Seasonal dishes, they define our lives. Whether it’s Thanksgiving Turkey or Candy Canes at Christmas or King Cake at Mardi Gras one can often tell the season by its specialty dishes. Growing up in a Southern Italian American home there were and still are many dishes/foods that are like a calendar smacking you in the head telling you what Holiday or season you are celebrating. Spring. Primavera (it’s the Italian word for Spring, not just a type of Pasta, lol). Easter. Passover. Just a few holiday/seasons that March into May brings to us and in my home, on Good Friday the traditional family RICOTTA PIES would be prepared and baked post 3:00pm and NOT TOUCHED UNTIL 12:00AM EASTER SUNDAY. This is maddening, although, we are modern now. The Catholic Church’s first Easter mass is around 4pm on Saturday before Easter so feel free to cut into the pie. Certainly, you may stick to tradition and wait till that clock changed from night to midnight.
A little history with this pie I’m blogging about, in the old days Lent meant no eggs, no dairy, no meat, no sugar, no NOTHIN!!! Southern Italians devised dishes that were accessible and celebratory for breaking the fast. Ricotta pies which are known as PIZZE (Pizza is a word for pie…the tomato and cheese one is just another version) are made in both sweet and savory types. Let’s confuse you further! Every town and region developed it’s own types of foods..while this confuses many ItalianAmericans because we often think only the way that our family makes something is the right way..there are many versions of all these Easter pies. Mine comes from my Grandmother’s town of CASTEL BARONIA , PROVINCIA D’AVELLINO not far from Naples. We call isSWEET PIE, or PIZZA DOLCE and it’s a wonderful baked ricotta pie scented with cinnamon, lemon, orange and anisette. There are similar pies made in the Avellino area withouth the lemon and orange zest and without the glaze on top. That glaze is used in baked goods from my Grandfather’s town of Grassano, Provincia di Matera in neighboring Basilicata. I wonder if Grandma Scaramuzzi’s version melded a few things she picked up from Grandpa’s family. It’s how recipes evolve but the basic pizza is pure Avellinese. The crust is a typical PASTA FROLLA, the dough used for many Southern Italian pastry/baked goods. The first thing we need to do it make the dough. You need time for this, Rome wasn’t built in a day!!
2-1/2 cups SIFTED all-purpose UNBLEACHED flour
-1/4 cup sugar
-1/4 tsp. salt
-1/2 tsp. baking powder
10 Tbs. good unsalted butter, chilled
1 Xtra Large Egg, beaten
4 Tbsps. milk
Mix all the dry ingredients well. Cut the butter into a small dice and work it into the dry ingredients until the mix resembles small peas. Now add the egg which you’ve beaten with the milk then add to the flour and butter mixture and stir it all with a fork or wooden spoon until it will hold its shape. Knead this until it’s smooth then stop. Form the Pasta Frolla into a disk and wrap in “Saran Wrap” or Plastic wrap and into the fridge for 1 1/4 hours. Don’t get scared, those are disks of pasta frolla for a few pies.
Now we will make the Ricotta filling.
1-1/2 lbs. WHOLE MILK RICOTTA which you’ve drained overnight or earlier in the day in a sieve. You can also , if available, use the Ricotta which comes in a tin already drained, That’s what I generally use but it’s not available everywhere.
1/2 cup sugar
4 large eggs
1 1/8 TBS ANISETTE EXTRACT
1 TSP. PURE VANILLA
3 TBS DICED CITRON
1 TSP. CINNAMON
1 TSP. LEMON ZEST
1 TSP ORANGE ZEST
Beat the eggs, then add the sugar and beat, add the extracts, beat. Now mix in the Ricotta, cinnamon, the zests, and the citron until smooth. Cover and refrigerate until ready to fill the pastry.These instructions are for a 9 inch pan. I double recipe and make it in a larger rectangular. Up to you. Lightly butter the pan. From the Pasta Frolla disk, remove about 1/3 for later. The remainder you will roll out to about 14 inches and line the buttered 9 inch pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. You want some of the dough over the sides of the pan. Press the dough into the sides and then pour in the ricotta mixture. Roll out the remainder of the dough for the top. With an egg wash of 2 eggs and 1/8 cup milk brush the rim and then place the top over it.. press the sides to the lid forming a crust and cut away the excess. Brush the top with the egg wash. If you truly want a Grandma Scaramuzzi Sweet Pie, turn those bits you just cut off and make a B and a P out of them. Place them on center of the pie and coat with egg wash. Place the pan on a baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour. What does BP mean? BUONA PASQUA! Italian for Happy Easter..that makes it a real Grandma memory. To test for done. use a sharp knife and place in the center going straight into the bottom of the pie. If it comes out clean, your pie is done. Let this cool for 1 hour to 2 hours. While it’s cooling it’s time to make the glaze.
1 cup Confectioner’s Sugar
1/2 tsp Lemon Juice
1/2 tsp Orange Juice
1/2 tsp. milk
1/2 tsp. Anisette Extract
1 tsp mixed Lemon and Orange Zest
multicolored “confetti” or non pareils
Mix all except the confetti until you can drizzle it. cover with wrap until ready to use.
When the Sweet Pie is fully cooled, don’t rush it…make sure it’s cool!! Then simply drizzle the icing over the top making sure to get some into the sides. You may have more than you need, use it for something else. After you’ve drizzles add some of the confetti to the top. Now here’s some variations…you can do a lattice top if you like, just cut the top into strips. Nothing at Easter makes me think, remember, and smile about who I am, where I come from, and who loves me almost as much as this does. Grandma Scaramuzzi and my Mom are right there in the kitchen with me, guiding me as they once did to teach us this pie. It’s About Easter, about continuity and the cycles of life, rebirth, family, love. About my ItalianAmerican and Southern Italian roots and sharing that with my multicultural family. It’s fantastic and thanks for letting me share it with you.