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

The Old Tin Recipe Box – Steak Pub Banana Nut Bread

Tin recipe box

 

As I go through my recipe file that I now keep on my computer, my memories are sometimes drawn back to the 1970’s where I would collect recipes in a tin recipe box like the one in the photo above. This is how my mother kept her most cherished recipes and I did it that way too. A housewife’s personal treasure chest.

In my tin box I would keep my handwritten recipe cards or clippings from the local paper or magazines that I was sure I would make. In time, it would eventually rust, pit and get scratched up but would continue to be displayed prominently on my kitchen counter. That old rusty box guarded my collection of delicious dishes like a steadfast soldier for years. Then…the home computer arrived and it became my modern recipe box relieving my old tin box of its duties.

When I had one of my first computers I would spend hours using my Mastercook program entering my recipes and browsing the hundreds of recipes they included in the program. Entering recipes could be a bit tedious back then but it gave me a sense of accomplishment.

These days I no longer use any particular recipe program. All I use now is MS Word where I can create lots of different category folders. I am not limited by a pre-designed program and my recipes can be in a free form of  notes and photos that I can store all in one place.

Though the old rusty tin recipe box is long gone and the newspaper clippings have yellowed with age; I still keep several of my most cherished cards from back then in a decorative photo box.

One of the recipes that I’ve saved over the years was originally taken from our local newspaper that was shared from a local steak pub restaurant chain that made the best Banana Bread. I’ve been making it for over 40 years. Although the restaurant is long gone it has always been one of those recipes people ask for after they taste it. Hope you enjoy it too!

Steakpub banana bread

Steak Pub Banana Nut Bread

Ingredients
1 c packed light brown sugar
2 eggs
3/4 c corn oil
1/2 c sour cream
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp orange juice
1 c mashed ripe banana
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
2 c all-purpose flour
Instructions

In bowl, beat eggs and mix in brown sugar and oil until thoroughly
blended. Add sour cream, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, orange
juice. Add mashed banana to the mixture. Add walnuts and flour mixing well. Pour the batter into oiled 12″ x 4 1/2″ x 4″ loaf pan. Bake in 375 oven for 50-60 minutes. Test for doneness with a cake tester or a toothpick. Cool in pan on rack for 10 minutes. Loosen the edges and turn out to complete cooling on rack. Wrap in foil. Makes 12 Servings

Heart Healthy Valentine’s Dinner – Skillet Chicken, Sweet Potato & Asparagus

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Show your loved ones how much your love them by serving a healthy meal this Valentine’s Day. For those who are budget conscious or would rather avoid the restaurant crowds this is an affordable, healthy and flavorful, meal that is easy to prepare.

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Skillet Chicken with Sweet Potato & Asparagus

A delicious, healthy, and easy to make dinner and it take less than 40 minutes from start to finish and perfect for a busy weeknight dinner.

Ingredients

2 boneless chicken breasts cut into cubes

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and ground fresh black pepper

3 garlic cloves — minced or 3 teaspoons pre-chopped jar garlic

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper (Optional)

1 medium to large sweet potato — peeled and diced

1/2-3/4 cup chicken broth (Better than Bullion works perfect for this dish) Amount of broth depends on the size of the sweet potato used.

1/2 lb Fresh Asparagus spears, cut on a diagonal in 1 and 2 inch pieces

1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  1. Cut the chicken into small cubes and season with a bit of salt and pepper.
  2. In a skillet over medium heat, add olive oil, minced garlic, crushed red pepper and chicken. (Make sure the burned is not too hot as you don’t want to burn the garlic and red pepper)
  3. Sauté the chicken for about 8-10 minutes or until it is cooked through. When cooked set the chicken aside.
  4. In the same skillet, add the diced sweet potato and chicken broth.
  5. Cook for about 8-10 minutes or until the sweet potato is cooked through.
  6. Add asparagus pieces and cook for another 4-5 minutes.
  7. Season with remaining salt and pepper to taste more or less if desired.

 

After dinner dessert – Something Sweet

While this bakes in the oven you can prepare the Skillet Chicken dish on top of the stove.

For an easy after dinner dessert  why not give this easy recipe a try.  It is a long time favorite (since the about the 1960’s) that I learned to make years ago. Serve topped with ice cream or whipped cream. Any fruit pie filling works, apple, peach, blueberry or cherry. I have made them all.

crazycrustapplepie

 

 

 

 

Memories of a home town bakery & Apple Fritters

Have you noticed that many of the long standing old school family bakeries are slowly vanishing? Several that have been open for well over 40 years are now gone here. Where I grew up there was a bakery in almost every shopping center close to our home. That memorable aroma when you first walked in of baked cake and bread is slowly disappearing here in suburbia. The bakery sections in the local grocery stores and super centers may have replaced them, but they will never really duplicate them.

I used to love when we stopped for fresh rolls and buns after Sunday Mass. The glass cases would be filled with butter cookies, pastry and the most beautifully decorated special occasion cakes with colorful flowers and leaves. They had assorted pies, chocolate cakes, crumb cakes and one of our favorites, apple fritters. Those large doughy pastries filled with chopped apple bits topped with a sugary glaze. They were amazing with a cold glass of milk.

Over the years I tried different recipes for apple fritters. The recipes were good but didn’t come anywhere near the ones from the bakery until I found this recipe several years ago. I think this is the best recipe for apple fritters anyone can make at home. Many times I was asked if they came from a bakery, that they hadn’t had apple fritter like these in years. What a great compliment!

This recipe is adapted from the Cook’s Country recipe book. They are easy to make and and I know you will love them.

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Apple Fritters

Ingredients
For the Fritters – Recipe make 10-12 fritters depending on size.
2 granny apples peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4-inch pieces (I have also used Gala and Honey Crisp apples when I had them from an orchard we stop at)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon (Penzey’s Vietnamese Cinnamon works so well in this recipe)
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
3/4 cup apple cider (Please use apple cider not apple juice)
2 large eggs lightly beaten
2 tbsp unsalted butter melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
For the Glaze
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
1/4 cup apple cider (Please use apple cider not apple juice)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (Penzey’s Vietnamese Cinnamon works so well in this recipe)
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

Instructions
Add all dry ingredients (flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg) in a large bowl and whisk to combine. Stir in apples.
Next add wet ingredients (cider, eggs, melted butter, and vanilla extract) to a separate bowl and whisk together then pour mixture into dry ingredients and whisk until combined.
Heat 3 cups of vegetable oil in dutch oven over medium-high heat to about 350 degrees. Use 1/3-cup measure to transfer 5 heaping portions of batter into the hot oil. Press batter lightly with the back of spoon to flatten somewhat. Fry until golden brown (about 2 to 3 minutes each side). Once all fritters are fried, remove fritters and transfer fritters to wire rack set inside rimmed baking sheet or to a paper towel to dry. Bring oil back to 350 degrees and repeat with remaining batter. Let fritters cool 5 minutes.
Whisk together confectioners’ sugar, cider, cinnamon, and nutmeg in medium bowl until smooth. Spoon over fritters and let set for 10 minutes then serve.

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Holiday Fruit Cake or Fruit Bread

Fruitcake (or fruit cake or fruit bread) is a cake made with candied or dried fruit, nuts, and spices, and optionally soaked in brandy or rum. In the United Kingdom, certain rich versions may be iced and decorated. Fruitcakes are typically served in celebration of weddings and Christmas. Given their rich nature, fruitcakes are most often consumed on their own,  or sometimes served with butter or cream.

festive fruit cake

We enjoy simple fruit cake at our house. Some fruit cakes are loaded with so much fruit and nuts there is very little cake. Years ago I came across a super simple fruit cake on the back of a cake box that I have tweaked a bit and I have been making it every since. It is just the way we enjoy fruit cake. You may want to give it a try.

Easy Fruit Cake

Ingredients:

2 cups water

1/4 cup oil

2 eggs

2 (16.6-oz.) pkgs. of a Date Nut Quick Bread & Muffin Mix

2 cups Pecans, chopped for the cake but save a few whole one for decorating the cake top

2 cups Raisins

2 cups Candied mixed fruit

1/2 cup Candied Cherries, halved

1/2 cup Candied pineapple, cut-up

Corn syrup, if desired

Preparation Directions:
1. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour bottom and sides of 12-cup Bundt® pan or 10-inch tube pan. In large bowl, combine water, oil and eggs; beat well. Add all remaining ingredients except corn syrup; stir with spoon until combined. Pour into greased and floured pan. You way wish set aside some candied cherry halves and Pecans to decorate the top of the cake before baking.

2. Bake at 350°F. for 1 hour 25 minutes to 1 hour 45 minutes or until golden brown and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 30 minutes. Remove from pan. Cool 1 hour or until completely cooled.

3. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap or foil. Refrigerate at least 8 hours. Store in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks or in freezer for up to 3 months.

4. Just before serving, heat corn syrup until warm. Brush over fruitcake. If desired, decorate with additional candied fruits and nuts or as desired.

pannettone sliced 2017pannettone 2017

Another version of fruit cake we enjoy would be what sometimes is referred to as Fruit Bread but I call it Panettone. I make a very easy version in my bread machine. We enjoy it sliced; spread with some butter and a hot cup of tea.

Bread Machine Panettone

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 6 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 tbsp. sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 package Instant yeast
  • 1 teaspoon Vital Wheat Gluten (optional – I find it helps bread machine breads rise beautifully. You can find it at King Arthur Flour website, store in a glass jar in your freezer it keeps much longer)
  • 1/2 cup candied fruit
  • 1/3 cup chopped almonds (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract

 Directions

Add all ingredients in bread machine pan including the yeast.  Select white bread or sweet bread setting.

(I have use the Raisin Bake bread setting for 4 hours in my Panasonic SD-YD250, light crust, large loaf).

Dough will look wet but that is normal for this bread, don’t be tempted to add more flour.

Hit start and let it go!

Spring has arrived, well almost…

The calendar may say its’ Spring but the weather has been less than kind. We have had four Nor’easters in the past month, essentially one a week. It’s been snow one day and sunshine the next. I am so ready for Spring and birds and flowers.

But today it’s time to plan some baking for next weekend, it’s Easter. My husband’s favorite guilty pleasure this time of year is Hot Cross Buns. So today I will busy in the kitchen baking them. The last batch I made I had a bit of an icing fail but they tasted delicious.
The original recipes is from the King Arthur Flour website. Here is the link:

Easy Hot Cross Buns

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My other Easter or Spring time favorite is Pineapple Ricotta Pie.

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PINEAPPLE RICOTTA PIE

Ingredients

1 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter (soft)
1/4 cup fine graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
One 15 oz container ricotta
2 large eggs
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 Tsp grated lemon zest
1 tsp vanilla extract

TOPPING
One 20 oz can crushed pineapple in syrup
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
2 Tsp fresh lemon juice

Instructions

16. Preheat the oven to 350
17. Spread the butter over the bottom and sides of a 9 inch pie pan or spring form pan. Slightly more on the sides and less on the bottom.
18. Add the crumbs – turn the pan to coat the bottom and sides evenly.
19. In a large bowl stir together the cornstarch and sugar.
20. Add the ricotta, eggs, cream, lemon zest and vanilla.
21. Beat until smooth.
22. Pour into the graham cracker prepared pan.
23. Bake for 50 minutes or until the pie is set around the edges but the center is still  slightly soft.
24. Cool to room temp on a wire rack.
25. TOPPING
26. Drain the pineapple well and reserve 1/2 cup of the syrup.
27. In a medium saucepan stir together the sugar and cornstarch.
28. Stir in the 1/2 cup pineapple syrup and the lemon juice.
29. Cook stirring until thickened – about 1 minute.
30. Add the pineapple and stir in.
31. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly
32. Spread the pineapple mixture on top of the pie.
33. Allow to chill in the fridge for at least one hour or more