Wednesday, March 31, 2010


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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.

It's a spectacular looking pie, and will feed alot of people! I think it would be great served with fresh strawberries.

Printable Recipe

BRYANNA'S PASTIERA NAPOLITANA VEGAN (Vegan Neapolitan Easter Grain and "Ricotta" Pie-- includes soy-free version)
Servings: 16/ Yield: 1/ 10 x 2 1/2" pie OR 2 shallow 9-10" pies

You can cut this recipe in half for a smaller gathering.

For a gluten-free pie, use rice as in the recipe and use a gluten-free flour mix.

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)

Dry Mixture:
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
Wet Mixture:
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

2 cups vegan creamer
(OR you could use a total of 1 13/4 cups full-fat soy milk or almond milk with 1/4 cup of silken tofu blended in until smooth)
1 1/4 cups medium grain (or Arborio) white rice (risotto rice)
2 tablespoons organic unbleached granulated sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
"Ricotta" Mixture: (See below for soy-free version)
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 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 fill out the rim of the crust, 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 outer 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 outer 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 toothpick 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 strawberries, 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.


Use this recipe instead of the tofu, lemon juice and oil in the "Ricotta" Mixture in the Filling recipe and mix in the remaining Filling ingredients.

BRYANNA'S ALMOND “RICOTTA”, LARGER RECIPE  (wheat-free and soy-free)   
Makes about 7 1/2 cups

From my book "Nonna's Italian Kitchen"   
This is a tasty  vegan "ricotta"--  the almond milk has a clean, mild taste.  The inspiration for this recipe was the "Incredible Almond Creme Cheeze" in Vegan Vittles by Joanne Stepaniak.

2 cups hot water
1 1/2 c. whole blanched almonds
3 cups cold water
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup cornstarch (if you’re allergic to corn, you can use wheat starch, or  use 6 T. white rice flour)
3 T.  oil
1 T. maple syrup
1 1/2 tsp. salt

Place the hot water and almonds in the blender and blend until a very smooth "cream" results-- be patient.  It cannot be grainy.  Add the rest of the ingredients and blend again well.

Pour the mixture into a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan and stir constantly over medium-high heat until it thickens and comes to a boil.  Turn the heat down to medium and cook 1 minute more, stirring. 

MICROWAVE OPTION:  Pour the mixture into a large microwave-safe bowl.  Microwave 4 minutes on HIGH.  Whisk.  Microwave 3-4 minutes more, or until thickened.

Scrape the mixture into a container and let it come to room temperature.  Beat it with a whisk or electric mixer.  Cover and chill.  When it is chilled and firm, mash and stir it with a fork, until it has some texture.  Refrigerate.

Happy Easter/Buona Pasqua!


Annie said...

I would love to have a bite of this pie with some mushrooms sauteed in sherry! yum

Bryanna Clark Grogan said...

Oh, I don't think so, Annie-- not together, anyway! It's a sweet pie!

Virginie said...

I've never heard about this pie. It sounds very fantastic, with all its flavors and ingredients. Do you advise a light or an normal meal before this cake? The cake looks so big, but sometimes we don't feel especially heavy with big cakes. Thanks for this recipe.

Bryanna Clark Grogan said...

Virginie, the woman who asked me to "veganize" this said that her family served it for breakfast! We served it for dessert, however, but in small pieces and a few hours after dinner. It IS a big pie, but you can cut the recipe in half and bake it in a regular pie pan, for fewer servings.

Bryanna Clark Grogan said...

I just had to share this comment that was posted about this recipe on (my blogs get posted over there, too):

"This recipe was just hands-down incredible! Both my families (who are incredulous about vegan foods) enjoyed my special rice pie on Easter Sunday. I made 2 small pies and they both looked delectable. While the recipe was one of the more intense that I've completed in a while, it was WELL worth the effort. I did not use the candied orange peel nor the orange flower water and it still tasted like the real deal. I did use fresh-squeezed lemon peel and fresh-zested lemon and orange zest. I also used the larger amounts of sugar and will probably use the smaller amounts next time as it was a teeny bit sweeter than was necessary, I thought. I found the pie crusts more challenging to roll out and I would've actually liked just a little bit more dough for my 2 pie crusts, but in the end, it worked out to be the perfect amount. Also, I ended up cooking these about 15 minutes longer than noted, but I was also using a new-to-me oven for the first time, so it could be my oven's fault. :)

BRAVA, BRAVA on an absolutely WONDERFUL vegan rice pie recipe!!!!!! I will be making this pie as a new Easter tradition for years to come!!!"
Posted by: laineygolightly | April 5, 2010 11:49 AM | Reply

Bryanna Clark Grogan said...

I'd also like to post the following comment I got by email. In answer to gthis I wrote back: "Your letter made me very happy, because I really want to help people keep their family traditions while staying vegan!"

"Bryanna I just wanted to drop you a thank you note for the Easter Pie recipe you posted on Veg Source.

I come from a Sicilian family. My mother died in 2007. But up until the last year of her life when she was too ill too cook due to cancer, she made our family's version of this traditional Easter Pie (this is what we always called it) every Easter of my life (I am 51 now).

My mom used wheat in the recipe. I know she did not cook it in milk, she boiled it in water. I also don't recall her ever soaking it before she boiled it. She also added just a dash of slivered chocolate chips to the filling. Every one in my family disliked the citron except my father so she always made one with citron just for him.

When I adopted a vegan diet four years ago I stopped eating her pie, which upset her quite a lot. This year I will make the vegan version in honor of her memory and will send some to my sisters who have missed this since her death. Thanks again. DL"

Virginie said...

Thanks for your reply. This pie sounds very amazing and good to be served at any moments of the day. I have to taste it.

Elaine said...

Just found your blog (via the culinate online chat on tempeh and tofu). LOVE IT!

I recently blogged about the biggest hindrance to becoming 100% vegan: cooking.

The rather inelegant title is "Cooking in an Almost Vegetarian Household with Three Kids". Would love your comments when/if you have time!

I look forward to trying your recipes!

dgsquare said...

Hello Bryanna,
few days ago I was thinking of sending you my recipe for this grain pie, or Pastiera, as we call it in Italy. It's genetic, when easter comes around we have to have it... it comes in the air!!
So I made it for Easter, it's a must, and even non vege friends liked it!
I made mine a little different than yours, veganizing the recipe I have from an italian cookbook.
I mashed the tofu squeezing it in my hands, so it would retain a little of the ricotta curdliness, I used maple and agave syrups for sweeteners, and I used starch, (corn, but potato would work too) to thicken it.
I added lemon and orange rinds, and I didn't have the orange flower water, so I used orange extract.
Sometimes people use rose water too, but I think it makes it smell too much like soap.
No candied citrus rind, nobody I know likes it, why would they put it in everything? But I used raisins in the pie.
I used barley, but wheat is also commonly used.
I never heard of orzo pasta being used in it. But orzo the grain is, and that is barley.
I wouldn't use cinnamon, it's a different taste, and I don't think Marsala or sherry is used in the original recipe.

I have a crust recipe that is really easy, 1 part WW flour, 1 part potato starch, some soy margarine and ice water, a pinch of salt and some sweetener (we like the crusts sweet.....
Mix it and pat it down in the pie plate.
It comes out flaky and nice!
You can prebake it or bake it with the filling.
So, thanks for posting the recipe, I will share it with the people that asked me for my recipe, it's easier!
Happy belated easter and happy spring!

Bryanna Clark Grogan said...

Thanks for writing, Daniela!

I want to clear up something that sveral people have mentioned, and that is the candied citrus rind, which many people confuse with "Candied citron". Here's the definition of Candied Citron from :

"Citron is a thorny evergreen shrub (Citrus medica) native to India and widely cultivated for its large lemon-like fruits that have a thick warty rind.

The rind of this fruit is often candied and used in confections and fruitcakes."

So, that's why I added a link to making your own candied orange rind (or lemon), because it tastes wonderful, but candied citron is yucky!

Oh, and the wine was my own addition-- it just seemed to boost the flavor a bit!

Anonymous said...

Bryanna, that looks beyond amazing!
Thanks so much for the recipe!

Bryanna Clark Grogan said...

You're welcome, Brigit! Great to hear from you!

Northeast Yarn Ho said...

My mom made this type of pie every year for as long as I can remember. She always used cream of wheat or farina instead of rice, but I'd love to try it with brown rice or wheat berries!

I just made my own vegan version of her recipe today and am hoping to try it out tomorrow. I was very surprised when I found your blog post--very few people seem to have heard of ricotta pie!

Anonymous said...

Bryanna, only you yourself could have, with persistent ambitious preparation, helped me make the leap for me from non vegan to vegan baking. In my youth my joy was learning and baking decadent Italian pastries. I had little interest in the main course; my parents prepared our Italian elegant dinners.
This Pastierre is the quintessential celebration at Easter along with the Easter Bread I loved to make with frosting and dried fruits, Ricotta Pie also without which no Easter Meal would be complete.
You've won the Oscar in our vegan home for nailing all vegan cooking and baking. Thank you for loving all these vegan.
Happy Easter.

Fabiola said...

Bryanna, do you have a substitute for the tofu for the "Ricotta" Mixture? Aside from being dairy- and gluten-free, I am also soy-free. Your help with this would be so greatly appreciated. This is one of my most favourite traditional cakes that I can no longer enjoy, and if I am able to make it using ingredients which I can now tolerate, I would be so grateful. Thanking you in advance for your assistance...and Buona Pasqua!

Bryanna Clark Grogan said...

Fabiola, I have added an almond ricotta version to the recipe and also sent it on to you. All the best, Bryanna