A reader wrote to me a couple of weeks ago: "Do you have any vegan recipes for the Italian wheat and rice pies that are served on Easter morning along with the frittata that my Grandma used to make? Thank you, Adrienne"
Of course, there is a vegan fritatta recipe in my book Nonna's Italian Kitchen. But, though I had heard about it, I had never eaten this pie. However, I do have a recipe for a vegan "ricotta pie" in that book, and I knew that this Easter pie contained ricotta, so I figured that I could work on it with that recipe as a start. (BTW, I don't always create recipes on request! I am happy for suggestions for recipe "makeovers", if you will, but whether I try it or not depends on a number of factors: does the recipe appeal to us? are the ingredients available to me?are the any of the ingredients outrageously expensive and will I ever use them again?; Do I have the time? Does this dish fit our dietary likes and dislikes, etc..)
I did some research on the pie, and then decided to try the formula I came up with on some friends who were coming for dinner for St. Patrick's Day! I thought it turned out rather well, impressive looking,and we all loved it, but, since I had never actually eaten the "real thing", I had nothing to compare it to! So, I asked Adrienne to try it ahead of time, for her sake and mine-- maybe just half the recipe, which she did-- and give me an honest assessment. Her verdict? "Out of this world great."
This pie is traditional in Southern Italy. Adrienne's mother's parents came from two different parts of Italy, Calabria and Puglia, but their foods were nearly identical, she told me.
I made the pie with rice, but it is also sometimes made with pearl barley or even the small pasta called orzo instead of rice. If you use orzo, you can cook it the same way as the rice, using 2 1/2 cups of nondairy milk instead of 2. If you use pearl barley, soak the the grain in cold water to cover for 24 hours, then drain and cook in the milk as for the rice.
This pie is also sometimes made with wheat kernels, which I suspect was the original version, since wheat and wheat breads are still powerful symbols of spring rebirth in Italy, harkening back to ancient times. I see no reason why it could not be made with spelt or kamut kernels or brown rice instead, but I have to try this out before giving you the directions! The whole grain for this pie is usually soaked for 3 days, changing the water each day, and then drained well and cooked in milk, but I can't say for how long or in how much milk until I try it.
I could also probably work out a soy-free version made with my "almond ricotta" from Nonna's Italian Kitchen, if necessary, but I'll have to experiment with that at another time.
It's a spectacular looking pie, and will feed alot of people! I think it would be great served with fresh strawberries.
BRYANNA'S PASTIERA NAPOLITANA VEGAN (Vegan Neapolitan Easter Grain and "Ricotta" Pie)
Servings: 16/ Yield: 1/ 10 x 2 1/2" pie OR 2 shallow 9-10" pies
For a gluten-free pie, use rice as in the recipe and, for a gluten-free pastry, use 2 3/4 cups plus 1 1/2 tablespoons of my High-Fiber, Gluten-Free Flour Mix instead of all of the flour. The recipe for the Mix is at my friend Brenda's website.
The seasoning, of course, is a matter of taste. You may like more cinnamon, less orange rind, etc. -- it's up to you!
PASTRY (Vegan, lower-fat "Pasta Frolla"):
(you can use your own favorite Pasta Frolla recipe, if you prefer)
1 1/3 cups white cake or pastry flour
1 1/2 cups all-purpose whole wheat flour
(or, instead, you can use 1 1/3 cups whole wheat pastry flour and 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose white flour)
1/2 to 3/4 cup organic unbleached granulated sugar, depending on your taste
1 1/8 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/8 teaspoons salt
9 tablespoons (1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon) soy or almond milk
1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
9 tablespoons (1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon) oil
1 teaspoon lemon extract OR 1 tablespoon finely-grated organic lemon zest
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup soy creamer
2 tablespoons organic unbleached granulated sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 lbs medium-firm tofu, drained and crumbled, plus
12 oz. firm tofu, drained and crumbled
1 1/2 to 2 cups organic unbleached granulated sugar
(depending on how sweet you like it)
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons orange flower water (optional, but traditional)
2 tablespoons finely-grated organic orange zest
2 tablespoons finely-grated organic lemon zest
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon dry to medium sherry or Marsala
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon agar powder
1/2 to 1 teaspoon cinnamon, depending on your taste
1/2 teaspoon salt
Optional Addition (but traditional):
1/3 cup candied orange peel, finely chopped
(If you can't find this-- and it is NOT the same thing as "candied citron"!!-- you will find an easy recipe to make your own here. You can make it up to 2 weeks ahead of time.)
soy or nut milk for brushing the pastry
To make the pastry:
Mix the Dry Mixture ingredients in a medium bowl. In a smaller bowl, whisk the soy or almond milk with the lemon juice, and then whisk in the oil and flavorings until the mixture is emulsified. Quickly stir this Wet Mixture into the dry ingredients and mix briefly, forming the pastry into a ball. If it's too dry, add cold water just a few drops at a time until it holds together. Don't over mix or the pastry will be tough.
If you are make one large pie make a ball with 2/3's of the dough and another ball with the last 3rd. If you are making 2 smaller pies, divide the dough into 4 equal pieces and roll into balls. Place in plastic bags and refrigerate until ready to roll out.
To cook the Rice for the Filling:
Bring the creamer and milk to a boil in a heavy medium saucepan. Stir in the rice, sugar, vanilla and salt, turn down the heat to Low, cover tightly and cook for 35 minutes, or until all of the liquid is absorbed. Scoop the rice out into a shallow bowl to cool. If the rice looks very dry, stir in a few tablespoons of non-dairy milk, but don't make it runny.
To make the Filling:
Place ALL of the "Ricotta" Mixture ingredients (except the optional candied orange peel) into a large blender, Vita-Mix or food processor and blend until very smooth. Scoop the smooth mixture into a mixing bowl.
Add the cooled, cooked rice mixture and the optional candied peel, if using, and fold and stir until evenly distributed. Set aside.
To prepare the pie(s) for baking:
Heat the oven to 350° F for the large pie or 375° F for the smaller pies.
If you are making a large pie, oil the inside of a round 10 x 21/2" springform pan. If you are making two smaller pies, oil two ordinary 9 or 10" pie pans. (For the smaller pies, since they are served right in the pie pan, Pyrex or ceramic pie plates would be preferred over metal pans for a more elegant look.)
If using the springform pan,
roll the largest ball of dough out on a piece of baking parchment (you shouldn't need any flour to roll this out on parchment) to make a circle 15" across (diameter). Carefully and loosely roll this around the rolling pan and gently unroll over the top of the prepared springform pan.
Gently ease the pastry down into the pan and secure it in place by pinching the excess dough to the top edges of the pan. Make sure that any cracks or tears are smoothed out and covered (use extra bits of dough, if necessary), and that the dough fits neatly into the pan.
If using 2 smaller pie pans,
roll two of the equal-sized balls to fit 9 or 10" pie dishes (with enough dough to overlap the rims of the pie dishes) and ease them into the dishes, gently fitting them into the pans and smoothing out any cracks. (There will be scraps of dough left over to fillout the rim of the crist, make patches, etc.).
To fill and decorate the pie(s):
Scoop the filling into the pie crust(s) (1 large or 2 smaller) and smooth the top(s). It should come up just about to the top of the pan(s).
Roll out the remaining dough as if you were making a top crist for the springform pan or two top crusts for the pie dishes. Cut the rolled-out dough into 1/2"-wide strips, using a pizza cutter (or a ravioli cutter for a scalloped edge).
Make a latticed topping with the strips, following the picture instructions here
or the video instructions here .
(If you are in a hurry like I was when I was making this, just criss-cross the strips instead of latticing them!)
Press the ends of the strips into the dough at the rim of the pans to make sure they adhere.
With the large springform pan, cut the edge of the dough off carefully with a sharp knife on the OUTSIDE of the rim of the pan so that the dough sticks to the slim out edge of the pan.
With the smaller pie pans, flute the edge of the crust as you ordinarily would, making it look pretty, then cut the rough edges off the out edge of the pie with a sharp knife.
Gently brush the lattice with soy or nut milk, using a fine pastry brush. If you like, use scraps of dough to make leaf or flower shapes to decorate the top of the lattice pastry.
Bake the large pie for 1 1/2 hours at 350° F.
Bake the smaller pies for 45 minutes at 375° F. Either way, a toopick or bamboo skewer should come out clean when inserted in the middle of the pie.
Cool the pie(s) thoroughly on racks (takes several hours), then refrigerate until serving time. Decorate the pies with flowers for serving, of you like. I think some fresh fruit, such as stawberries, makes a good accompaniment.
Nutrition Facts (calculated using soymilk and the lesser amount of sugar in both pie filling and crust)
Nutrition (per serving): 280.8 calories; 18% calories from fat; 6.0g total fat; 0.0mg cholesterol; 130.0mg sodium; 190.4mg potassium; 46.8g carbohydrates; 1.1g fiber; 22.2g sugar; 45.7g net carbs; 10.0g protein; 5.9 points.
Happy Easter/Buona Pasqua!