Today, my offerings for Part 4 are Italian Easter grain pies. These pies are commonly referred to as Pastiera di Grano or Torta di Grano, and are said to have originated in a convent in Naples, Italy. They are dense and moist ricotta based dessert pies filled filled with cooked grains and delicately flavored with the essence of oranges. The traditional preparation uses wheat berries, but over the years many different evolutions of this dish have emerged, using a variety of different grains, such as barley and rice. I think this is probably because wheat berries are not always readily available. Whichever grains one decides to use, they are the key component of this pie because they represent spring, rebirth and the Resurrection. In my family, we always enjoyed these delicious sweet pies, along with our Pizza Rustica, after Mass on Easter Sunday.
Mom: "No, I'm not! That's the rule. Ask anyone! Besides, I always use barley in this pie!"
My mother tends to be competitive by nature. When we played Monopoly as kids, she never let us win. No sir! She would kick our asses from here to Sunday, buying up every property she could and then putting five hotels on each one! When we would complain, she told us that life wasn't fair and that she was preparing us to handle disappointment. I don't know for sure, but I think that she was full of crap. I still don't handle disappointment well.
Both recipes begin with a base of ricotta and eggs, and both are flavored with vanilla and orange flower water, but the similarity ends there. My mother uses a traditional pie crust for her pies and I make mine with a filo crust. If you've visited here before, you know that I'm a little doughaphobic. I never make a pie crust if I can avoid it, and this was no exception. Besides, I really like the crunch factor that the filo gives this pie. I took this inspiration from one of Giada's recipes.
I also use whole eggs in my pie filling, whereas Mom separates her eggs and whips the whites before she adds them to her filling. And then, of course, there's the matter of the barley versus the rice. I also decided to add some mascarpone to my pies this year. I know that it isn't traditional, but I love the creamy richness of mascarpone and I wanted to see how it would work in the recipe. I put a little cinnamon in my Easter pies. Mom puts a splash of rose flower water in hers.
The verdict? Both versions of the Pastiera looked and tasted great! When Mom tasted my pie, she generously conceded that it was delicious. The mascarpone really added to the "wow factor", giving the pie a really silky texture. What did I think of the barley pie? Well, I have to admit, I thought that it was pretty darn good too.
1 cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
Blend 1 cup of sugar, eggs, vanilla, orange zest, orange flower water, cinnamon and ricotta until smooth. Stir in the rice and pine nuts. Set aside.
Lightly butter a 9-inch pie plate. Lay 2 phyllo sheets over the bottom and up opposite sides of the dish, allowing the phyllo to hang over the sides. Brush the phyllo with melted butter and sprinkle a little sugar over it. Top with another 2 sheets of phyllo dough, laying it in the opposite direction as the first sheets. Continue layering the remaining sheets of phyllo sheets, alternating after each layer and buttering and sugaring each sheet until they are all used.
Bake the pie until the phyllo is golden brown and the filling is set, about 40 minutes. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool completely before serving.
Mom's Pastiera di Grano
For the crust:
For the filling:
To make the filling:
In a large bowl, mix together the ricotta, sugar, remaining zest, orange flower water and rose flower water. Add the egg yolks and beat until smooth. Fold in the barley. Gently fold in the egg whites into the ricotta mixture