Easter · Just Dessert

Neopolitan Easter Pies (Two Versions – Barley and Rice)

I know, Easter was last month.  Move on, Jayne, move on.

Okay, I will, but first I need to post this.  It ties up the loose end of this brief post.

I'd offered to bring something to brunch at my cousin's house on Easter, and I was asked to make a rice pie or a cheesecake.

I love cheesecake, but I've never actually made a rice pie before, so that's what I went with.  Back when I was a teenager and used to work at an Italian/Seafood restaurant, I remember the time around Easter as being filled with gorgeous egg breads – those braided breads with colored eggs woven into the strands of dough – and the Easter pies.  That's when I first tasted them.  I think there may have been two kinds – one with rice and one just ricotta.  I could be wrong – it was a long time ago and I wasn't as aware of food details as I am now.  I do remember, however, that they tasted fabulous.

And I wanted to capture some of that for Easter.

I looked through my Italian cookbooks and found several recipes for Easter pie, or rice pie…and the one I chose was actually not for a rice pie at all – it was a Neopolitan Easter Pie, from Carlo Middione's The Food of Southern Italy.  And it makes sense that a Southern Italian recipe wouldn't have rice – rice was a bigger staple of the Italian diet in the north.  So what was used instead?  Wheat.  Whole wheat berries.  Soaked for days.  Yes, days.

Well, in my last-minute way, I didn't have a whole lot of days to soak anything.  Fortunately for me, Chef Middione offered a substitute – barley.  Shorter soaking time, shorter cooking time.  Perfect.  And I had barley, too.

But there was something else to consider, too.

My cousin's wife (would that make her my cousin-in-law?) went gluten-free a while ago, and barley contains gluten.  Rice doesn't.  So I could sub in rice for the wheat/barley in the recipe, right? 

Except that I really, really wanted to stay true to the recipe, or as close as possible without soaking wheat berries for days and days.  So I figured I'd make half rice and half with barley.  Simple enough, isn't it?  Unless you're me, and then you don't just cut the recipe in half – no – you DOUBLE it.  So instead of making four 8" tarts, you're making 8 of them.  Don't look for logic there – it packed up and left long ago.

So here we go – I'm going to post the recipe for the crust first, and then my two variations for the filling.

Now's your chance to get a snack.  There's a lot to cover.

All set?  Okay.

First, the pastry dough.  "Pasta Frolla" or Tender Pastry.  The recipe in the book is for two 9-inch tarts.  Since I was making 8, I quadrupled the recipe.  Yikes.  But I'll just post the original recipe here.

The funny thing about this pastry recipe (to me) is that the butter is at room temperature when you add it to the flour/salt/sugar mixture.  I read it twice, just to be sure.  But yes – room temperature butter.  AND, you don't chill it before rolling it out.  I know!  I kept looking back at the book.  Are you SURE?  And the book never wavered.

Here are the ingredients:

2  1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup sweet (unsalted) butter at room temperature

Optional:  rind of 1 lemon

4-5 tablespoons ice water (or use wine or whiskey, but be sure it is cold.

And now, here are the directions, straight from the book:

"If you are using a marble slab to make the dough by hand, place the flour, sugar, salt and lemon rind if desired) in a mound.  Then use your fingers in a circular motion to create a "well" in the mound of flour.  Break the butter into little pieces about the size of grapes and throw them into the well.  Then pull some of the flour onto the butter and combine them.  Do this very quickly and do not overmix.  Add the water and very quickly mix the dough to that it just holds together.  This should take about 1 minute.  (You can do all of this in an electric mixer using the paddle or flat beater attachment.  I find that a food processor makes the dough too wet, and I don't like the results.  Use one if you wish and if you know what you are doing.)  When the dough just holds together and is not crumbly, wrap it in plastic or foil and let it rest out of the refrigerator, but in a cool place, for about half an hour.

roll out the dough with a heavy rolling pin, but do not put too much pressure on it.  It will be quite fragile.  Lightly dust with flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking to the marble or to the rolling pin.  If the dough breaks, do not be concerned because it is easily repaired.  Simply push it together again, or break a piece off the edge and use it like you would moeling clay to repair any tears or breaks.  Gently but firmly, grasp the top edge of the dough and lay it over the rolling pin.  Then roll the dough and the pin toward you and keep rolling the dough onto the pin.  Put the dough into a tart pan.  Lay the loose end of the dough on the edge of the pan and then unroll the dough slowly and gently, in the reverse direction and let the dough fall into the pan.  Adjust it after it is in the pan, if necessary.  If the dough breaks while you are putting it in the pan or even afterward, simply repair it as described earlier.  Prick the dough, at random, all over the bottom with an eating fork.  Cool the dough in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours. 

When you are ready to bake the crust, put wax paper or lightweight foil on top of the dough.  Fill the tart with dry beans or rice as a weight to keep the dough from ballooning while baking.  Medium-sized gravel also would be good to use.  It never breaks or becomes rancid because you can soak it in detergent occasionally, rinse it well, and reuse it indefinitely.  Gravel is cheap and readily available at pet or hardware stores."

Got all that memorized?  Good.  Here are the photos and my own commentary….

OH!  And keep in mind as you look through these – I had quadrupled the recipe.  Because I am crazy.

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Okay, here are the ingredients (except the salt, which I forgot to include in the photo, but not in the actual making of the dough.  The butter is ROOM TEMPERATURE, which was so odd to me.  But anyway.

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Here's all the dry ingredients, whisked together.  Oh, and I opted to use a bowl instead of the countertop (I don't have a marble slab) because it's easier to clean up after.

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Here are my little grape-sized blobs of butter that I "threw" into the flour. 

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I combined them with a pastry cutter, rather than my fingers.  Just because.

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And here is the mixture, partly done with the adding of the water.  You can see it's starting to hold together in places…I mixed the water in with a fork, by the way. 

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Aha – this is what we're after.  It holds together, but it's still ragged and crumbly.  Perfect.  I divided the whole mess into two balls and put them in ziploc bags.  

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And then I put the bags in "a cool place" per the directions in the book.  Not in the fridge, as I usually would. 

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I figured the music room was a pretty cool place.  Heh heh.

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After the half hour or so was up, I divided each ball of dough into four pieces.   Then I gently rolled each piece out into a rough circle about 1/8 of an inch thick and pressed each one into an 8" tart pan.  Well, they weren't exactly tart pans, but they were 8".   

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Actually, 7 were in the disposable pie pans.  I did make one in a tart shell.  For the pictures.

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And then they all went into the fridge while I made the filling. 

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Here are 6 of 'em.  The other two were on a lower shelf. 

Okay?  Now it's onto the filling.

And here's where it might get more confusing, so bear with me.

The recipe for Pasteria Napolitana, or Neopolitan Easter Pie, includes soaking soft spring whole wheat berries for at least 3 days before you even combine anything with anything else.  Yikes!  I didn't have 3 days to soak wheat berries…I didn't even have wheat berries to soak!  Fortunately the recipe says you can substitute barley.  Phew!  I have plenty of that.

But, like I think I said at the beginning, I also wanted to make this with rice.  And that's why I doubled the recipe (instead of being smart and making one recipe half barley/half rice) – so I could make two versions.

I stayed as true to the original recipe as I could, but happily skipped over the whole soaking of wheat berries part.

Here, to start with, are the original ingredients as listed in the book, for ONE batch (4 tarts), with my notes in parentheses and in italics.:

1/4 cups soft spring whole wheat berries, or use barley, (or use Arborio rice)

1 teaspoon lard (I used unsalted butter)

2 1/4 cups milk, or q.b. (q. b. stands for quanto basta which means "enough" or "the amount that is needed.")

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar

12 oz Ricotta

Zest of 2 lemons

1 tablespoon orange flower water

1/3 cup candied orange peel, finely chopped (I didn't use this – I used some chopped up dried fruit – apricots and peaches, I believe.  I thought about using dried ginger, but left that out this time.)

5 large egg yolks

2 recipes Tender Pastry

3 large egg whites

2 additional large eggs for brushing dough (I didn't double this part)

Granulated sugar for sprinkling, q.b.

~~~

Barley Version:

Rinse the barley well, until the water that runs through it comes out clear. 

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Then cook according to the package directions.  Don't overcook.

Arborio Rice Version:

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Cook according to package directions for stovetop cooking.  (You're not making risotto.) 

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Don't overcook.

~~~

Okay then.  The rest of the recipe is the same for either version.  Some of the pictures that follow may be of the rice version, some may be of the barley version – I'm just using whichever pictures look better for a given step.  And rather than keep typing "barley/rice" or something like that, I'm just going to say use rice because it's a whole two letters shorter and I'll finish typing this post SO much quicker that way.

~~~

Combine rice with butter (or lard), milk and sugar in a pot

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and simmer until the mixture starts to thicken and the rice absorbs most of the milk. 

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Set the mixture aside to cool.  As it cools, it will thicken a bit more and the grains of rice should look moist and plump.  The rice will continue to absorb liquid as it cools.  It shouldn't be hot or warm for the next step. 

** If you want to speed up the cooling process, put the rice mixture in a bowl and set that into a larger bowl half-filled with ice water.  Stir the rice mixture often until it is cooled.

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In a large bowl, combine the Ricotta with the lemon zest, orange flower water (or Fiori di Sicilia if you have that), vanilla, candied orange peel (or dried fruit – whatever you're using), and egg yolks. 

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 Add the cooked and cooled rice, and mix everything well.  Set it aside for later use.

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If you haven't already done so, roll out your dough and line your tart pans. 

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Combine all the trimmed pieces of dough and roll these out into a rectangle about 1/8 of an inch thick.  With a crimp cutter if you have one, (or a pizza wheel if you don't), cut the strips of dough about 3/8 inch wide and about 1/8 inch longer at each end than the diameter of the tart shells.  These will be the lattice work on the tarts when they are finished.

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I didn't have enough dough for lattice work on each tart.  I think it's because the sides of the foil pans were higher than a standard tart pan AND because my one real tart pan was 9 inches instead of 8.  But that's okay.  But that was just me.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and move the rack to the middle of the oven.  (Or, if you're a crazy person like I am, set two racks so they split the oven into thirds.)  Beat the egg whites until they are fairly stiff. 

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Put 1/4 of the egg whites into the Ricotta and rice mixture to soften it,

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then fold in the rest of the beaten egg whites. 

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Fill the tarts with the mixture, dividing it equally among the shells. 

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"Make a lattice design on top of the pastiere with the strips of dough. 

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(As you can see, I didn't have enough dough to make a really nice lattice.  But you get the idea.)

With the point of a small knife, push the end of the dough strip against the dough that lines the tart pan and the filling itself.  This will hold the lattice in place and make the pastiere neat.  Beat the 2 additional eggs, and brush the tops of the pastiere with the wash.  Sprinkle on some granulated sugar, and bake the pastiere for 45 minutes, or until the crust is just golden.

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(Obviously a crazy person lives here…)

The pastiere are best when cooled and barely warm.  They are very good cold, too.  The pastiere will keep, covered in plastic wrap, for 3 days in the refrigerator."

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I know my write-up of this pie was kind of scattered – if you have questions, please ask and I'll clarify whatever garbled mess I've made. 

I noticed that the finished rice pie is much prettier – the barley pie looked kind of oatmealish in color – because of the bran on the barley.  But flavor-wise, both were very good.  I also thought the flavor actually improved after a day or two.

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P.S.  By the way, the Ricotta I used?  It is THE most wonderful stuff I've ever had.  From Narragansett Creamery.  "Renaissance Ricotta."  I found it at Dave's Marketplace, and here's a list of other places that sell it.  If you like Ricotta, you MUST look for it!  It's smooth and creamy and I seriously could just eat a pound of it all by myself.  With a big spoon.  It's really, really nice.

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13 thoughts on “Neopolitan Easter Pies (Two Versions – Barley and Rice)

  1. One of the things I love about your blog, apart from the fun kids, cats, and food, is when you photograph everything you use and show the brands. It hits me in the homesick sweet-spot right under my solaplexus. Seeing the brands I grew up with (I’m from SE Massachusetts originally) being used gives me warm fuzzies and happy memories. Thank you! xoxo

  2. Lyvvie,  anything you miss in particular?  I’ll make it a point to use it in a recipe for you! Or send you some, if that would be better! 

  3. I can’t even think. Seeing Cabot butter was what got me (Still today, theirs is the only cottage cheese I can stand. It’s the World’s best), and the Domino brand. I’m lucky enough that my mom comes to visit often and brings me some things like Mary Jane peanut butter chews and cinnamon flavoured stuff. Brits aren’t nearly as cinnamon mad as Americans, so we often get a box of Hot Tamales, red hots and Big Red gum. So….what cinnamon recipes have you got? I never know what to do with the red hots apart from sprinkle in frosting or just eat by the handful.

  4. Looks really tasty! Just, um, well…

    If your cousin’s wife went gluten free, wouldn’t the flour based crust make the whole thing a wash for her anyway?

  5. Jenna, I was going to say the same thing… myself having Celiac’s, I sort of groaned at the crust… it would make me horribly sick to even be touching the rice part… sigh… sadness ensues.

  6. Hi there have just read your fab recipe, my italian husband cannot find here in dorset the tinned variety of grano so we were looking for an alternative and your recipe and photos looked amazing, almost as good as his!!!! what other alternative could we use? but we are now going to try your barley and rice version. Did you soak the barley or did you just cook it? Thank you so much for the delightful pictures!!!! Regards and Buona Pasqua

  7. I bet you could use just about any grain for these pies. I didnt soak the barley – just rinsed it and cooked it according to the package directions. Id love to hear how yours come out! Happy Easter to you as well!

  8. For those who are too lazy (like me) to do this here is where you can get the barley pie at Easter ONLY.
    Ferrara bakery in Chicago, 2210 W Taylor St, (you have to be lucky enough to live here at Easter)
    Larry

  9. Just a comment from a first generation Italian/American that has been making Easter (Wheat) Pie/”Pastiera di Grano” for family and friends (from my grandmother’s recipe) every Easter for over 50 years…..
    You are misinformed about having to soak the wheat for “days”. The grano/wheat that is sold these days does not require pre soaking, in fact, I find that it cooks up perfectly in just 45-65 minutes.
    The other thing I wanted to mention was your statement about “staying true to the recipe”…..if that is really your goal, then candied orange peel and/or candied citron should be used and not “dried fruits” (apricots, peaches, etc.)
    FYI: The best ricotta to use for this is “impastata” ricotta (aka pastry ricotta) if you have access to it. It is much drier and completely smooth (no graininess).

    You are correct, there is also an all ricotta version (no grain of any type), and the ricotta filling is usually lightly flavored with cinnamon and orange flower water. It is most often made with a lattice crust, although in some regions it is made as a double crust pie.

    There is also a savory version (pizza rustica) made with ham and prosciutto, etc which is frequently eaten for breakfast on Easter morning; but thats a whole other topic 😉

  10. Russo…My grandparents where born and raised in Naples and came to America in their early twenties. They have been making this for years and have always used dried fruits as apposed to the citron. Despite tradition they prefer the taste of the dried fruits since the citron can be a tad overpowering at times. Subsequently, if I know Italians and that I do I’m sure their end goal is always to stay true to their own desired taste while still mantaining a slice of tradition 🙂 I loved the recipe but as a real cook I’ll always put my own little spins here and there which is fine!

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