Neapolitan Easter Pie

I haven't been here for a while due to computer woes (all settled now) and edits on BREAD! due out in the fall.  Things are finally starting to lighten up.  Watch for complete instructions on cultivating your own sourdough starter beginning Tuesday. EasterPie12Photo credit:  Charles Schiller

PASTIERA NAPOLETANA

NEAPOLITAN EASTER PIE WITH RICOTTA AND WHEAT

Though the official name of this pie is Pastiera Napoletana, many Italian Americans also refer to it as Pizza di Grano, grain or wheat pie.  It’s a sweet crust filled with ricotta, pastry cream, and cooked wheat berries, and scented with orange flower water.  Please be careful when you purchase the wheat.  If you live near an Italian grocery store, they will always have it around Easter – you just need to ask for wheat or grain.  Or you can buy it even more easily in a health food store.  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 (boil it like pasta until tender, about 15 minutes) or pearl barley, which is cooked exactly like the wheat berries.

Makes one 9-inch pie, about 8 to 10 servings

WHEAT BERRIES

1/2 cup hulled white wheat berries

1/4 teaspoon salt

PASTA FROLLA

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold and cut into 8 pieces

2 large eggs

PASTRY CREAM

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

1/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 cup milk

FILLING

All the 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

All the cooked wheat berries, above

Ground cinnamon for sprinkling the filling

One 9-inch Pyrex pie pan

  1. Early in the day you intend to bake the pie, combine the wheat berries with about 2 quarts 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 cooked though, about an hour.
  2. Drain and cool the wheat in a bowl.
  3. For the dough, pulse the dry ingredients in a food processor fitted with the steel blade.  Add the butter and pulse repeatedly until the butter is finely worked in and no visible pieces of butter remain.  Add the eggs and pulse until the dough forms a ball.
  4. Divide the dough into 2 pieces, one of which is slightly larger than the other.  Roll the larger piece of dough on a floured surface and use it to line the pan.  Trim the dough even with the edge of the pan.  Roll the remaining dough to a 10-inch square and slide it to a flexible cookie sheet or thin flexible cutting board and refrigerate it while preparing the filling.
  5. Set a rack in the lowest level of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.
  6. For the pastry cream, whisk the egg and yolk together in a bowl and whisk in the sugar and flour.  Whisk in the milk and scrape the mixture into a small saucepan.  Place over medium/low heat and stir constantly until the mixture thickens and comes to a gentle boil.  Cook, stirring constantly, for a few seconds after the cream reaches the boil.
  7. 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.
  8.  Scrape the filling into the prepare crust and sprinkle some cinnamon in the filling.  Paint the edge of the bottom crust with water.
  9. 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 strips parallel and equidistant from each other on the filling, letting the excess dough hang over the edge of the pie.  Place the 5 remaining strips on exactly the same way, but at a 45-degree angle to the first ones.
  10. 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.
  11. Bake the pastiera until the filling is set and slightly puffed and the crust is baked through, about 40 minutes.
  12. 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.  Bring to room temperature before serving again.