Unlike the past two years, this time we celebrate Easter with family. Admittedly, I loved celebrating Easter at our first apartment in Rome in 2020 and our new Roman home in 2021. There is something comforting about cooking in our own kitchen, creating menus, and getting hands dirty in dough. I crank up our Casa Mia playlist and enter my happy place.
Flashback to my first Easter at Francesco’s parent’s home. The menu featured salami, cheese, casatiello, tagliatelle in tomato sauce, capretto (roast goat), broiled potatoes, chocolate eggs, and PASTIERA. Pastiera is the beloved Neapolitan Easter pie filled with cooked wheat berries, ricotta and candied citrus. One bite and my brain and olfactory senses shout NO! These are flavors from the adult table at Easter lunch with my Italian-American family. The kid in me prefers diving into the tray of Easter cookies (sour cream cookies dipped in icing and dusted with colored sugar).
As an adult, every year my tastes evolve… or am I losing my taste buds? (snickering at myself)… I no longer like super sweet desserts. When Mom makes Easter cookies, I wait patiently to eat them hot out of the oven, sans frosting. I dip sesame biscotti in coffee.
Suddenly I crave Ma’s Easter ricotta pie. She called it “pizza dolce” and she made it with ricotta, citrus peel, eggs, and chocolate shavings, all wrapped in shortcrust pastry. How very adult-like of me. It turns out that ricotta pie in endless versions was the main sweet on many Italian-American Easter tables. As a matter of fact, I’ll be teaching my grandmother’s Ricotta Pie recipe live online, Wednesday, April 13 at 4:00 pm EST the beloved overseas evolution of Neapolitan pastiera.
In the meantime, if you’d like to try your hand at making (and enjoying) the all-Neapolitan “original” that inspired the ubiquitous ricotta pie, here’s a damn good recipe.
Ingredients for 2 pastiera pies
For the filing
- 700 g sheep’s milk or cow’s milk ricotta
- 500 g sugar
- 7 whole eggs
- 3 egg yolks
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 100 g candied citrus (orange and lemon)
- 1 jar of grano precotto (cooked wheat berries)
- 1 tsp. unsalted butter
- 300 g milk
- 2 tsp. orange blossom water
- grated zest from 1 lemon
- grated zest from 1 orange
For the shortcrust pastry
- 500 g flour
- 250 g cold unsalted butter, diced
- 160 g sugar
- 3 eggs
- grated zest of 1 – 2 lemons
- cold water as needed
You may substitute home made pie crust for store bought shortcrust pastry for 2-9 inch pie pans
Sift flour into a large bowl, add the butter and rub it in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Beat the eggs and add to the flour along with the zest and 2-3 Tbsp. cold water. Mix to form a firm dough. Knead the dough briefly on a lightly floured surface. Wrap in a tea towel or wax paper. Place in refrigerator and let rest for at least 1 hour.
While the dough is resting, bring the milk, grano precotto & butter to a light boil. Mix until it becomes a cream. Let cool. Meanwhile, mix the ricotta and sugar. When the grano precotto mixture is cool, add to the ricotta and mix until combined.
Preheat the oven to 350° F
Divide the dough into 2 sections for 2 pastiera pies. For each pastiera, roll out 2/3 dough on a lightly floured service to about 1/8″ thickness. Use the dough to line a pie mold. Prick the base with a fork and trim any extra dough from the edges. Distribute the filling evenly in each pie crust.
Roll out the remaining dough and make seven 1/2″ thick strips. Place the first 4 strips over the filling on the diagonal. Then add the remaining 3 strips on the bias to create a grid; press the edges and cut away any excess dough.
Bake for 1 hour to an hour and 20 minutes.
Allow to cool and serve.