From the kitchen of One Perfect Bite...There are some foods and beverages that are acquired tastes. Martinis and haggis come to mind and I suspect the pie I'm featuring tonight might be on that list as well. Pastiera is a wheat and ricotta pie that is part of the Italian Easter tradition. It is made with grano cotto, a cooked wheat product that is sold in cans in older Italian markets. The goopy mass of cooked wheat is mixed with a bit of sugar, fresh ricotta cheese and orange water then poured into a pie shell for baking. Back in the day, the pie was an integral part of the Easter meal in Italian homes, though I'm sure there were some at the table who would have preferred a coconut lamb cake. I had a forkful of the pie when I was six years old, and despite my love of all things Italian, it never crossed my lips again. As I initially said, this is an acquired taste and I suspect some of you are wondering why I am even mentioning the pastiera tonight. As it happens, I have a friend who was passing through a bad stretch a few years ago. She had fond memories of the pastiera, so I took it upon myself to bake for her and lift her spirits with the Easter pie. I was unable to find grano cotto, so I used soaked barley instead. My first effort was an unmitigated failure, so I began to look for other ways to make the pie. I knew that wheat was used because it symbolizes resurrection, but symbolism aside, without the proper form of wheat, I had no chance of success. In the course of my search, I found recipes that used rice, rather than wheat to make the pie. Both Mary Ann Esposito and Giada De Laurentis used rice, but I decided to use Giada's recipe because it was easier and used phyllo sheets to make a leafy crust for a custard that was much like rice pudding. The finished pie was beautiful. If you'd like to see Giada make the pie, a video can be found here. I do have a caution to share with those of you who decide to make this pie. Taste the custard filling as you go along. Keep the vanilla bottle nearby and don't be afraid to use more sugar. I still make this pie for my friend who asks for it each year. Never doubt that memory trumps the palate. Now for those of you who are brave enough to try a real pastiera, I'd like to recommend the one that is made my friend Claudia, who has a recipe for the pie on her blog, Journey of An Italian Cook, which you can find here. The recipe below is the one I used to make my friend's Easter pie.
Sweet Easter Pie...from the kitchen of One Perfect Bite courtesy of Giada De Laurentis
3/4 to 1 cup powdered sugar, plus extra for garnish
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 (15-ounce) container whole milk ricotta cheese
1/2 cup cooked short-grained rice
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
6 sheets fresh phyllo sheets or frozen, thawed
3/4 stick (3 ounces) unsalted butter, melted
1) Blend 3/4 to 1 cup powdered sugar, eggs, vanilla, orange zest and ricotta in a food processor until smooth. Stir in rice and pine nuts. Set ricotta mixture aside.
2) Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
3) Lightly butter a 9-inch glass pie dish. Lay 1 phyllo sheet over bottom and up sides of the dish, allowing phyllo to hang over sides. Brush the phyllo, including the drooping sides with melted butter. Top with a second sheet of phyllo dough, laying it in opposite direction as the first phyllo sheet. Continue layering remaining sheets of phyllo sheets, alternating after each layer and buttering each sheet. Spoon ricotta mixture into the dish. Fold overhanging phyllo dough over top of filling to enclose it completely. Brush completely with melted butter.
4) Bake pie until phyllo is golden brown and the filling is set, about 35 minutes. Transfer pan to a rack and cool completely. Sift powdered sugar over the pie and serve. Yield: 8 servings.
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