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Napolitan Casatiello

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Casatiello is one of those foods that should never be missing from the tables in Naples during the Easter holidays: not surprisingly, it’s rich in symbolic references to religion. Like most Neapolitan delicacies, this leavened specialty has just a few simple ingredients: their combination gives rise to a taste that is more than the sum of its parts, summarising the essence of the local gastronomic culture.

What is the Neapoltan Casatiello?

What is Casatiello?

Casatiello is the most classic of the savory cakes belonging to the Neapolitan culinary tradition, typically served during the lavish libations of the Easter season. Prepared with a dough very similar to that of bread, enriched with lard, and stuffed with a mix of cheeses and cured meats, it is distinguished by its typical doughnut shape, topped with a series of whole eggs set on the surface. Its taste is both simple and addictive. In Naples, this specialty, rich in religious references, is also a symbol of family tradition and conviviality.

The most traditional Casatiello in Naples.

The most traditional shops.

Here follows a short list of the most traditional Neapolitan rotisseries where to buy Casatiello:

  • Panificio Coppola
    Addr.: Via Pignasecca, 35 Naples (Italy)
    Tel.: +39 081 5520299

  • Panificio Rescigno
    Addr.: Via Domenico Cirillo, 74 Naples (Italy)
    Tel.: +39 081/3723449
  • Bar Augustus
    Addr.: Via Toledo, 147 Naples (Italy)
    Tel.: +39 081 5513540

  • Antico Panificio Ciro Pace
    Addr.: Via Nazionale, 84 Naples (Italy)
    Tel.: +39 081 268547

  • Pasticceria Ranaldi
    Addr.: Vico Lungo Gelso, 97 Naples (Italy)
    Tel.: +39 081 400773

The Neapolitan casatiello: from ancient Rome to the present day.

The origins of Neapolitan Casatiello.

Tasting a slice of Casatiello it’s possible to understand, at least in part, its origins: the specialty is distinguished by a taste not very complex, but at the same time full-bodied and addictive, betraying a close connection with the peasant culture. A culture in which, since time immemorial, nothing should go wasted: something that, rather than limiting, pushes the invention of new recipes.

For their part, historians cannot pinpoint with certainty the date of birth of this savory cake, whose ancestor may date back to classical times, when the ancient Romans ate the so-called panis adipatus: a flatbread enriched with pork lard.

We know for sure that one of the earliest written records relating to casatiello date back to the XVII Century: it’s a popular fable, the ‘Gatta Cenerentola’ (*1), written by the Neapolitan intellectual Giambattista Basile, in which the author, sketching a sumptuous banquet, refers to a large number of ‘Casatielle’ (*2).

Over time, the tasty delicacy became increasingly related to Easter, reflecting its symbolism in many exterior details, ranging from its shape to the presence of eggs.

Giambattista Basile and the Neapolitan casatiello.

Modernity and fashion seem not to have undermined what, over time, has become a true classic in the culinary tradition of the ‘city of the sun’.

*1: It can be considered, by all means, the forerunner of the famous tales of Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm.

*2: Here follows the paragraph including the citation in its entirety: “E, venuto lo juorno destinato, oh bene mio: che mazzecatorio e che bazzara che se facette! Da dove vennero tante pastiere e casatielle?” (“When the appointed day arrived, oh my goodness: what a great celebration and festivities! Whence came so many pastries and casatielle?”)

Naples, the city of Casatiello.

One of the greatest attractions of Naples is undoubtedly its culture, which has its roots in the distant past when the city was called Neapolis and became one of the most flourishing colonies of Magna Graecia. Its culinary tradition is the fruit of this huge wealth of knowledge: among its many gems, it’s important to remember the Casatiello, a specialty that, thanks to its taste, succeeds in representing the cheerful, convivial, and welcoming spirit that characterizes the local people.

Naples: the city of Casatiello.
Neapolitan casatiello: original recipe (hints)

Neapolitan Casatiello recipe (hints)

Neapolitan casatiello is nothing more than bread stuffed with a mix of a few ingredients, particularly rich in flavor, whose combination gives to the specialty the taste for which it has become famous. Let’s explain, in brief, the steps to prepare it:

1) The dough is made by mixing flour, water, lard, brewer’s yeast, salt, and pepper;
2) This next step is the leavening, during which the dough grows in volume;
3) Prepare the filling by mixing ‘Napoli’ type salami, provolone cheese (both diced), and pecorino cheese (grated);
4) Once the leavening is complete, the filling is placed inside the dough and this is rolled onto itself;

5) This roll is then placed in a round, donut-shaped, baking dish;
6) Raw eggs are arranged on the surface of the dough, spacing them apart from each other;
7) A couple of strips, made from the dough, is fixed on top of each egg;
8) The procedure ends with the baking in an oven at a temperature of about 180°/200°;

For more detailed information on this procedure, please visit one of the many sites dedicated to recipe illustration.

The origins of the name 'casatiello'.

The origins of the name ‘Casatiello’.

Among the many hypotheses regarding the origins of the name ‘Casatiello’, the one currently considered most convincing has it derived from the Latin word ‘caseus’, which, translated in English, means ‘cheese’. So, it is no coincidence that cheese itself is among the main ingredients of the specialty.

The Casatiello ‘stracciato’.

Considering Casatiello ‘stracciato’ (‘torn’) a variant of the classic one is only partially true. That’s because teir recipes are basically the same: what changes is that, in the ‘stracciato’ the ingredients of the filling, instead of being placed inside the dough, thus staying ‘grouped’, are mixed with it when it’s made: this leads to their even distribution.

Casatiello and religious symbolism.

Casatiello: religious references.

In Naples, casatiello is one of the Easter specialties par excellence, served during the abundant meals that dot this holiday. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that it is rich in symbolic religious references, among which are:

  • The eggs: the presence of eggs, placed like jewels on the surface of the specialty, refers to themes dear to Christianity, namely resurrection and life after death;

  • The cross: the position of the strips placed on top of the eggs reminds the shape of the cross;

  • The ring: the circular shape of the casatiello, similar to a ‘donut’, refers to an idea of infinity and eternal life;

  • The filling: the richness and taste of the filling hints at an idea of abundance and prosperity;

  • The yeast: the use of yeast, evidenced by the growth of the dough, hints at an idea of spiritual progress and transformation;

Neapolitan Panino (or ‘pagnottiello’ or ‘pagnuttiello’).

The ‘Panino Napoletano’.

‘Panino napoletano’ (‘Neapolitan sandwich’), also known as ‘pagnottiello’ or ‘pagnuttiello’, can be considered the ‘portable’ variant of Casatiello, thanks to which the exquisite Neapolitan specialty becomes by all means a kind of street food. It’s basically a small pouch, made with pizza dough enriched with lard, and stuffed with a filling consisting of hard-boiled eggs, cold cuts (salami and bacon), and cubed cheeses.

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Neapolitan 'Tortano'.

Casatiello and Tortano: the differences.

Casatiello and ‘Tortano’ are two Neapolitan specialties very similar to each other: so, beyond the name, it’s quite easy to confuse them. It’s therefore appropriate to explain exactly in what they differ:

  • Appearance: the classic casatiello has a few eggs neatly arranged on its circular surface. Tortano has none at all;

  • Filling: the filling of Tortano is almost the same as that of casatiello, except for the addition of hard-boiled eggs (which are inside the cake instead of on top of it);

  • Period of availability: while casatiello is an Easter specialty, Tortano is prepared also outside this holiday period.

  • Symbology: casatiello is rich in symbolic references to Easter, most of them part of its appearance (such as the eggs on the top). Tortano, on the other hand, is completely devoid of them.

Naples, San Gregorio Armeno: Pulcinella.
The origins of the name 'Tortano'.

The origin of the name ‘Tortano’.

As is easy to guess (if you know the Italian language), the name ‘tortano’ derives from the word ‘torta’ (‘cake’). Less obvious is the meaning of the desinence ‘-no’, which could refer to the size of the specialty or to the fact that it’s sweet rather than savory.

Casatielllo 'Sausage and Friarielli'.

The variants of Neapolitan Casatiello.

As a ‘container of taste’, Casatiello is particularly suited to express itself in a large number of variants. These include the exquisite Casatiello con Salsiccia e Friarielli (Casatiello with Sausage and turnip greens) and the very traditional Casatiello Caso e Pepe, enriched with cheese and pepper. There is even a sweet version, in which the lard in the dough is replaced with butter.

Sant'Irpino and the 'Sagra del Casatiello'.

The Casatiello festival in Sant'Irpino.

Although Casatiello is a Neapolitan specialty, it’s very popular throughout the Campania region. As proof of this, it’s important to mention the festival dedicated to it that takes place every year, in June, at Sant’Irpino, in the province of Caserta. The event is always a huge success, as proved by the fact that, in 2024, it has reached its 30th edition.

The right wine for the Neapolitan Casatiello.

The right wine .

What wine to choose to accompany a tasty slice of casatiello? If you want one from the same area of the specialty, the choice could fall on Aglianico: this red wine, thanks to its acidity and sapidity, is just perfect to balance the strong fattiness of the savory cake.

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