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The Tradition of Easter Pie

I may have mentioned several hundred times on this blog that my only connection with homemade food growing up was in my grandmother’s (the Italian one) kitchen. Meatballs with gravy on toast for Sunday morning breakfast, stuffed artichokes, and the best chicken cutlets and mashed potatoes I’ve ever had – these were on the rotating menu at her house. She passed away at the age of 92 this January so I wanted to share one of my favorite food memories in her kitchen with all of you – Easter Pie.

When I tell people about Easter Pie many of them look at me strangely. Ricotta Pie? No that doesn’t usually ring a bell either. But Skippy made a mean Easter Pie and if I close my eyes I can still taste the thick and sweet ricotta pie. Sadly, I never got the recipe even though I did make it one year for my family at Easter. Luckily, NPR comes pretty close with its Nan’s Italian Ricotta Pie with Pineapple.

See Mom Mom – I was listening to you! 

Nan’s Italian Ricotta Pie with Pineapple 

Creamy, dense, sweet ricotta pie is a hallmark of an Italian Easter Sunday feast. It’s delicious at breakfast, lunch or for dessert. This recipe requires beginning at least a few hours in advance.

Makes two, 9-inch pies

For a 9-inch Double Crust:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter (chilled)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons ice water, or as much as needed

For the Filling:

  • 6 large eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 pounds ricotta cheese, drained (minimum of 2 hours or preferably overnight) ***
  • 1 (20-ounce) can crushed pineapple, drained (minimum of 2 hours or preferably overnight)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, for dusting top of pies

For the crust, combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pulse several times to combine. Add the butter and pulse about 10 times until the dough becomes pebbly in texture. Add the eggs and pulse repeatedly until the dough begins to stick together. Slowly add the ice water by the tablespoonful, while using a few long pulses. Add more drops of ice water as necessary, until the dough holds together well. Invert the dough onto a floured work surface and divide in half. Form a ball out of each half and flatten into a disc; wrap each disc in plastic wrap and refrigerate while preparing the filling. (Dough can be refrigerated for up to 2 days before continuing.)

If you don’t have a processor, combine the dry ingredients in a bowl; add chunks of chilled butter, and using a pastry blender or two forks, chop the butter until it resembles little pebbles. At this point, add the eggs and ice water, and stir with a spoon until the dough begins to form. Using your hands and working the dough as little as possible, transfer it to a lightly floured surface. Knead until the dough holds together. Divide the dough into two equal balls and flatten into discs; wrap each disc in plastic and refrigerate while preparing the filling. (Dough can be refrigerated for up to 2 days before continuing.)

To make the filling, add the eggs and sugar to a large bowl. Using a hand-mixer, beat until well combined. Add the heavy cream, vanilla extract and cornstarch, and beat on low until well combined. Add the drained ricotta, and beat on low for a few seconds until just combined. Then with a rubber spatula, fold in the drained pineapple. Place in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Place a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees. Coat two 9-inch pie plates with cooking spray. Turn one dough ball onto a lightly floured surface and roll into a 10-inch circle. Transfer the dough to the prepared pie plates and gently press into the bottom and sides. Flute the edges as desired. At this point, set the crusts in the freezer for about 10 to 15 minutes to get really chilled, which will make for a flakier crust.

Remove the chilled crusts from the freezer and pour the filling to about 1/4 of an inch below the top of the crust, as it will puff up slightly when baking. Dust the pie tops with the ground cinnamon, gently swirling it with the tip of a teaspoon so the spice doesn’t clump.

Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, then lower the temperature to 325 degrees and cook for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the filling puffs up, turns golden and is “set,” meaning it should be firm, not jiggly when you gently move the pie plate from side to side. Remove from the oven and let cool on a rack. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Note: If you have some extra filling left over, you can pour it into a small baking dish or ramekins for a crustless version, and follow the same baking instructions. Leftover ricotta pie can be stored in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days.

*** Ricotta cheese, an Italian cheese used in both savory and sweet recipes, can be found in most supermarkets. However, I recommend purchasing it from an Italian deli or specialty market if possible. It tends to be more flavorful and less watery than supermarket brands. If you do buy it at a supermarket, then select a full-fat rather than low-fat variety. The low-fat versions are too watery and won’t form a thick, dense filling.

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How to Picnic

Walking through Rittenhouse Square on Monday, I felt my heart skip a beat – I could smell picnic season in the air. One of my favorite things about Spring/Summer is a picnic. I’ve packed a variety of dishes for picnics over the years – gazpacho, quiche, pasta, salads, and of course sandwiches. But sandwiches can get boring – and even a little complex when you have a mixture of eaters to pack for – vegetarians, carnivores, picky kids, etc.  As such, I’m always  on the lookout for new, creative sandwich ideas. This month’s Whole Living Magazine was like an answer to my picnic prayers with 30 creative new sandwich ideas. Now if the weather would just cooperate again…

Looking for tips on how to pack the perfect picnic basket? Click here.

Here are some of my favorites from the issue:

Roasted Beet and Hummus

  • 1 medium beet, scrubbed and greens removed
  • 1 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp hummus
  • 2 slices whole-wheat bread, toasted
  • 2 Tbsp crumbled feta
  • 1/2 cup baby arugula

Roast beet: Heat oven to 425 degrees. Toss beet with oil in a baking dish and season with salt and pepper. Cover tightly with foil and roast until tender, 45 to 60 minutes. When cool enough to handle, peel skin and slice. Spread hummus on bread. Top one slice toast with beet slices, feta, and arugula. Top with second slice.

Artichoke and White Bean

  • 2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup baby spinach
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup mashed white beans
  • 2 slices whole-wheat bread, toasted
  • 3 to 4 store-bought marinated artichoke hearts, halved

Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add spinach and stir until wilted, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Spread mashed beans on one of slice toast. Top with artichoke hearts and sauteed spinach. Top with second slice.

Grilled Chicken with Walnut Parsley Pesto

  • 1 cup packed fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 Tbsp walnuts, toasted
  • 2 Tbsp grated Parmesan
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 slices whole-grain bread
  • 2 oz grilled chicken breast, sliced
  • 2 to 3 radicchio leaves
  • 1 Tbsp shaved Parmesan
  • Zest of 1/2 lemon

Make pesto: Process parsley, walnuts, Parmesan, garlic, and lemon juice in a food processor. With machine running, gradually add olive oil. Process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Spread 2 Tbsp pesto on bread. Top one slice of bread with grilled chicken, radicchio, Parmesan, and lemon zest. Top with the second slice.

Goat Cheese and Honey

  • 2 Tbsp goat cheese
  • 1 whole-wheat English muffin, split and toasted
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, halved and toasted
  • 3 to 4 fresh basil leaves
  • 2 tsp honey

Spread goat cheese on toasted muffin halves. Top each with walnuts and basil and drizzle with honey.

Ricotta and Strawberry 

  • 2 Tbsp fresh ricotta
  • 1 seeded whole-grain roll, halved
  • 3 strawberries, hulled and sliced
  • 2 tsp honey
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Spread ricotta on both sides of whole-grain roll. Top with strawberries. Drizzle with honey and season with pepper.

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