Tale of 2 ricotta pies — one sweet, one savory — for Italian Easter feast

Chicago Tribune

Pasqua — Easter — is considered the second most important religious event of the year in Italy. Bring this joyful celebration of the end of winter and nature’s rebirth to the table with torta pasqualina, a ricotta, sausage and artichoke stuffed pie, and pastiera napoletana, a Neapolitan pie made with wheat berries, ricotta cheese and candied citron.

Easter marks a long weekend in Italy, thanks to the much-beloved Pasquetta — Little Easter — celebrated the Monday after Easter Sunday. Pasquetta calls for time spent with family in the great outdoors, enjoying the milder weather, and a picnic in the countryside, complete with savory and sweet pies packed in a basket. Every family has its own special take on one of those traditional dishes, torta pasqualina. James David De Marte, chef/co-owner of Pisolino, a rustic Italian restaurant in the Avondale neighborhood, shares his beloved Nonna Angelica's prized recipe.

"It's the original recipe from ages ago," he said. "We haven't changed anything. It's been passed down in my family for generations.”

The other type of pie, pastiera napoletana is synonymous with Easter in Naples, where the labor-intensive pie is traditionally baked no later than Good Friday. Best served at breakfast on Easter Day, or as an accompaniment to afternoon espresso, its flavors — citron, ricotta, vanilla — evoke the heady arrival of springtime in Naples. While the original recipe calls for precooked wheat berries — grano cotto — which are available all over Italy at this time of year, you can also substitute arborio rice.

Amy Bizzarri is a freelance writer.

Torta pasqualina della Nonna Angelina

Prep: 45 minutes

Cook: 1 hour

Makes: 8 servings

For a traditional touch, take the excess dough, roll out, cut into two dough strips, and form a cross on the top of the pie; or shape into any other decoration that fits your family’s celebration. Recipe courtesy of James David De Marte of Pisolino restaurant. Pecorino pepato is a sheep’s milk cheese studded with peppercorns. You may sub with another pecorino.


1 1/2 cups flour

8 tablespoons unsalted butter 

1 teaspoon salt

1 egg

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice


3 eggs

2 cups whole milk ricotta

1 1/4 cups raw fennel sausage, casings removed, cooked, fat drained

1 cup shredded mozzarella

3/4 cup diced, grilled, olive oil-packed artichokes

1/2 cup shredded fontina cheese

1/4 cup shredded pecorino pepato

1 1/4 cups diced cooked ham

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon fresh oregano

Egg wash:

1 whole egg 

1 teaspoon water

1 For the pastry: Combine, flour, butter, salt, egg and lemon juice in a food processor. Process until mixture forms a ball. Cut in half; roll each half into a ball. Place on a lightly floured surface; push down to flatten each ball. Wrap with plastic wrap; chill, 2 hours.

 2 For the filling: Add all filling ingredients into a bowl; mix together with a spatula until evenly combined; set aside.

3 Heat oven to 350 degrees. Remove dough disks from the fridge; on a lightly floured surface, roll each out with a rolling pin into 12-inch circles, about 1/8-inch thick. Carefully fit one dough circle into a 9-inch pie plate. Spoon all the filling into the pie pan; cover with the second dough circle, pinching the top and bottom firmly together. Trim excess dough with kitchen shears, leaving a 3/4-inch overhang. Fold the edge of the top piece of dough over and under the edge of the bottom piece of dough, pressing together. Flute edges using thumb or press with a fork. Cut some holes on top of the pie for ventilation with a small knife. Whisk egg and water into an egg wash; brush on top of the entire crust.

4 Bake in the center of the oven, 30 minutes. Lower heat to 325; bake, 30 more minutes. Lower heat to 300; bake, 10 minutes. If not browned enough, bake 10 more minutes. 

Nutrition information per serving: 564 calories, 39 g fat, 21 g saturated fat, 233 mg cholesterol, 23 g carbohydrates, 1 g sugar, 30 g protein, 829 mg sodium, 1 g fiber

Pastiera napolitana

Prep: 60 minutes, plus 2 days resting time

Cook: 3 hours

Makes: 8 servings

This one-of-a-kind, labor-intensive pie is made with wheat berries, whole wheat kernels composed of the bran, germ and endosperm. You can also substitute arborio rice cooked al dente.

1 1/4 cups uncooked grano cotto, aka wheat berries 


1 1/2 cups flour

8 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 teaspoon of sugar

1 egg

1/2 cup cold water


1 cup milk

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Zest of one lemon

2 whole eggs

2 egg yolks

1 1/4 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups ricotta

3 tablespoons candied citron

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Powdered sugar, for dusting

1 Two days in advance: soak the wheat berries in water to cover for 24 hours. Change water two times per day.

2 One day in advance, cook the wheat berries: Cover the wheat berries with plenty of water in a saucepan; simmer, covered, until soft, about 1 hour. Drain, cool and store in a covered container in refrigerator overnight.

3 For the pastry: Put flour, butter, sugar and egg in a food processor; pulse until combined. With motor running, slowly add cold water until mixture forms a ball. Place on a lightly floured surface; push down to flatten the ball. Wrap with plastic wrap; chill, 2 hours.

4 For the filling: Place the wheat berries in a saucepan and add the milk, butter and lemon zest. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer; cook, stirring constantly until mixture has the consistency of oatmeal, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the heat; allow to cool.

5 In a bowl, mix eggs, yolks and sugar with a whisk. In a food processor, blend the ricotta cheese, 3 minutes. Using a spatula, fold the ricotta into the egg and sugar mixture. Fold in the cooled wheat berry mixture, candied citron and vanilla.

6 Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Remove dough disks from the fridge; on a lightly floured surface, roll each out with a rolling pin into two 12-inch circles; about 1/8 of an inch thick. Carefully fit one dough circle into a 9-inch pie plate.  Cut second dough circle into 10 half-inch strips. Place 5 of the strips over filling. Weave the crust by folding back alternate strips and adding a cross strip. Seal and flute the edge. (Alternatively, use second dough circle as is to top the pie, sealing and fluting the edge.)

7 Bake, 1 hour. Cover with foil and bake, 30 minutes. Cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

Nutrition information per serving: 601 calories, 27 g fat, 15 g saturated fat, 185 mg cholesterol, 77 g carbohydrates, 36 g sugar, 16 g protein, 85 mg sodium, 5 g fiber

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