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Easter Ricotta Pie

Have you started planning your Easter dessert yet? Easter is one of my favorite holidays for the plethora of traditional foods that are found on most tables in Italian or Italian-American homes – from appetizers to main course to dessert. See the end of this post for more ideas. One of my all-time favorite Easter desserts is this ricotta pie, and there are endless variations, including one with the addition of chocolate chips. I have nothing against that – I’d happily eat a couple of slices — but for Easter, give me a pure, unadulterated ricotta pie with a hint of orange – the Italian version of cheesecake – and one that’s very popular in my household.

Feel free to use your favorite homemade pastry crust recipe or a store-bought one. I relied on Trader Joe’s this time, but it can be a bit fiddly to use since it has a tendency to split when you’re placing it in the pie plate. No problem, just press the pieces back together. Prick the pie crust and refrigerate while you prepare the filling.

Make sure you drain your ricotta (full-fat only please) thoroughly. I line a sieve with paper towels, add the ricotta, cover with plastic wrap, then put a weight on top and leave it in the fridge overnight.

Look how much liquid came out. If you don’t take this step, you risk having a soggy bottom crust.

I started out with three pounds of ricotta and was left with a little over four cups after draining overnight.

Mix with the orange and lemon peels as well as the rest of the ingredients. If you don’t have orange blossom water, use some orange flavored extract. Mix it all well then place into the prepared crust.

Cover with lattice strips and crimp edges. It’s easier to weave the lattice strips if you cut them out and place them in the freezer for a bit before placing on top of the pie.

Bake and let it cool thoroughly before serving.

Buona Pasqua tutti!

Here are a few more ideas for Easter dinner:

Ricotta Broccoli Rape Torta – This is a dish my son makes as an appetizer for Easter, using broccoli rape. No, that spelling is not a mistake, it is rape in Italian, while most Americans spell it broccoli rabe or raab. Any way you spell it, it’s delicious, and a lighter alternative to the heavier, meat-laden pizza piena.

Braided Easter Bread – This bread, studded with hard boiled eggs, is braided with soppressata, olives and cheese, and would be perfect with drinks before dinner.

Grilled Leg of Lamb – Marinated and cooked on the grill, this lamb recipe from Julia Child, is tender and full of flavor.

Honey Baked Ham with roasted grapes – This recipe will make you forget those prepared hams purchased from franchise ham shops – and it’s so easy to make too.

 Neapolitan Pastiera – This traditional Southern Italian dessert is made with ricotta and wheat berries.

Colomba Pasquale – It wouldn’t be Easter in most Italian households without this Easter dove, which you can make at home too.

Coconut covered lamb cake – A childhood favorite, I continue the tradition with the same cake mold my mother used more than sixty years ago.

chocolate lamb cake – Why not give equal time to the black sheep? This cake, decorated with crushed cookie crumbs, will please the chocolate lovers in your family.

coconut cream Easter eggs – These are a weakness of mine, which is why I can’t make them more than once every few years. Otherwise, I’d end up eating dozens of them.

Perfect hard boiled eggs – And if you don’t make any of the above recipes, you’ll probably make hard-boiled eggs at some point. If you’ve ever struggled with peeling them, here’s a primer that will help you avoid frustration.

Buona Pasqua a tutti!

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Easter Ricotta Pie
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • Two of your favorite homemade or store-purchased pie crusts (one for bottom and one for the lattice top)
  • 4 cups drained full-fat ricotta cheese
  • (I started out with 3 pounds of ricotta from the supermarket and there were more than 4 cups when it was all drained.)
  • 6 eggs
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • juice of one orange (a little less than ¼ cup)
  • grated rind of two oranges
  • grated rind of one lemon
  • ½ teaspoon orange blossom water (or 1 teaspoon vanilla)
Instructions
  1. Drain the ricotta cheese overnight in the refrigerator.
  2. To do this, I place a paper towel in a sieve, put the ricotta cheese in the sieve, then cover with a piece of plastic wrap and finally, a heavy weight.
  3. Roll out the pie crust and place it in a deep-dish pie pan.
  4. Prick the crust with a fork.
  5. Place it in the refrigerator for a few minutes while you roll the lattice.
  6. Roll out the other pie crust on a cutting board or something that will fit in the freezer.
  7. Cut nine lattice strips and place the whole thing, cutting board and all, in the freezer.
  8. Make sure you can keep it flat.
  9. This technique of putting the strips in the freezer for a few minutes will help keep when the lattice strips from breaking apart when weaving them on the top after you have placed the filling inside.
  10. Beat the eggs gently (but don't beat too heavily or the pie will rise too much, and then deflate too much.)
  11. Mix the eggs with the ricotta and the rest of the ingredients.
  12. Place the filling in the pie shell.
  13. Place the lattice work on top, weaving over and under till you get the desired effect.
  14. Swipe the lattice with either some beaten egg, milk or cream.
  15. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven forr one hour.
  16. When cooled and ready to serve, sprinkle with powdered sugar and top with grated orange peel.
 

 

Ricotta Broccoli Rape Torta

 I’m sorry I didn’t have this recipe for you sooner because this beautiful torta would have been perfect on your Easter table. I say this from firsthand knowledge because it was on our Easter table, thanks to my son Michael, who’s a terrific cook and who whipped this up in his kitchen as an appetizer before our Easter dinner.

 It was the perfect accompaniment to a glass of prosecco before the main event. But just because you missed out on eating this during Easter, doesn’t mean you can’t make it another time of year. It’s not only impressive in its presentation, but tastes pretty terrific too.
It’s loaded with pancetta, ricotta and broccoli rape (ok, for those of you thinking I misspelled this, please note that it’s not incorrect to say broccoli rape, since that’s the Italian spelling, or call it rapini, or broccoli rabe – they’re all correct.)
One of these tortas serves a lot of people, but the downside of having too many people share it is that you won’t have leftovers to eat for lunch the next day. So before it all disappears, tuck away a slice or two just for yourself.
Ricotta Broccoli Rape Torta

 

For the crust:
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
18 tablespoons unsalted butter, well chilled or frozen
6 tablespoons solid vegetable shortening, well chilled or frozen
1 large egg
1 tablespoon lemon juice or unflavored vinegar
5 to 7 tablespoons ice water, just as needed
For the filling:
2 bunches rapini (“broccoli rape”)
2 lbs. part skim ricotta cheese, drained
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1/2 pound pancetta, cut into small pieces
1 large onion, chopped
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
3 large eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon fine dried bread crumbs
½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
For the egg glaze:
1 egg yolk, beaten well with pinch of salt
Preheat an oven to 350 F.
Directions for the pie pastry
1. Combine the flour and salt and pulse a few times in a food processor to blend.
2. Add the cold butter and vegetable shortening and pulse only until the fat is cut into bits the size of peas.
3. Through the processor’s feed tube, add the egg and lemon juice or
vinegar, pulse once or twice, then add the ice water one tablespoon at a
time, pulsing once or twice between additions, only until dough begins
to show some clumps. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the inside
walls of the vessel. Do not form a dough ball on the blade.
4. Turn dough out onto a piece of wax paper (if it looks sandy and
dry, sprinkle on a tiny bit more water) and use your hands to bring it
together into a ball. It should hold the form of your fingers when
squeezed. Wrap the dough well in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at
least 30 minutes or for up to 5 days until you are ready to make the
filling.
Note: If butter and vegetable shortening were frozen, dough can be rolled without prior chilling.
Directions for the filling
1. Wash the rapini in cold water, drain.
2. Detach and separate the stems from the tops of the vegetable. Set
the tops and the leaves aside. Using a small, sharp knife, peel any
especially tough skin from the thicker lower stalks, much like you would
peel the tough skin from the bottom of asparagus stalks.
3. Fill a large pot with plenty of water to cover all the greens and
bring to a rolling boil. Add the kosher salt and the peeled stems, cover
partially, and boil over high heat for 7 minutes. Now add the florets
and leaves and cook them together with the stems for 3 minutes more.
Drain the greens and allow them to cool. With your hands, squeeze out as
much water as you can. Chop them finely and set aside.
4. Warm a large, heavy skillet over medium heat and render most of the fat from pancetta. Remove the pancetta and add the onion to the pan. Adjust the heat to medium-low
and sauté until the onion is transparent, another 10 minutes. Stir in
the garlic and continue to sauté gently for about another 3 minutes
until it softens and the onions are lightly colored, but do not brown
the mixture. Stir in the rapini, along with the pancetta. Set aside to cool.
5. In a large bowl, beat the eggs lightly and mix in the bread
crumbs, ricotta, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Use a rubber spatula to fold in
the cooled rapini mixture, blending well.
6.  Select a springform pan.
Butter it lightly. Divide the chilled dough into two portions, one
slightly larger than the other. To use, roll out the larger ball of
dough on a lightly floured, wide sheet of parchment or waxed paper using
a floured rolling pin. Form an 11-inch round. Drape it around the pin
and transfer it to the pan. Press it gently onto the bottom and
sides.
7. Spoon in the filling.
8. Roll out the second ball of dough in the same manner into a
slightly smaller circle. Lay it over the filling. Crimp the edges
together to seal and trim off any excess to form an even edge. Cut several slashes in the top to allow steam to escape and decorate with extra pieces of dough, pressing them gently onto
the crust.
9. Brush the crust with the beaten egg and bake in the preheated oven
until golden, about 1 hour, 10 minutes, or until golden. Remove from the oven and
transfer it to a rack to cool for about 10 minutes. Serve hot or warm,
cut into wedges.
Note: This pie keeps well in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Reheat it in an oven preheated to 350 F until warm throughout, 20 to 30
minutes.

 

Polenta Festa Redux

Once a year, the Italian cultural organization I’m involved with holds a polenta festa. It’s always one of the most well-attended events of the year, with lots of polenta dishes to enjoy – from appetizers and main courses to dessert. This year, the nasty New Jersey weather kept some people away, but that just meant there was more for those who did show up, carrying their warm platters of the humble cornmeal dish.
Here’s a sampling of the various offerings: polenta with sausages and sauerkraut from Mary Sue and Al:
Eleanor’s polenta with broccoli rabe
 Polenta with sausages and melted cheeses from Ciao Chow Linda:
We had entertainment too – two students from Princeton University who played everything from “O Sole Mio” to the intermezzo from “Cavalleria Rusticana.” Bravi studenti.
 Then it was on to dessert, including Gilda’s cornmeal almond cake. I’ve posted the recipe for this before and you can find it here.
 Cornmeal chocolate chip cookies
 Polenta lemon cake (almost identical to a recipe I posted here)
 The next night back at home, as the Polar “Vortex” made its way to Princeton, I warmed up with some polenta and wild greens, again crowned with a mixture of grated fontina and parmesan, the same topping I used on the sausage dish I took to the festa.
My dishes, the first picture with the sausage and the one above with wild greens, were assembled by making a pot of polenta (instructions for making polenta from scratch here), cooking – then slicing some Italian sausage (or cooking the wild greens in water, draining and sautéing in olive oil with garlic, salt and red pepper flakes)  and scattering it over the polenta. Top with some grated fontina cheese and a sprinkling of parmesan. Heat in a 425 degree oven for a half hour or until cheese is melted and begins to turn slightly golden.
If you’re a neophyte when it comes to making polenta, fear not — take the plunge. The best polenta comes from constant stirring over a stove for 40 to 45 minutes, but I’ve been known to use the five-minute polenta too, and it’s not bad. Cookbook author Michele Scicolone even writes of a method using a slow cooker to make polenta, in her cookbook, “The Italian Slow Cooker.” And click here to learn about America’s Test Kitchen  “almost no-stir polenta” recipe.  Just don’t use that stuff that comes in a tube or you’ll be shut out in the polar vortex.
 
Polenta with Sausages (or wild greens) and Cheeses
Make polenta using one of the methods described and pour into an oven-proof dish.
Saute sausages in a pan until cooked through (or alternately do as I did and remove casings from sausage, then simmer in some water until cooked).
Slice and arrange sausages over polenta, poking some down into it. Cover with grated fontina and parmesan cheese. Bake at 425 degrees for 1/2 hour or until melted and slightly golden on top.
For the wild greens, boil them in some water, drain. Then add a bit of olive oil to a pan, some minced garlic and let it soften. Put the drained greens back in, adding a bit of salt and red pepper flakes. Spread the mixture on the polenta, adding grated fontina and parmesan. Bake for 425 degrees for 1/2 hour or until melted and slightly golden on top.
Basic Polenta – – Michele Scicolone, “The Italian Slow Cooker” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2010)
Serves 6
1 cup coarsely ground cornmeal, preferably stone-ground
1½ teaspoons salt
5 cups water (or half water and half broth)
Additional water, milk, broth or cream, optional
In a large slow cooker, stir together the cornmeal, salt and water. Cover and cook on high for 2 hours. Stir the polenta. If it seems too thick, add a little extra liquid. Cook for 30-60 minutes more, until thick and creamy. Serve hot.

Broccoli Raab, Rape et al

 This vegetable goes by many monikers, both here and in Europe. Most Americans call it broccoli raab or broccoli rabe (pronouncing it “rahb.”) I’ve always know it as broccoli rape (pronounced “RAH-pay”) as Italians call it. But it’s also called cima di rapa, rapini, and sometimes broccolini or broccoletti. Who knew that this delicious vegetable, a staple of Chinese diets as well as Mediterranean ones, went by so many names? 

One of my readers emailed me, asking me to post more vegetable recipes, so I’m going to attempt to do that more often. This is one of my favorites.
Broccoli rape is related to the mustard family and is packed with vitamins A, C and K. But I eat it because it tastes great. It’s got a bitterness to it that I love, but I tame it with a little blanching. Don’t worry, it’ll still have a bitter edge. It’s nothing like regular broccoli.
It’s a beautiful sight to behold yellow fields of it in full bloom in springtime. They’re related to the bitter greens I pick in the wild each year for free! Click here for more info about picking your own in the wild. But if you wait to pick them when you see the flowers, they’re way too bitter to eat.
I’m usually disappointed when I eat it in restaurants, because it’s either overcooked or the stalks are fibrous. To overcome that at home, I peel each stalk a couple of inches from the bottom, something most restaurants won’t take the time to do. But it makes such a difference since the cooking time will be shorter and the stalks will be tender.
You can see the difference here, between the stalks on the left – that were peeled – and those on the right, that weren’t peeled and that look much tougher and more fibrous.
My favorite way to eat them is a simple preparation: Just parboil them for a couple of minutes in ample water, drain and toss with some olive oil, minced garlic, red pepper flakes and salt. A little squirt of lemon at the end adds a nice finishing tang.
If you’ve cooked too much and have some left over, you can easily refashion them into another meal. Add a few sautèed mushrooms to the broccoli rape, and toss everything together with a little cooked pasta. Top with grated parmesan cheese.
Or use it as the base of a sandwich with slices of roast pork, roasted peppers and melted provolone cheese.

Sautèed Broccoli Rape

printable recipe here

Trim the bottom couple of inches from the stalks. Boil the broccoli rape in water for two to three minutes. Drain well. In another pan, sautè some minced garlic in a few tablespoons of olive oil. Add the broccoli rape and toss in the oil. Add a generous amount of salt, and a few shakes of crushed red pepper. Arrange in a bowl and sprinkle the top with a squirt of fresh lemon juice.

If you have leftover the next day, sautè some mushrooms in a bit of olive oil, add the leftover broccoli rape and some cooked and drained pasta. Serve with parmesan cheese on top.