Genovese pastries from Sicily
Erice is a hilltop, medieval town in Sicily with narrow cobblestone streets, a Norman castle and a fabulous bakery called Maria Grammatico. The eponymous bakery has plentiful Sicilian treats including these pastries known as “Genovese.” While staying in Erice last month, I was perplexed by the name of the pastry, which refers to the town of Genoa, nowhere near Sicily. After returning home, I found a couple of explanations in La Cucina Italiana : “The name of this delicacy – which is not at all Sicilian – probably comes from its shape, which resembles the cap of Genoese sailors who stopped at the ports of Sicily between 1300 and 1500. Another hypothesis, which is decidedly more romantic, claims that the genovesi come from the love between a girl from Erice and a young Ligurian boy: the girl gave the name to the dessert she made for her beloved.”
No matter the origin, genovese are delicious, and are filled with a lemony custard, enveloped in a shortbread pastry, or pasta frolla. Maria spent 15 years in a convent after her father died and her mother was left with six children to raise amid the poverty of post-World War II Sicily. It was a difficult life, with little to eat, although the nuns made pastries to raise funds, and Maria absorbed that knowledge and opened her own shop in 1963. Her account of growing up in the convent is one of loneliness and hardship and is recounted in her book, “Bitter Almonds”, written with Mary Taylor Simeti. The book includes various recipes, including this one for Genovese.
Be careful not to overcook the custard, or you could end up with scrambled eggs. I ran the custard through a sieve to eliminate any possible lumps.
Roll out the dough, place a heaping spoonful of the filling on top, then moisten the edges with water and place another disc of dough on top, pressing down to seal the edges.
Bake until just barely tan.
They are served warm at Maria’s shop, sprinkled with powdered sugar.
They’re delicious at room temperature too.
Here are just a few of the other treats for sale at Maria Grammatico’s:
martorana (almond paste) fruits:
and a fig-filled ring (buccelatto or cuccidato):
A trip to Erice is like a trip back in time, with its tiny cobbled streets and alleys:
And the castle of Venus, a 12th century Norman castle:
The 14th century duomo and bell tower:
And the stunning views from Erice out to Trapani and the Mediterranean Sea:
Check out Ciao Chow Linda on Instagram here to find out what’s cooking in my kitchen each day (and more).
- FOR THE DOUGH (PASTA FROLLA):
- 1¾ c. flour
- ½ cup sugar
- 2 egg yolks
- 4 Tablespoons ice water
- FOR THE CREMA PASTICCIERA:
- 2 egg yolks
- ¾ cup sugar plus 2 Tablespoons
- ¼ cup cornstarch
- 1½ cups milk
- grated zest of ½ lemon
- FOR THE PASTRY:
- Place the flour, sugar and egg yolks in a food processor and whir until blended.
- Add the ice water a tablespoon at a time until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl.
- Do not add too much water or it will be difficult to work the dough.
- Turn the dough onto a floured surface and form into a flat disc.
- Refrigerate at least 30 minutes before rolling out.
- FOR THE FILLING:
- Whisk together the egg yolks and sugar in a small heavy saucepan without turning on the heat.
- Dissolve tthe cornflour in a quarter of the milk in a glass or mixing cup, then gradually add the rest of the milk and mix well.
- Slowly pour the milk mixture into tthe egg mixture, whisking until blended.
- Place over low heaat and cook for 10-12 minutes, stirring constantly, until shiny and very thick, the consistency of pudding.
- Or cook in a double boiler for 20 to 25 minutes.
- Stir in tthe lemon zest.
- Pour into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap placed directly on top of the cream.
- Cool and refrigerate until ready to use.
- TO ASSEMBLE THE GENOVESE:
- Cut the dough into four parts.
- Work with one part and keep the rest refrigerated.
- Roll out thinly and cut out circles, using a 3 inch biscuit or cookie cutter.
- Place about a tablespoon or slightly more of the filling in the center of one of the discs.
- Wet the perimeter of the disc with water, then top with another disc and press down on the edges.
- Bake on parchment paper in a 375 degree oven for 15 -20 minutes until tops are slightly tan in color.
- Cool briefly and sprinkle with powdered sugar.
- Best eaten warm but delicious at room temperature too.