Neapolitan Easter Pie

The official name of this in Italian is Pastiera Napoletana, though many Italian Americans also refer to it as Pizza di Grano, or grain pie. It’s a sweet crust filled with ricotta, pastry cream, and cooked wheat berries, and scented with orange flower water. If you live near an Italian grocery story, they will always have wheat berries around Easter – you just need to ask for wheat or grain. Or you can buy it in a health food store. Take care when you purchase the wheat: The wheat berries you need to buy are white, not brown or red. White wheat berries cook relatively quickly, whereas the unhulled darker ones take forever to cook. If no wheat berries are available, substitute an equal amount of long-grain rice or pearl barley, either of which work equally well.

One 9-inch pie, 8 to 10 servings


Wheat Berries

1/2 cup hulled white wheat berries

1 1/2 quarts (6 cups) cold water

1/4 teaspoon salt

Pastry Cream

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

1/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 cup milk

Filling

Pastry Cream, above

1 cup (about 8 ounces) whole-milk ricotta

1/4 cup sugar

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon orange flower water

1/3 cup candied orange peel, cut into 1/4-inch dice

Wheat Berries, above

1 batch Pasta Frolla, below, half lining a 9-inch pie pan, unbaked, the other half rolled into a 9-inch square and chilled,

Ground cinnamon for sprinkling

  1. Early in the day you intend to bake the pie, combine the wheat berries with the cold water and the salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then decrease the heat to low and allow the wheat to simmer gently until it is tender and cooked though, about 1 hour. Drain the cooked wheat berries and transfer them to a bowl to cool.
  2. Set a rack in the lowest level of the oven and preheat to 350˚F.
  3. For the pastry cream, whisk the egg and yolk in a bowl and whisk in the sugar and flour. Whisk in the milk and scrape the mixture into a small saucepan. Place over low heat and stir constantly until the mixture thickens and comes to a gentle boil. Continue cooking, stirring constantly, for a few seconds after the cream reaches the boil.
  4. Scrape the pastry cream into a bowl. Immediately whisk in the ricotta until smooth. Whisk in the sugar, then the eggs one at a time. Stir in the orange flower water, candied orange peel, and the wheat.
  5.  Scrape the filling into the prepare crust and sprinkle some cinnamon over the filling. Paint the edge of the crust with water.
  6. Remove the chilled square of dough from the refrigerator and use a serrated cutting wheel to cut it into 3/4-inch wide strips. Arrange 5 of the strip parallel to and equidistant from each other on the filling, letting the excess dough hang over the edge of the pie. Place the 5 remaining strips in exactly the same manner, but at a 45-degree angle to the first ones.
  7. Gently press the ends of the strips to adhere to the edge of the bottom crust, then use a bench scraper or the back of a knife to sever the excess dough at the rim of the pan.
  8. Bake the pie until the filling is set and slightly puffed and the crust is baked through, about 40 minutes. Cool on a rack.

Serving: Serve wedges of the pie; it needs no accompaniment.

Storage: Keep the pastiera at a cool room temperature on the day it is baked. Wrap and refrigerate leftovers, then bring to room temperature before serving again.

Pasta Frolla

This is Italy’s most typical pastry dough, used for both sweet and savory pies.

 

2 cups all-purpose flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)

1/3 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold

2 large eggs

    1.     Combine dry ingredients in bowl of food processor fitted with the metal blade and pulse several times to mix.

 2.     Cut butter into 8 pieces and distribute evenly over dry ingredients in work bowl. Pulse until very finely powdered.

 3.     Add eggs and continue to pulse until dough forms a ball.

 4.     Remove dough, press into a thick cylinder, wrap, and chill until firm before rolling.