticceria Ascalone -- still in business and cranking out the pasticciotti -- lays claim to their invention. Supposedly it was to earn favor among other local townspeople. Let them eat pasticciotti! There are, of course, variations on the classic. My favorite variation (no surprise here) is the chocolate pasticciotto Leccese. Some are filled with Nutella, which is equally delicious.
My friends Monica and Marcello, who were residents of Salento and owned the B&B where my friends and I stayed a few times in recent years, introduced me to this delicacy for breakfast one morning, and it completely changed the way I viewed breakfast in Italy. Which is to say, colazione in Salento is a thing of beauty: fresh fruit (often figs picked from the tree), great coffee and tea with almond milk, and pasticciotto Leccese. This is my morning happy place.

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