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 di Grano
For many Italian Americans, it would not be Easter with Pizza di Grano or grain pie. With a ricotta-based filling made with grain and dried fruits, to many it is like a slice of spring itself.
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1-1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
2 tsp orange-flower water
4 oz hulled wheat (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp grated orange zest
1 lb ricotta
4 eggs, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
3 tbsp orange-flower water
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup candied citron, finely chopped
1/2 cup candied orange peel, finely chopped
confectioner’s sugar for sprinkling on top
Prepare the dough in a large bowl, stir together the flour, cinnamon and salt. In a separate large bowl, using an electric mixer (on medium speed), beat the butter and confectioner’s sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and yolks and beat until smooth, then add the orange-flower water and blend. Finally, add the flour mixture and blend for one minute.
Shape one-quarter of the dough into a disk. Make a second disk with the remaining dough. Wrap each piece in plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour (you can chill it overnight).
To prepare the filling – place the wheat in a large bowl, add cold water to cover and let soak overnight in the refrigerator. Drain the wheat.
Place the soaked wheat in a medium saucepan with cold water to cover. Add the salt and bring to a simmer over a medium flame. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the wheat is tender, 25 to 30 minutes. Drain and place in a large bowl. Stir in the butter and orange zest and allow to cool.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 9 x 3 -inch spring form pan. In a large bowl, whisk together the ricotta, eggs, sugar, orange-flower water and cinnamon. Beat until blended. Stir in the wheat mixture, citron and candied orange peel.
Roll out the larger piece of dough to a 16-inch circle, then fit the dough into the pan, pressing out any wrinkles against the inside of the pan. Scrape the filling onto the dough and smooth the top.
Roll out the smaller piece of dough to a 10-inch circle. With a fluted pastry cutter, cut the dough into 1/2-inch-wide strips. Lay the strips across the filling in a lattice pattern. Press the ends of the strips against the dough on the sides of the pan. Trim the dough, leaving 1/2 inch of excess all around the rim and fold the edge of the crust over the ends of the lattice strips. Press firmly to seal.
Bake for 60 – 70 minutes, until golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pan on a rack for 15 minutes. Remove the rim of the pan and let the pizza di grano cool completely on a wire rack. Just before serving, sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar.
Pizza Rustica is a savory pie, brimming with a rich filling of cheeses and meats encased in a flaky, golden pastry crust. As with so many Italian recipes, Pizza Rustica varies from region to region, from town to town and from cook to cook.
For the pastry dough
3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/4 cup cold solid vegetable shortening, cut into pieces
1/3 cup plus 2 tbsp Parmigiano cheese, freshly grated
4 oz thinly sliced prosciutto, coarsely chopped
4 large egg yolks, beaten to blend
1 large egg, beaten to blend
To make the pastry dough – blend the flour, the butter, the shortening and salt in a food processor until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Blend in the eggs. With the machine running, add the water one tablespoon at a time until the dough forms. Gather the dough into a ball. Divide the dough into 2 pieces, with 1 piece twice as large as the second piece. Flatten the dough pieces into disks. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until the dough is firm enough to roll out, about 30 minutes.
Position the rack on the bottom of the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a heavy large frying pan over a medium flame. Add the sausages and sauté until golden brown, breaking the sausage into pieces, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of oil in the same frying pan over a medium flame. Add the spinach and cook until it wilts and the juices evaporate, stirring often, about 8-10 minutes. Cool to room temperature. Squeeze the spinach to drain as much of the liquid as possible.
Into a large bowl, add egg yolks and beat lightly. Stir in the ricotta, mozzarella and 1/3 cup of Parmigiano cheese. Add the sausage, the spinach and prosciutto to the mixture and stir to combine.
Roll out larger piece of dough on a lightly floured work surface to a 17-inch round. Transfer the dough to a 9-inch springform pan. Trim the dough overhang to 1 inch. Spoon the ricotta mixture into the dough-lined pan. Roll out the remaining piece of dough into a 12-inch round. Place the dough over the filling. Pinch the edges of the doughs together to seal, then crimp the dough edges decoratively. Brush the beaten 1 large egg over the entire pastry top. Sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons Parmigiano over the top. Bake on the bottom shelf until the crust is golden brown, about 1 hour. Let stand 15 minutes. Release the pan sides and transfer the pizza to a platter. Cut into wedges and serve.
Torta di Riso
This rich and creamy egg and ricotta-based dessert pie is filled with cooked Arborio rice and delicately flavored with the essence of orange. It is traditionally served after Mass on Easter Sunday to break the fast observed by Catholics during Lent. This recipe uses phyllo dough, which creates a crispy, flaky, buttery crust, which is perfect for this recipe. Just remember to keep the phyllo sheets covered with a damp cloth as you work so they do not dry out.
1 cup Arborio rice (uncooked)
4 cups whole milk
1 cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
8 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp orange zest
2 tbsp orange flower water
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 lb whole milk ricotta cheese
8 oz mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup toasted pignoli nuts
16 sheets thawed phyllo dough
3/4 stick unsalted butter, melted
Place the rice and milk in medium heavy-bottom saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the flame to low and cook the rice uncovered, stirring occasionally for about 15-20 minutes, until the water is absorbed and the rice is sticky. The rice should still be firm. It will finish cooking during baking. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
In a large bowl, combine 1 cup of sugar, eggs, vanilla, orange zest, orange flower water, cinnamon, ricotta and mascarpone; blend until smooth. Stir in the rice and pignoli nuts, then set aside.
Lightly butter a 9-inch pie plate. Lay 2 phyllo sheets over the bottom and up opposite sides of the dish, allowing the phyllo to hang over the sides. Brush the phyllo with some melted butter and sprinkle a little sugar over it. Top with another 2 sheets of phyllo dough, laying it in the opposite direction to the first sheets. Continue layering the remaining phyllo sheets, alternating after each layer and buttering and sugaring each sheet until they are all used.
Spoon the ricotta/rice mixture into the dish. Fold the overhanging phyllo dough over the top of the filling to enclose it. Brush the top with melted butter and sprinkle with a little sugar. Bake the torta until the phyllo is golden brown and the filling is set, about 45-50 minutes. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool completely before cutting and serving.
One of the most popular variations of Pizza Rustica is the Neapolitan Pizza Chiena. This delicious pie is less savory (no spinach), but is incredibly rich, using four kinds of cured meats, two different cheeses and lots of eggs!
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 tbsp olive oil
1/2 lb fresh, hot Italian sausage (in casing)
1/2 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)
1/2 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
To prepare the dough – in a large bowl, dissolve in 2 cups of warm water, yeast, sugar and salt. Gently blend using spoon. Add 5 cups of flour and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Blend with a spoon until the dough just starts to form. Using your hands, transfer to a floured surface. Knead well (add flour if it is too sticky) until the dough becomes springy and smooth. It should take 7-10 minutes of vigorous kneading. The dough should then be soft and silky. Place the dough ball in a large bowl coated with olive oil; rub some olive oil on top of the dough. Cover with a clean, dry dishtowel and let rise in a warm area until it has doubled in size (2-3 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 the eggs and run under cool water. Remove shells, slice thinly and set aside.
Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over a medium flame. Remove the sausage from its casing and add to the pan. Cook for 5-6 minutes until browned and crispy. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.
Place the 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 the 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.