BAKING WITH MOM, PART 4: DUELING EASTER PIES (TORTA DI RISI AND PASTIERA DI GRANO)

SATURDAY, MARCH 22, 2008

Wecome to the fourth and final installment of Baking With Mom. In Part 1, I shared my recipe for Pizza Rustica, a rich and decadent eggy, cheesy and meaty deep dish pie. In Part 2, I gave you an easy peasy way to make Easter Bread using the master brioche recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Those wonderfully crispy and creamy Zeppole di San Giuseppe were the headliners in Part 3. I’m still drooling in my sleep, dreaming of those!

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.

Several months ago, I posted about my grandmother’s Sunday meat sauce, where I observed that an Italian woman’s sauce is as individual as her fingerprint. Every recipe is unique in some way, no matter how small. Apparently, the same holds true for Easter pies. When my mother and I set up shop make these pies, we immediately had “issues”. Since the wheat berries aren’t available in our area, we knew that we would have to use alternative grains for our pies. I always make my Pastiera with arborio rice and that’s what I wanted to use. Mom insisted on barley. Here’s how it went:

Me: “Barley!?!? Who uses barley in Easter pies?”
Mom: “Barley is the traditional way to make it.”
Me: “No, it’s not. Using wheat berries is the traditional way.”
Mom: “Okay, but when you can’t find wheat berries, barley is the traditional way.”
Me: “You’re making that up!”
Mom: “No, I’m not! That’s the rule. Ask anyone! Besides, I always use barley in this pie!”
Me: “Um…I don’t ever remember having a barley pie. Are you sure you didn’t make it for some OTHER family?”
Mom: “Don’t be a smart ass! I always use barley and you love it.”
Me: “Yeah, well I want to use rice. I like it better.”
Mom: “Well, I want to use barley!”
Me: “Rice.”
Mom: “Barley!”
After a ten minute, stony stare-down, we compromised and decided to use both. Suddenly, “our” pies became “my” pies and “your” pies. Dueling Easter Pies, if you will.
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.
Our respective recipes for Pastiera have a few things in common, but are really quite different. My recipe is a conglomeration of various others that I have picked up over the years. Mom relies heavily on her tattered, dog-eared copy of the old Polly-O Cookbook that she got back in 1968. Seriously, the only thing holding that book together is scotch tape and a prayer! It is so fragile that she wouldn’t let me take it to type out the recipe. I wanted to post this last Thursday, but I had to wait for her to write it up herself!

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.

Buona Pasqua a Tutti!


31 responses to Baking With Mom, Part 4: Dueling Easter Pies (Torta di Risi and Pastiera di Grano)

  1. On March 23, 2008 at 7:02am, Manggy said...

    Hahaha! Well, it is kind of an I-told-you-so situation. If your mom says you loved her barley pies, how can you argue? :) I am glad your pride was preserved when yours turned out great too ;)

    Happy Easter!

  2. On March 23, 2008 at 8:19am, Bellini Valli said...

    We can teach our mothers a thing or two still as well…wink…wink…I hope you are having a wonderful Easter and enjoying both of these pies with equal relish with your family:D

  3. On March 23, 2008 at 8:39am, Rachel said...

    I think they both sound great!

  4. On March 23, 2008 at 8:43am, RecipeGirl said...

    Boy have you been busy! Look at all of those pies!! What wonderful memories you’re creating with your mother. You’ll remember that fun dueling story forever :)

  5. On March 23, 2008 at 9:10am, Kevin said...

    Look at all the pies! They look good! I have never had a grain and cheese based dessert pie. They sound interesting.

  6. On March 23, 2008 at 9:55am, Peter M said...

    WHoa, look at the pies and I love the stand!

    Have a wonderful Easter.

  7. On March 23, 2008 at 10:17am, Aran said...

    Oh my! You are killing me with all this Easter baking. I think I’ve gained 10 pounds by just reading your blog. LOL! Fantastic, absolutely fantastic!

  8. On March 23, 2008 at 10:23am, Jen of A2eatwrite said...

    This is what I love about Italian desserts – they’re just sweet enough – the ingredients are so much better! Yum!

    Buona Pasqua!

  9. On March 23, 2008 at 10:48am, aria said...

    oh my pies!! happy easter :)

    these lookfantastic!! yummmmms

  10. On March 23, 2008 at 12:08pm, Pixie said...

    Yowzers!!! They look incredible…Happy Easer to you and your family!

  11. On March 23, 2008 at 12:42pm, StickyGooeyCreamyChewy said...

    Thank you all very much! I’m so happy that you like the pies! We did end up with quite a few, didn’t we? There were three others that didn’t pass their screen test too.

    I’m kind of pressed for time today, so I’m replying to your comments “en masse”. Hope you don’t mind.

    I wish you all a wonderful holiday! Even you, Peter!

    Mark-Welcome back! We missed you!

  12. On March 23, 2008 at 4:57pm, Cakespy said...

    I don’t know…I think I need to be invited next time for a pie-off! Sounds like lovely food and a lovely time–what could be better!?

  13. On March 23, 2008 at 7:50pm, Obsessive Foodie or Food Addict....You Decide said...

    Professional looking baking YET AGAIN…….your family has GOT to be in a carbohydrate coma after this week. I will see you in 7 years when you wake up. Sweeeeet Dreamzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

  14. On March 23, 2008 at 8:29pm, Jen Yu said...

    Sweetie, I have to say that I love these posts of you cooking with your mom – it’s really awesome. It says so much that you live near one another and enjoy one another’s company. I hope your family had a wonderful holiday. Everything you’ve made looks FANTASTIC :) xxoo

  15. On March 23, 2008 at 9:19pm, Mike of Mike's Table said...

    Haha, that’s my kind of duel. Next time, come fight at my place–I’ll happily consume the results. They both look wonderful and sound delicious! Hope you had a happy holiday!

  16. On March 23, 2008 at 10:08pm, Gretchen Noelle said...

    This sounds something like rice pudding baked into a pie. Delicious! I would go with the regular pie crust (since we don’t have filo here) and rice, and no egg separating…I have done way too much of that lately!

    Hope you had a lovely Easter day!

  17. On March 23, 2008 at 10:24pm, Heather said...

    Your looks nicer than your mom’s. But your mom’s is lovely, too. I would hit yours first, though. :)

  18. On March 23, 2008 at 11:17pm, StickyGooeyCreamyChewy said...

    Cakespy- You’re welcome anytime! Brink your wooden spoon and we’ll stir things up! ;)

    Obsessive- Thanks! You’re not kidding about the carb coma! I practically had to prop my eyes open with toothpicks today!

    Jen- Thank you so much! I’m glad you enjoyed the posts. I can’t imagine living far away from the rest of the family. I’m so spoiled. I could literally walk to my mom’s.

    We had a really nice day today. It’s not the same without my dad, but we’re adjusting. It sounds like you had a pretty great day too!

    Mike- Thanks! Trust me. You don’t want to get in the middle of two ornery Italian women!
    We had a really nice day. Hope you did too!

  19. On March 23, 2008 at 11:23pm, StickyGooeyCreamyChewy said...

    Gretchen- You’re right. It is a lot like rice pudding. I agree about the egg separating. I tasted both pies. I don’t think it made much difference.

    Heather- Thanks! We’ll just keep that between us. ;)

  20. On March 24, 2008 at 12:01am, Tartelette said...

    I love both! I want both!! The dialogue with your mom was priceless!

  21. On March 24, 2008 at 8:38am, running42k said...

    The pizza rustica was awesome. Thanks for sharing the recipe.

  22. On March 24, 2008 at 9:30am, Tempered Woman said...

    You are just too funny~ I really love the food internetz for turning me on to Italian pies for Easter. I went ahead and made one this year and the family all loudly proclaimed “New tradition!” And my mom demands I teach her. How crazy is this world? It’s reading posts like yours that got me all excited about the idea! No Italian in the family but we now consider ourselves converts.

  23. On March 24, 2008 at 1:50pm, CookiePie said...

    These are so lovely – and your mom sounds like a hoot! It’s fantastic that you have these experiences with her, you’ll have them always, which is such a blessing. Hope you had a wonderful Easter!

  24. On March 24, 2008 at 7:18pm, Peabody said...

    Oh my those are some great sounding pies. Like nothing I have ever tried.

  25. On March 24, 2008 at 8:14pm, Mrs.W said...

    Hi, Susan–I’ve loved reading these posts about your Easter baking with your mother.

    Even though I grew up in an Italian-American town, I’ve never seen these grain pies locally–and only recently read Lydia Bastianovich’s recipe. I’ve been thinking about trying it… however due to dietary issues I always need to do crustless pies. Is the filling firm enough that you think it would hold up? (I’m thinking about trying the barley version.)

  26. On March 24, 2008 at 10:45pm, StickyGooeyCreamyChewy said...

    Tartelette- Lol! Thanks. I’m glad you liked them. :)

    Running42k- You’re very welcome. It was my pleasure.

    Tempered Woman- That is so great! I’m really happy that you liked the pies enough to try them yourself – and that your family enjoyed them. That’s what it’s all about. I hereby dub you an honorary Italian!

    Cookiepie- Thank you! My mother is definitely a character! We had a great time with our baking project, despite a few clashes. I’m glad we did it!

    Peabody- Thanks! Maybe I can tempt you to try them next year!

    Mrs. W- I’m so glad you enjoyed them!

    I can’t speak for anyone else’s recipe, but I think ours would work crustless. The filling is pretty firm. To make sure, you might want to add a little more of whichever grain you use. Also, make sure you chill them a little before you cut them. If you make it, let me know how it turns out.

  27. On March 25, 2008 at 11:24am, White On Rice Couple said...

    Ha! Love the dueling, but when it comes to Mom’s, I’m kinda partial. :)
    You and your mom should have more cookoff’s! That would be a fun series to read.
    We almost had a pie duel too , but I had no mangoes for my pie. So we’re making up for it by having monthly cook-offs.

  28. On March 27, 2008 at 2:40pm, Mansi Desai said...

    Are you kiddin!! did you really bake so many pies??!! man, you and your mom both rock!:)

  29. On March 27, 2008 at 5:33pm, creampuff said...

    This is so funny! I think both you and your mom kick ass! Great pies …

  30. On March 27, 2008 at 7:46pm, StickyGooeyCreamyChewy said...

    WoR Couple- It would be fun to do another cook-off, but I don’t know if we’s survive too many more. ;)

    Mansi- Thanks, lol! We actually made more pies than in the pictures. We couldn’t fit them in the shots!

    Creampuff- Thank you so much! My mom sure can be a pretty tough customer!

  31. On March 29, 2008 at 3:22am, Jules said...

    All of these pies look wonderful.

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kiss the cook!

Hello and welcome to SGCC! I’m Susan, a professional writer, food columnist, recipe developer, wife, mother, daughter and sister, who used to be a lawyer in a previous life. My love of food comes from a long line of wonderful and creative Italian home cooks who didn’t always have a lot, but knew how to make a lot out of what they had. I hope that you enjoy yourself while you’re here, and visit often! read more >>

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