Neapolitan Easter Pie
The official name of this pie 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 works equally well.
Makes one 9-inch pie, 8 to 10 servings
3 cups all-purpose flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons water
1/2 cup hulled white wheat berries
1 1/2 quarts (6 cups) cold water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup milk
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
Ground cinnamon for sprinkling
- For the crust, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse several times to mix.
- Add the butter and pulse repeatedly until the butter is finely mixed into the dry ingredients – you do not want any visible pieces of butter.
- Add the eggs, egg yolks, and water. Pulse repeatedly until the dough forms a ball. Invert the food processor bowl over a floured work surface to turn out the dough. Carefully remove the blade and transfer any dough on it to the surface. Form the dough into a disk about 1/2-inch thick. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate it. When the dough is chilled, use about half to line a 9-inch pie pan and roll the other half into a 9-inch square. Chill both pieces of dough for up to 3 days before using.
- 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 cooked through, about 1 hour. Drain the cooked wheat berries and transfer them to a bowl to cool.
- Set a rack in the lowest level of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.
- 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.
- 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.
- Scrape the filling into the prepared crust and sprinkle some cinnamon on the filling. Paint the edge of the crust with water.
- 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 one another on the filling, letting the excess dough hang over the edge of the pie. Arrange the 5 remaining strips in exactly the same manner, but at a 45-degree angle to the first ones.
- 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 cut off the excess dough at the rim of the pan.
- 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.