I had the amazing pleasure of coming home for Easter this year. Of my four years of college, I had never been able to come home to enjoy the holiday. I am so grateful that I was able to this year and that I was able to share some Easter traditions from both sides of the family with Jonny.
This Easter tradition originates in the San Gregorio Convent in Naples, Italy. History tells that in 8th Century AD a group of Nuns from Greece came to Italy and established a convent named after their protector, San Gregorio. The Sisters produced this delicious wheat pie as a way to raise money for the convent. Whole grain in many cultures symbolizes rebirth, which is why it is used in this pie to symbolize the resurrection of Christ. The Nuns combined the whole grain with ricotta cheese and baked it in a sweet crust. The result was a deliciously dense pie that became wildly popular throughout the Naples area.
Both of my grandparent’s families on my Mother’s side came from the region of Campania (the region of and surrounding Naples). With their families move to America came the old tradition of preparing Pastiera di Grano every Easter. According to my Mother, every Easter my Grandmother would bake many Wheat Pies and give them to family and friends. It was a tradition for them to taste every family’s pie, as they were all slightly different.
UPDATE: With the posting of this recipe, my Great Aunt Gloria emailed me to inform me that my Great Grandparents on my Grandfather’s side of the family come from a town in the mountains called Castello D’Alife. It turns out that the town right below is San Gregorio, where Pastiera di Grano originated.
Today, Pastiera di Grano is still baked every Easter throughout Naples as well as with Italian families here in America. While I studied in Florence, I kept my eye out for the Wheat Pie but was not able to find it. The week after Easter my parents came to visit me in Italy. We traveled to Sorrento, the town where my Grandmother’s family is from. We ate dinner in a little Pizzeria where we were given the pie for dessert.
So much sentimental value is connected to this Easter Pie. I had the honor of watching my Mom make the pies this year and photographing them. I want to share our family’s recipe.
Plan to start at least a day ahead with preparing the wheat (see below)*
Pasta Frolla (Sweet Pastry Crust):
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter (room temp)
1/2 tsp. lemon zest
3 egg yolks
1 tbsp. milk
Combine dry ingredients & lemon zest, blend in softened butter, then yolks and milk. Add a little more milk if needed to form a soft dough. Knead gently, form into ball, cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1/2 hour. Divide into 3/4 and 1/4 balls, roll out 3/4 ball to make pie crust and use the 1/4 ball later to roll out to make lattice strips to decorate top of pie.
3 cups whole milk ricotta
1 cup prepared wheat, pearlized or wheat berries (also known as farro)*
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1-2 tsp grated fresh orange zest
1/2 tsp cinnamon
4 whole eggs (separate whites, whip til soft peaks form and save for later)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup half and half (whole milk works, too)
Blend ricotta, sugar, cinnamon, zest, vanilla, & salt, blend in 4 egg yolks one at a time, stir in half and half, fold in beaten egg whites last and pour into crust. Top with lattice and flute edges.
Bake in 350 degree oven for 50 to 60 minutes or until golden brown and center is set (not too wiggly).
To Prepare Wheat:
Around Easter Time some Italian Bakeries may sell you the pearlized wheat or you may find it in an Italian specialty store. The tough outer husk is removed and you do no need to soak it as long. Simply bring it to a boil & simmer for about 45 minutes until tender and liguid is absorbed. Put it in the refrigerator overnight with about 2 tbsp half and half–this will make it creamier.
Otherwise :Cover dry whole wheat berries with water and bring to boil for 15 minutes, remove from heat and let soak overnight for 24 hours. You can also just simmer it for 1 to 2 hours until it cracks open and softens up. Then stir in 2 tbsp half and half and refrigerate overnight.
Barley also works if you have nothing else, cooking time is less, about 1/2 hour.