Well who’d have thunk it? This is how my post started last year…”The other day I posted a picture on FB of my 2020 Easter (pandemic) pie”. …AND HERE WE ARE 2021, and ANOTHER EASTER IN LOCKDOWN!
Well, what can I say, marking traditions, sharing holidays and meals, albeit virtually, help us retain a sense of normalcy, even though we know that there is nothing normal about this. The only possible good thing about the Pandemic is that it may have solved the problem of family dinner table arguments. You know, the ones when we used to gather, wearing our holiday finest, participating in the preparation for the festivities. Cleaning, shopping, cooking, doing a million things to make the day special. Breaking out those once a year recipes to mark the special occaion. Then finally everyone would gather at the table, and things would start pleasantly enough, until finally some discussion would start, sides would be taken, someone would hurl a snide remark and before you know it, someone was storming away from the table in tears…or was that just at my house? First of all, Zoom celebrations have a limited life span, far too short to initiate a fight, and ending a call is as easy as feigning connection problems.
Despite the grim and truly mentally fatiguing situation that everyone is going through right now, I see a lot of people putting on a good face and keeping to the strict COVID-19 regulations in place. So since there isn’t much to tell of the non-goings on here, I’m recycling my Pastiera article.
When I lived in New York, Easter prep would include a trip to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx to buy easter eggs, a leg of lamb and a ham, the traditional boxed Colomba cake (a dove-shaped cake covered in sugar and almonds) and the Pastiera or Neapolitan wheat berry Pie. My Mom was from Northern Italy, so it wasn’t in her repetoire to make the pastiera but since my Dad’s family was from Southern Italy, the pie was a staple at our Easter table.
My Dad’s sister, Rosie, made a delicious Pastiera and when I asked her to share her family recipe, she said, “I just follow the instructions on the can of wheatberries!” (FYI Tommy!) Over the years, finding canned or jarred wheat berries has become more difficult and I guess it is because fewer Mamme and Nonne are making the pies anymore … the loss of a great tradition. In fact, one time when I went to the Italian food shop near my home in New York they looked at me with utter shock when I told them that I still make the cake and they informed me that the wheat berries would have to be special ordered.
Now let’s be clear, this is DEFINITELY NOT A Trieste tradition, although as a city of immigrants from all over the world and many from the south of Italy, I thought I would share my recipe for this Easter staple, so here goes. However, it is a delicious dessert and as long as you can find the ingredients (which are considered seasonal), you should not miss out on the opportunity of making this “pie”.
Firstly, I am one of those people who would rather buy canned beans than dried beans. I have neither the patience nor the planning ability to work with dried grains or legumes so I opt for the canned or jarred wheat berries. That alone shaves about 4 hours off the process.
For the grain prep:
1 jar or can of cooked wheat berry or grano cotto (approx. 350gr)
2/3 cup milk
Teaspoon Vanilla extract
For the dough:
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus 1 tablespoon for pan
1/2 cup cake flour
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing pan
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon (preferably organic)
For the filling:
12 ounces whole-milk ricotta
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
1 tablespoon orange-flower water or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup finely slivered or finely diced candied orange peel and citron
5 large egg yolks
1/2 cup lightly toasted pine nuts
3 large egg whites
1. For grain: Pour the cooked wheatberries from one jar or can into a sauce pot and add 2/3 cup milk, a teaspoon of vanilla extract, sugar and simmer for 10 minutes on a low flame. Turn off and let cool.
2. For dough: Add 1 whole egg plus 1 egg white (keep the yolk to make a wash for the top of the pie later) and sugar to food processor and pulse until smooth. Add 1/4 cup all-purpose flour and pulse again. Cute butter into pieces and add a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. Pulse in remaining 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour and cake flour, then lemon zest, pulsing just enough to mix smoothly. Shape a third of the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate.
Lightly butter and flour bottom and sides of a round 10-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Working quickly, roll out remaining dough between two sheets of waxed paper to fit bottom and sides of the pan. Fit crust into pan, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until chilled, at least one hour.
While your crust is chilling, preheat oven to 300 degrees.
3. For filling: Blend ricotta in food mixer until smooth. Add lemon zest, orange flower water, and sugar. Add egg yolks one at a time. Transfer to a bowl and fold in candied citron and orange peel and grain.
Beat egg whites until very stiff. Stir one-quarter into ricotta mixture until smooth, then fold in remaining whites. Pour into pie crust. Roll out reserved dough between two sheets of waxed paper, and cut into lattice strips to fit the top of tart. Beat reserved egg yolk with a little water and paint top of tart. Transfer to oven and bake until the top is firm and dry and a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 1/2 hours. If tart begins to brown too much on top, cover lightly with foil. When the tart is done, turn off heat but leave tart to cool in oven with door ajar. Sprinkle confectioner sugar on top and serve at room temperature or barely warm.
Yield: One 10-inch pie, 10 to 12 servings
How to Make a Cake Flour Substitute at Home
Making a cake flour substitute is easy with the following two ingredients: all-purpose flour and either cornstarch or arrowroot powder.
1 cup AP flour – 2 Tablespoons AP flour + 2 Tablespoons cornstarch or arrowroot = 1 cup cake flour
Start with one level cup of AP flour, remove two tablespoons of the flour, and add two tablespoons of cornstarch or arrowroot powder back in. Then sift the mixture together to be sure the ingredients are well distributed.
When added to all-purpose flour, cornstarch will inhibit the formation of gluten while also giving structure and “sponginess” to your cake.
Happy holidays people, stay home, stay safe and take care of your neighbors.