Sunday, April 1, 2012

My Oh My, It's those Easter Pies - revisited

This is a re-post from one of my earlier ones that I wrote last spring.    Instead of two separate posts, the recipes follow right behind the story and the photos.   I do not think I am baking this year, but you never know,  I could wake up with some ambition one morning!

In my family, we were nothing if not traditional.  No matter what problems there were, if there was holiday on the horizon, the baking pans were pulled and our pantry was stocked with extra flour, sugar, and baking powder.  My mother would scour the weekly store circular to see if butter, eggs or oil was on sale.  I was usually the designated "runner", because no matter how much planning and orchestration there was, we seemed to always run out of something!

Italian baking, especially at Easter, is full of symbolism.  (It is also filled with calories and sugar and fat, but for purposes of this post, we will focus on the symbolism!)

My favorite pie, and the first one I learned to make, is called the Easter wheat pie.  It is also known as a "grain pie", and in my home, was called "la pastiera di grana". 

The cooked wheat (or grain) is symbolic of the resurgence of the earth coming to life in the spring, and along with the resurgence, hope for the rest of the year.  It is more or less a cheescake with the addition of the wheat, and strongly flavored with orange and lemon.  Along with vanilla, a flavoring called fior d'arancio or orange flower water, is used.  Sometimes a sweet liqueur is added.  My preference would be creme de cacao.  For as many families baking this pie, that is how many variations there are of it.  My grandmother, mother and aunt would whip these up from a long-ago recipe that was verbally told to them while they were learning.  When I first was being inducted into the family baking, I asked my mother about a written recipe.  Her response to me was, "What you put, you find."  OK, Ma, I guess the recipe was left on the boat.  Oh well.  But I soon got used to it, and if I see a recipe anywhere that sounds close, I will try it, but I always go back to my roots and add or delete accordingly.  So much for the belief that baking is an exact science!

Next we have the meat pie, also known as pizza chiena (full pie) or pizza rustica (rustic pie). 

The symbolism here is that during the 40 days of Lent, you were supposed to abstain from rich, fatty foods.  So when Lent is over, you can make up for those lean 40 days with one slice of the pie.  The best way I can describe it is - like a quiche on steroids.  Real men eat this pie, let me tell you.  It is diced ham, salami, provolone, mozzarella, dried sausage blended in a ricotta base with lots of eggs.  Not what the doctor ordered.  But once a year, a sliver should't hurt. 

After church on Easter Sunday, I would look forward to a breakfast consisting of an eggy, fragrant braided bread called casatelli. 

I was always in charge of the colored Easter eggs.  The eggs are boiled and dyed, then nestled in the braided dough and baked.  The eggs are not edible when the finished product is out of the oven.  But with a cup of coffee or glass of oj, it always hit the spot for me while I was going through my Easter basket.

Now, we couldn't just slice into our Easter baked goods.  We wrapped them and carried them to our church to be blessed.   We didn't take all of them, because in the good old days my mother and aunt would make pies by the dozen as gifts for family, friends, the doctor, even the postman.  But one of each brought to church would do.

I am afraid that this type of baking is becoming lost as the younger generation doesn't really "eat this way".  Good for them.  But I know when I just smell these pies in the oven, I am 8 years old and back to my roots.  And I have hope for the rest of the year.

Happy Easter, Happy Passover, Happy Spring!  xo,

Here they are.  Please bear in mind that these are from my head, which seems to be on straight today :).  I realize that certain ingredients might be hard to find in your neck of the woods.  If you have a Whole Foods close by, they carry the grain (or wheat berries).  Don't buy bulgar wheat, which is used to make a delicious middle eastern salad called tabbouleh.  I have also used in the past a wheat product in a can (yes, it was not too bad) from a company called Asti.  I believe they are based in Illinois.  The orange flower water might be found at either kingarthurflour or penzeys  Both have great online stores and feature products from all over the world.  King Arthur might have the wheat berries as well.

The Internet is full of recipes for these pies.  Some are almost exactly like mine, some take it over the top a little bit, and that I leave to readers' discretion.

Easter Grain Pie

3/4 cup wheat berries, soaked over night in the fridge with water to cover with large pieces of orange and lemon peel, then boiled til the kernels pop open (15 minutes or so).  Test to see if they are soft.  Set aside while making the rest of the filling.  Grease and flour a 10-or 12- inch spring form pan.  You may be able to make a smaller pie as well but we never know for sure. 

3 pounds ricotta cheese, well drained
12 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar (to start, might need more)
1 T. vanilla
pinch (it is strong) orange flower water - can use orange extract but I wouldn't *
juice and zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon
1 jigger any cordial, I use creme de cacao but Grand Marnier is good, can be optional
pinch of salt
1 tsp. cinnamon (optional but good)
1/4 tsp. ground cloves (optional but good)
1/2 pint heavy whipping cream (no need to whip)
1/4 - 1/2 cup finely chopped citron ( can used candied orange peel if citron not available)

 (*) can also use rose water.  You can also sprinkle mini chocolate chips which have been dusted with flour on the bottom of the crust before you pour the filling

I start by beating the egg yolks with sugar til thick.  Then add ricotta, the flavorings, juice, zest, cream.  Blend til smooth and taste.  It may need more sugar, more vanilla, more zest whatever you think.  Then fold in the cooked, well drained and cooled wheat and citron or candied orange peel.  Lastly beat egg whites till stiff and fold them in.  Pour into crust and cut strips from dough to lay across, using two strips to form an X, repeat 3 or 4 times across the top.  Bake 350 for about an hour, if top browning too quickly, cover edges with aluminum foil.  The crust should be a light golden brown not too dark.  Test with a toothpick, it should not be wet.  Cool overnight, this tastes better the next day.  Sprinkle with powdered sugar when ready to serve.

For the sweet crust (pasta frolla), I use a recipe I found on the Internet that was close to my memory of it. I also make two batches of  this recipe since pie crust and I don't always see eye to eye. This dough keeps well and if you have a lot left over you won't be sorry.  Can be frozen.

Single batch of crust
1 1/3 cups a-p flour, 1/2 cup sugar, 2/3 cup unsalted butter at room temp, 1 whole egg plus 1 yolk, grated zest of half a lemon

Mix flour and sugar.  Cream butter and eggs  using a pastry blender (old-fashioned ,yes, I know but recipe is older than dirt!).  Mix in zest.  Don't over work dough.  Let it rest about an hour.  Roll it out working as quickly as you can.  This dough should not be allowed to turn a dark brown or it will be too crumbly.  Watch it very carefully.

Pizza Rustica (Easter Meat Pie)

Use whatever pie crust you would use to make a double crust 9-inch savory pie.  I use frozen deep-dish pie shells.  I use about 1/4 lb diced of each of the following:  prosciutto (can use ham), Genoa salami, soppressata, pepperoni (optional), mortadella (optional),  mozzarella, mild provolone.  For the ricotta base, I use about 2 cups (guesstimate, may need more)  ricotta mixed with 4 beaten eggs, handful grated Parmesan cheese, pinch of black pepper, about 1 T. finely minced parsley, and a teeny pinch ground nutmeg (trust me, but it has to be a teeny pinch).

If it looks too meaty don't use all the meats, not creamy enough add more ricotta or an additional egg.  I never add any salt to this filling.  Fill crust and top with second crust, brush with an egg wash and make several small slits or dock with fork.  Bake til crust is golden brown, 350 oven, 50 min. or so (depends on your oven).  Test with toothpick, should not be wet.

Easter Sweet Bread (casatelli)

3 cups flour (you won't use it all), 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tsp. salt, 1 pkg active dry yeast, 2/3 cup milk, 2 eggs, 1/4 cup finely diced citron (or candied orange peel), 4 or 5 hard boiled eggs, (colored is nice)  sweet glaze, colored sprinkles

Start with 1 cup flour mix with sugar, salt and yeast.  Heat the milk and butter until warm but butter should not be completely melted.  Gradually add this wet mix to flour mix, stirring constantly.  Add the eggs and add about 1/2 cup flour.  Mix well.  Add remaining flour a little at a time til dough forms  You should have a nice dough without using all the flour.  Knead til smooth, then knead in citron or candied peel.    Put dough in greased bowl, cover with damp towel and let rise til doubled, about 1 hour. Cut in two, roll out into long ropes (I never really measured these but they are long!) , twist ropes together like a braid and seal ends together. You may want to break off a piece of dough to roll into smaller ropes that you would put on top of each egg like a "cross".  Totally optional.   Place eggs in between as evenly spaced as possible.  Put on greased baking sheet and let rise again for about 45 minutes.  Bake in a 350 oven 50-55 minutes, about 15 minutes before done, brush with a glaze made with an egg and 1 tsp sugar blended in a cup of water.  Top with colored candy sprinkles.  Return to oven til golden.  When cool, wrap with plastic wrap.

Good luck and enjoy!   xo

Joining The Tablescaper for Seasonal Sundays, Yvonne at Stone Gable for Weekly Menu and Bunny Jean for the Bunny Hop, and Michael Lee for Foodie Friday.

Edited to add Wow Us Wednesdays at Kim's Savvy Southern StyleFavorite Things Thursday at Katherine's Corner and WOW at Ivy & Elephants.  Also invited to join Diane Balch at Simple Living for Foodie Friday.


  1. Everything looks delicious. Wishes for a joyous Easter. I think it's getting near to a New York blogger get-together!

  2. Cara Barbara che bello che conservi le tradizioni italiane.Conosco bene tutto quello che hai fatto vedere!Lapizza rustica la chiamiamo pure "Casatiello"Baci,Rosetta

  3. Everything looks great! My fav would be the bread, I've tucked the eggs into a braided challah before and it was fun:@)
    PS-I got your card, thanks so much-have a great Easter Week Barbara!

  4. What a great post. I love to hear about other's holiday traditions, and you are so lucky to call these your own.

  5. Thank you for sharing these fabulous recipes. The Easter Egg Sweet Bread looks so pretty!

  6. Hi lovely lady.
    I love the Meat Pie looks so Yummy so this is known as Pizza Chiena. I hope you are having a wonderful weekend with your family. Thanks so much for your sweet comments on my Easter Tablescape.
    XXOO Diane

  7. Wow! That sounds like real old-fashioned Italian cooking. What a great job you did remembering the recipes, if we can trust your comment that your head is on straight today. ☺ A very fun post!

  8. Oh the pies looks wonderful! Wish I could be with you for a bite! Have a wonderful week! Joann

  9. Oh you brought back such good memories of my Italian godmother's Easter pie!
    xo Cathy

  10. It all looks so yummy! I hope you have a wonderful Easter!


  11. What wonderful looking foods. I've never tasted any of them.
    I have enjoyed, so much, seeing how people from different parts of the country eat. I think I always just thought that EVERYone ate the things we do out here in Texas. :))
    Hugs, bj

  12. Oh, Dearest Barbara,
    What delicious looking pies and all seem to taste yummy♡♡♡
    You always makes me feel to be with you on the table♬♬♬
    Love you always, xoxo Miyako*

  13. Your Easter Pie looks absolutely delicious!! It truly is amazing how scents take us right back, isn't it. I also love your beautiful braided ring with the colorful eggs. Wonderful Easter recipes!! Happy Easter!

  14. I was thinking that I remembered this, and when you told the funny story of your mom and "What you put you find", I knew that I had and LAUGHED again.

    That's the way I cook, too.
    However, what I put and find is generally a big old hot mess. Clearly, I did not inherit a cooking gene.

    These look fabulous and mouth watering to me.

  15. These look and sound wonderful. i am too lazy to do them. I am going to my Sisters for Easter. Thank I will make a trip to the bakery. Not that I am lazy, but!!!!! Richard from My Old Historic House.

  16. What a fun experience to learn from the older cooks! These recipes look wonderful ~ I can only imagine how incredible they must taste. I love "what you put, you find" ~

    Sending you beautiful holiday wishes and hope for a wonderful season.


  17. What a fun experience to learn from the older cooks! These recipes look wonderful ~ I can only imagine how incredible they must taste. I love "what you put, you find" ~

    Sending you beautiful holiday wishes and hope for a wonderful season.


  18. Loved seeing this again! This Irish gal has made the Easter Pie, we love it!
    Hope you are all better!:)

  19. Wow ..what wonderful post Barbara!I am now salivating at the thought of both pies and the bread. Thanks for these wonderful recipes!

    My husband's family never made any of these recipes..I'm guessing in his region of Calabria, Italy, they weren't the norm. I think ricotta was not easy to come by there in the old days as they lived ina mountainous region and did not have cows, only goats.

    My Mother-in-law made cookies, however, which she twisted to look like bunnies holding a colored egg, and she made savory zeppoles for Easter.

    I have always loved Easter grain pie from the bakery and I've made Italian Easter bread many times.

    Wishing you a very Happy and blessed Easter!

  20. thank you for reposting because then I get to know these fabulous recipes!!
    happy Easter.

  21. Wow Barbara, these look delicious...Thanks for sharing the recipes.
    The Easter bread look so pretty too. Happy Easter.

  22. Don't traditional foods just bring back the memories. We made a bread like that and I loved how the eggs colored the bread. Everything looks wonderful!

  23. Barbara, I really enjoyed this post! Hope you have a wonderful Easter!

  24. Stopping by from On the Menu Monday!

  25. Very well said Barbara! I enjoyed the symbolism and I could just picture your family going to church and having the baked goods blessed and then sharing them. That Easter grain bread is a favorite of mine.
    Happy Easter!

  26. Barbara F.,
    Hi! I've always wanted to make the bread with the eggs inside.
    Happy Easter!

  27. I love seeing traditional family recipes! They all look wonderful, Barbara.

  28. Hi Barbara, I so enjoyed reading about your traditional Easter foods. Did I ever tell you that my first husband was Italian and that his grandmother lived in the Bronx? Well, we only visited with her once, but I wish that she had taken me under her wing and taught me a few things while we were there. She was an amazing cook!

  29. What a great tradition, Barbara. Love all the food!...Christine

  30. Dearest Barbara,

    Those are rich pies! Lots of eggs and as we're using rather egg substitute it is always a question if they would turn out the same...
    Wishing you a Happy Easter and enjoy it with your loved ones; with or without any baked pies!

    Love to you,


  31. I am of Polish descent but I grew up with many friends who were of Italian descent. The Easter Meat Pie was called Easter Pizza in this area and I had a friend's whose Nonny made the BEST Easter Pizza!!I loved it!!


  32. I would love to have either one of your beautiful pies on our Easter table. Old family recipes are so special. I hope you and your family have a very Happy Easter.

  33. I enjoyed your post. I grew up in an Italian neighborhood and we always had Easter dinner with our next door neighbors. She made everything from scratch and we enjoyed all the food items in your post.

  34. What an interesting post Barbara; that is what I love about are always learning something new. I had no idea about Easter pies, even with my daughter in law is Italian.
    Happy Easter to you and your family.

  35. What delicious recipes! I'd love to make the bread - and the pies, too, of course.:-)

  36. Hi Barbara!

    This was a fun post! I enjoyed your stories and your sense of humor :)

    Now I am SO hungry... I will have to go shopping and get some ingredients and try out a recipe or two.

    Thanks for sharing at my party this week, and a big thank you for the sweet comments concerning my husbands job.

    xoxo Bunny Jean
    Wednesday's Bunny Hop Party!

  37. Barbara these pies look amazing!

  38. Oh my goodness everything looks so wonderful and delicious. I would love it if you could share this wonderful post at our WIW linky party. Hope to see you there.


  39. Hi Barbara,

    I have not had food like that in years. My mom always made leg of lamb and Lasagna for Easter. I think we ate all day. lol

    Happy Easter!


  40. I would love to try all of these:)
    I am just visiting from Katherines's Corner Blog Hop. I am a new follower on Linky Followers.


  41. You make all of the traditional pies from my childhood. I make simple versions of some of them. Please share these on my foodie friday linky today.

  42. SO much yumminess!! Hugs and Happy Easter Wishes xo

  43. Family traditions are wonderful. You certainly have have them in your family. This is a lovely story and the recipes sound delicious. I love the sweet bread recipe.
    Thanks for sharing. Wishing you a glorious weekend.

    The French Hutch

  44. Thanks for sharing your pie recipes on Foodie Friday. Hope to see you back next week. Happy Easter.

  45. Hugs and thank you for joining the Thursday Favorite Things Blog Hop


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