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SGCC Encore: Italian Easter Pies

It’s hard to believe that we’re already about to celebrate Easter again! It is said that as we get older, time seems to pass much more quickly. I can attest to that. Though I’ve still got a long way to go before I’m eligible for AARP [1] discounts, time does seem to be whizzing by me at warp speed!

One of the things that my family looks forward to each year as Easter approaches, is enjoying the various traditional Italian baked goods associated with the holiday. They’re not fancy. There’s no Swiss meringue, chocolate ganache, puff pastry towers or spun sugar decorations in the lot. Just simple, rustic goodness made by loving hands and warm hearts.

Last year around this time, I posted a series of articles about my Easter baking adventures with my mother. We made Easter Bread, Italian Rice Pies, Easter Wheat Pies and Mr. SGCC’s all-time favorite, Pizza Rustica.

Since Easter Sunday is just a few days away, I thought it would be nice to give you a little round-up of these classic Italian Easter specialties, in the hope that I might inspire you to try one, two or all of them!

Easter Bread is a rich and slightly sweet yeast bread, that is braided and baked with colored eggs entwined in it. It is very similar to challah. Although it is a very popular Italian specialty, many other European cultures also boast their own version of it too.

This particular Easter Bread [2] was made using the master recipe for brioche dough from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day [3], by Zoe Francois [4] and Jeff Hertzberg. This was the first time I’d made Easter Bread using Zoe and Jeff’s method, and it was a smashing success! The loaves were beautifully burnished on the outside, and soft and pillowy on the inside. I don’t think I’ll ever make it any other way again!

Pizza Rustica [5] is a traditional Italian Easter pie with a ricotta base, which is then filled with a variety of dried meats and cheeses. The name literally means “rustic pie”. My Pizza Rustica is big, cheesy, creamy and gooey hunk of a pie stuffed to the gills with six, count ’em, SIX different kinds of dried and fresh MEAT! Pizza Rustica is best eaten when it is completely cooled. You can even eat it right out of the fridge. Although it is traditionally enjoyed at Easter time, it makes a hearty and satisfying meal anytime.

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. The grains are the key component of these pies, because they represent Spring, rebirth and the Resurrection. In my family, we always enjoyed them after Mass on Easter Sunday.

My mother and I make very different versions of this Italian classic, although both are very delicious. My Torta di Risi [6] is made with arborio rice and a phyllo dough crust. I also like to add some mascarpone cheese to the ricotta in my filling, making it extra rich and creamy.

Mom’s Pastiera di Grano [6] features a traditional rolled pie crust and a ricotta/barley filling. She also separates her eggs and whips up the whites for a lighter and fluffier pie.

All of the recipes for these fabulous pies, along with much more information, can be found by clicking on the links in each section. I hope that you’ll take a few minutes to check them out. If you decide to give any a try, please let me know what you think.

NOTE: I know that today is TWD day. I actually do have an awesome Banana Cream Pie to tell you about too. Unfortunately, I was taken out by a pesky stomach bug last Sunday, (while I was making the pie), and I had to put it on hold for a few days. I have all of the components ready. I just need to assemble the pie and photograph it. So, hopefully by tomorrow I’ll be able to look at food again without retching and I can get that post up!