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Torte di Pasqua – Italian Easter Pies

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Easter pies or Torte di Pasqua, are traditional Italian delicacies that signify the end of the fasting period of Lent and mark Easter’s universal themes of rebirth and renewal. Both sweet and savory pies are a hallmark of an Italian Easter, with variations that differ greatly by region, city and even in individual families.

Pizza Chiena, a Neapolitan dialect term meaning “full pie” is stuffed with various Italian meats, cheeses and eggs. This hearty dish, also known as Pizza Rustica, is a true symbol of the end of the fasting period and the best way to make up for all of those meatless Friday nights during Lent.

Torta di Riso or Rice Pie is traditionally served alongside ricotta pie for Easter Sunday dessert, although some Italian families enjoy it for breakfast on Pasquetta, Little Easter or Easter Monday.

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Pastiera is a grain pie especially enjoyed on Holy Thursday when Italians leave church eager to visit the nearest pasticceria to purchase the delightful treat. The wheat-based crust is symbolic of springtime and the sweet pie is a holiday tradition, especially in the southern part of Italy.

To help prepare for your Easter celebration, below are the recipes for these traditional Italian holiday pies, certain to bring a piece of Italy to your table at this most special time of year.

Pastiera Napoletana di Grano (Easter Wheat Pie)

Ingredients

For the Filling:

  • ½ lb wheat berries or hulled wheat (from soft wheat)
  • 8 large eggs, separated
  • 3 lb ricotta cheese
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp vanilla extract
  • candied fruit pieces (optional)

For the Pastry Dough

  • 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 6 large eggs
  • pinch salt
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • 5 tbsp vegetable shortening

Preparation

For the filling: Rinse hulled wheat with water and place in a large bowl. Add enough cold water to cover and let soak overnight in the refrigerator. Drain the wheat and place in a saucepan with enough cold water to cover. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 20 to 30 minutes, until tender. Cool completely for use in the recipe.

In a large bowl, beat 8 egg yolks (set egg whites aside in a separate bowl for later). Add ricotta, wheat and sugar. Mix until well incorporated. Add vanilla and candied fruit pieces and mix well. Beat egg whites until fluffy and foamy and fold into ricotta mixture.

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, 6 eggs, pinch of salt and lemon zest. Knead until a dough is formed.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease baking pans with shortening and set aside. Cut a piece of the dough, according to the size of the pan and roll it out with a rolling pin. The dough should not be too thick. Lay dough into the greased baking pan. Fill the pan with the ricotta mixture.

For the top crust, cut another smaller piece of dough and roll very thin. Cut this into strips and place across top of pie, in a crisscross pattern. Press the dough edges together with a fork, like a pie. Bake at 350°F for about 1 hour and 15 minutes or until crust is golden brown.

Torta di Riso (Rice Pie)

Ingredients

For the Crust

  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 stick unsalted butter (chilled)
  • 1 extra large egg
  • 1-2 tbsp ice water, or as much as needed

For the Filling

  • ½ cup uncooked Arborio rice
  • 4 cups water or whole milk
  • 7 large eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp lemon extract (or the zest and juice of 1 lemon)
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 lb ricotta cheese (drained)

Preparation

For the crust: Combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in a food processor and pulse several times. Add the butter and pulse about 10 times, until the dough becomes pebbly in texture. Add the egg and pulse repeatedly until the dough begins to stick together. Slowly add the ice water by the tablespoonful, while using a few long pulses. Add more drops of ice water as necessary, until the dough holds together well. Invert the dough onto a floured work surface. Form into a circle, flatten into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate while preparing the filling. (Dough can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 2 days before continuing.)

For the filling: Place the rice and water in medium heavy-bottom saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and cook the rice, uncovered, stirring occasionally for about 15-20 minutes, or until the water is absorbed and the rice is sticky. The rice should still be firm as it will finish cooking in the oven. Remove from heat and set aside.

Add the eggs and sugar in a large bowl and using a hand-mixer, beat until well combined. Add lemon extract and vanilla extract and beat on low for about 10 seconds. Add the drained ricotta and beat on low for a few seconds until just combined. Add cooked rice and mix with a rubber spatula until well combined, making sure there are no clumps of rice. Place in refrigerator.

Place a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 375°F. Coat a 10.5-inch pie plate with cooking spray. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and roll into an 11-inch circle. Transfer the dough to the prepared pie plate, gently pressing it into the bottom and sides (no fluted crust is necessary since the crust is flush with the filling). At this point, set the crust in the freezer for about 10-15 minutes to get it well chilled, which will make for a flakier crust.

Remove the chilled crust from the freezer and pour the filling to about 1/4 of an inch below the top of the crust, as it will puff up slightly when baking. Bake for 1 hour or until the filling puffs up, turns golden, and is set. Remove from the oven and let cool on a rack. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Pizza Chiena

For the Dough

  • 1 packet of active dry yeast
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 2 cups of warm water
  • 5-6 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp olive oil

For the Filling

  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • ½ lb fresh, hot Italian sausage (in casing)
  • ½ lb capicollo, thinly sliced
  • 1/3 lb Genoa salami, thinly sliced
  • 1/3 lb pepperoni, thinly sliced
  • 1 lb fresh basket cheese (found at Italian specialty shops)
  • ½ lb mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
  • 1 dozen eggs
  • 1/3 cup minced fresh flat leaf parsley
  • 15-20 cranks freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 tsp water for egg wash

Preparation

For the dough: In a large bowl, dissolve in 2 cups of warm water, yeast, sugar and salt. Using a spoon, gently blend. Add 5 cups of flour and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Blend with a spoon just until the dough starts to form, then using your hands, transfer to a floured surface. Knead well, adding flour if it’s too sticky, until the dough becomes springy and smooth. It should take 5-10 minutes of vigorous kneading. It will be soft and silky when done. Place the dough ball in a large bowl coated with olive oil and rub some olive oil on top of the dough. Cover with a clean, dry dishtowel and let rise in a warm area until doubled in size (at least 2 hours).

For the filling: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Lower heat and cook 4 eggs until hard boiled (18-20 minutes). Remove eggs and run under cool water. Remove shells, slice thinly and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Remove the sausage from its casing and add to the pan. Cook for 5-6 minutes or until browned and crispy. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.

Place oven rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Brush the inside surface of a 10” x 3” spring form pan with olive oil.

Once the dough has risen, punch it down to release air bubbles. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface, divide in half and roll one half into a 12-inch round. Transfer the dough to a 10-inch spring form pan. Using your hands, fit the dough snugly in the pan, gently stretching it to hang 1 inch over the edge of the pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the 8 eggs, parsley and black pepper.

Fill the inside of the dough with alternating layers of sliced meats, cheeses and sliced hard-boiled eggs. After 5-6 layers, pour half of the egg mixture over the filling allowing it to seep down. Continue layering the meats and cheeses then pour the remainder of the egg mixture evenly over the top. You should have enough for 10-12 layers.

On a lightly floured surface roll out the second half of the dough to a 12-inch round; place the dough over the filling and using a sharp knife, trim excess dough until it just meets the rim of the pan.

Using your fingertips, pinch the edges of the dough together and gently roll the bottom layer over the top layer creating a seal. Then pinch the dough between your thumb and index finger creating a slightly fluted edge all around. Brush the top of pie with the egg wash.

Bake pie for 60- 75 minutes or until the crust is golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool at least 20-25 minutes. Release the spring and transfer the pie to a serving plate. Cut into wedges and enjoy at room temperature.

Pizza Rustica

Ingredients

For the Crust

  • 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • ½ cup solid vegetable shortening
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 3 to 4 tbsp ice water

For the Filling

  • 8 oz sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup Pecorino Romano, freshly grated
  • 2 lb whole or part-skim ricotta, drained overnight
  • 8 oz fresh mozzarella, diced
  • 4 oz prosciutto, diced
  • 4 oz cooked ham, diced
  • 4 oz sopressata, diced

For the Glaze

  • 1 egg, lightly beaten

Preparation

For the crust: Combine the flour and salt in a bowl. Cut in the shortening and butter with a pastry blender or fork until the mixture resembles large crumbs. Add eggs and stir until a soft dough forms. Scoop up some of the mixture with your hand and rapidly squeeze it until it holds together. Repeat with the rest of the dough until the ingredients hold together and can be formed into a smooth ball. If the mixture seems too dry and crumbly, add a little ice water. Gather the dough into two disks, one three times as large as the other. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap. Refrigerate 1 hour up to overnight.

For the filling: Cook the sausage in a small skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until no longer pink, about 10 minutes. Remove the meat with a slotted spoon. Chop the meat on a board.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs and cheese until well blended. Stir in the ricotta, sausage meat, mozzarella and diced meats.

Place the oven rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375°F. On a lightly floured surface with a floured rolling pin, roll out the large piece of dough to form a 14-inch circle. Drape the dough over the rolling pin. Transfer the dough to a 9-inch springform pan, pressing it smoothly against the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Scrape the filling into the pan.

Roll out the remaining piece of dough into a 9-inch circle. With a fluted pastry wheel, cut the dough into ½ inch strips. Place half the strips 1 inch apart over the filling. Turn the pan a quarter of the way around and place the remaining strips on top, forming a lattice pattern. Pinch the edges of the top and bottom layers of dough together to seal. Brush the dough with the egg glaze.

Bake the pie for 60 to 75 minutes or until the crust is golden and the filling is puffed. Cool the pie in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove the sides of the pan and let cool completely. Serve warm or at room temperature. Cover tightly and store in the refrigerator up to 3 days.

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