MAKES ONE 10 1/2-INCH PIE
Easter pie (pastiera) is found all over Italy, but its origins are Neapolitan. Tender pasta frolla pastry pies filled with fresh ricotta cheese and rice, sweetened with sugar, were made in batches, wrapped in clear cellophane, and given away as Easter gifts.
Many variations of this classic have survived; some use wheatberries or orzo (tiny pasta) in place of rice, but my favorite still remains the one from home, made with long-grain rice. For the pasta frolla, I mix all-purpose flour with cake flour for a more delicate pie crust texture. If you have a kitchen scale, weigh the flour for accuracy. If you do not have a scale, lightly spoon the flour into a dry weight measuring cup, and level it at the top with a butter knife.
PASTA FROLLA (PASTRY DOUGH)
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
1 extra-large egg, slightly beaten, plus 1 egg yolk
5 to 6 tablespoons ice water
2 tablespoons turbinado or raw sugar
1 cup long-grain rice
2 cups whole milk
3 inch piece of vanilla bean, slit lengthwise
1 pound ricotta cheese, well drained
3 large eggs
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons grated orange zest
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
Lightly spray a 10 1/2Ã—1-inch tart pan with removable bottom with butter spray. Set aside.
To prepare the dough, mix the all-purpose and cake flours, salt, and sugar in a food processor or bowl. Add the butter to the flour mixture and pulse to blend if using a food processor, or use a pastry blender or fork to blend the ingredients by hand. Add the whole egg and enough ice water to make a dough that is soft and not dry. Do not overmix or the dough will be tough. Gather the dough into a ball and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap. Chill the dough for 30 minutes.
To prepare the filling, pour the wheat berries or rice and milk into a 1-quart saucepan, scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the saucepan with a small knife, cover, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-low and continue cooking until all the milk is absorbed. This will take about 10 minutes. Let cool.
In a large bowl, beat the ricotta cheese, eggs, orange juice and zest, and sugar until smooth. Stir in the vanilla extract and cinnamon. Fold in the cooled rice. Set the mixture aside.
Preheat the oven to 375ºF.
Divide the dough in half. Roll each half on a lightly floured surface into a 14-inch circle. Line the tart shell with one rolled-out half and trim the edges even with the top sides of the tart pan.
Fill the tart shell with the ricotta and rice filling. There will be a little of the filling left over. This can be baked separately in a small ovenproof dish or in small ramekins.
Carefully roll the second sheet of dough loosely over the rolling pin and unroll it over the top of the filled tart. Trim off the excess dough, making sure the edges are sealed. Use the leftover dough to make a decorative pattern on top of the tart. I use a small rabbit cutter to make cutouts for the top.
Brush the tart with the egg yolk and sprinkle the turbinado sugar evenly over the top.
Bake in the middle of the oven for 40 to 50 minutes or until the top is golden brown and a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the center of the tart.
Cool the tart on a rack, then carefully remove the sides of the tart pan and place the tart on a decorative serving dish. Cut into wedges to serve.
Note: Instead of orange juice and orange zest, candied fruits and raisins can also be used.
Variation: The rice can also be cooked in 2 cups of water instead of milk.
Did you know that the Monday after Easter is called Pasquetta, Little Easter, in Italy and is a holiday almost a big as Easter? It is a day for Italians to relax in the countryside. Often a pastiera is brought along and enjoyed as picnic food.
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