Memories of Italian Easter Pies

Spring has arrived and Easter is only two weeks away. When I was growing up I remember my mother just before Easter making Italian Grain Pie and on occasion, a meat and cheese filled pie which I never knew the name of back then, but both were so delicious.

Italian Grain Pie

The Italian Wheat Grain Pie is a tasty dessert of cooked wheat berries, sweetened ricotta, the delicate flavors of lemon and orange peel and a bit of candied citron fruit. I have never made the pie myself but thinking this might be the year to give it a try. My mother’s recipe is only a scribbling of pencil notes but I did manage to find a similar recipe that looked close to the one I have.

Easter Grain Pie

This fruity ricotta and wheat pie is dense and moist. A real Italian treat for Easter

Ingredients
• 5 cups water
• 1/2 cup whole wheat berries
• 6 eggs
• 1 cup white sugar
• 1 (8 ounces) package mixed candied fruit
• 1 1/2 pounds ricotta cheese
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
• 2 teaspoons grated orange zest
• 1 tablespoon shortening
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 2 pastries for 9-inch lattice-top pies
• 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Directions
1. Bring water to a boil in a large saucepan. Pour in wheat and allow to boil 40 minutes. As wheat is cooking, beat eggs in a large bowl while gradually adding 1 cup sugar to eggs. Mix in fruit, ricotta, vanilla extract, cinnamon, lemon rind, and orange rind.
2. When wheat is ready, drain in a colander and rinse with warm water. Place 3/4 cup of cooked wheat in a small bowl, and mix in shortening and salt. Stir until shortening is melted, then stir wheat mixture into ricotta mixture along with the rest of the cooked wheat berries.
3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
4. Line two 9 inch pie pans with pastry. Cut remaining pastry into strips for tops of pies. Spoon half of filling into each pan. Cover with pastry strips to form lattice tops. Crimp edges.
5. Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes, until crust is golden brown. Sprinkle each pie with 1 tablespoon sugar and allow to cool at room temperature. Chill overnight before serving. Store any leftovers in the refrigerator.

Pizza Rustica or Easter Pie

Over the years, I learned that delicious meat and cheese pie I remember eating was called Pizzagaina or Pizza Rustica. There are so many versions of this recipe to choose from. I have made several versions over the years from a simple easy to make quiche recipe to others that were much more labor intensive but so amazingly delicious. Easter Pie is traditionally served noon or later on Easter Saturday or as my mom would say “After the church bells ring” signaling the end of Lent.

This is the first version of Pizza Rustica I made:

Pizzagaina

pizzagaina

1/2 lb ham (sliced thick from deli-counter or cubed pieces of boiled ham)
• 1/4 lb prosciutto (regular prosciutto)
• 1/4 lb capicola (spiced-hot capicola )
• 1/4 lb genoa salami
• 1 lb mozzarella cheese (1 entire brick of whole milk mozzarella, shredded)
• 2 lbs ricotta cheese (whole milk)
• 1 stick pepperoni (sliced) about ¼ lb or so could be more
• 3 tablespoons parmesan cheese
• 12 -14 eggs (start with 12 and if too dry add 1 or 2 more)
• 2 lbs pizza dough (homemade or store bought)

1. Cube ham meat. Cut sliced meat by rolling & slicing or cutting with scissors. Shred mozzarella. In a very large bowl, add ricotta. Add 12 – 14 eggs. Add 3 heaping tablespoons Grated cheese – then stir in the cubed meat and cheese.
2. Brush pan (Large deep lasagna pan about 9 x 13 or 9 x 15) with oil then melted butter. Roll out & lay dough. Add cheese/meat mixture. Add top layer of dough and pinch bottom & top dough seams together tightly.
3. Brush top with oil then egg. Sprinkle with grated cheese. Make Easter Cross with a large fork to vent. Bless.
4. Bake 375º x 10 min. Then 350º x 60 min. Then 325º x 30-45 minute.
5. Remove from oven. Brush top with melted butter. Cool 2-3 hours.
Turn upside down overnight on large board. Cover pizza tightly with paper towels, foil, & dish-towel. Refrigerate.

The Pizza Rustica I am most proud of was one filled with Spinach and Peppers. It was so beautiful when sliced.

Pizza Rustica with Spinach & Peppers

Easter Pizza Rustica

Pastry Dough
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) cold, unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/4 cup cold solid vegetable shortening, cut into pieces
3 large eggs, beaten
3 T ice water, or more as needed

Blend flour and salt in a food processor. Add the butter and shortening and pulse until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Blend in the eggs. With the machine running, add the water 1 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 (and up to 1 day).

Filling
1 (16-ounce) bag frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained (or 2 300-gram boxes of frozen spinach)
2 T olive oil
2 tsp. minced garlic
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 (15-ounce/475 gram) container whole-milk ricotta cheese
1/3 cup plus 2 T freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3 large egg yolks
3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
4 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, coarsely chopped
4 ounces thinly sliced pepperoni
4 ounces thinly sliced salami
1 (10 to 12 ounce/300 ml) jar roasted red bell peppers, drained
1 large egg, beaten

Position the rack on the bottom of the oven, and preheat oven to 375F. Squeeze the spinach to drain off as much liquid as possible. Heat oil in medium, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and sauté until tender, about 1 minute. Add the spinach and sauté until heated through about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside to cool. Blend the ricotta, 1/3 cup of the Parmesan cheese, and the egg yolks in a food processor, until smooth.

Roll out the larger dough ball on a lightly floured surface to a 17-inch round. Transfer the dough to a 9-inch springform pan. Sprinkle half of the spinach mixture over the bottom of the dough. Sprinkle 3/4 cup of mozzarella cheese over the spinach. Spread half of the ricotta mixture (about 1 cup) over the mozzarella cheese. Arrange half of each of the prosciutto, pepperoni, and salami over the ricotta mixture. Sprinkle 3/4 cup mozzarella over the meats. Arrange half the roasted red peppers in an even layer over the cheese. Sprinkle the remaining spinach mixture over the peppers. Sprinkle 3/4 cup of the mozzarella over the spinach. Spread remaining ricotta mixture over the mozzarella cheese. Arrange the remaining prosciutto, pepperoni, and salami over the ricotta mixture. Sprinkle the remaining 3/4 cup mozzarella cheese over the meats. Arrange the remaining roasted peppers over the cheese.

Roll out the second piece of dough into a 12-inch round. Place the dough over the filling. Pinch the edges of the doughs together to seal. Using scissors, trim the edge of the dough to 1/2 inch. Fold the dough edges in, creating a decorative rim atop the pizza. Brush some of the egg over the dough. Sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons of Parmesan over the top. Bake on bottom rack until the crust is brown on top and around the sides (cover the top with foil if it begins to brown too quickly before the sides are brown), about 1 hour.

Let the pizza stand until just warm, about 2 hours. Cut into wedges and serve.

Serves: 8 – 10

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