What Threat? I Made You Ricotta Pie

ricottawholepie.jpgWhen I think of Easter, I think of pies. Not chocolate bunnies, marshmallow peeps, or colorful Easter eggs, but delicious Italian pies, especially ricotta.

Growing up, my mom always prepared a traditional and labor intensive Easter dinner. In truth, she could have skipped the whole thing and just served her pies. In the week before Easter Sunday, our house became a dairy. The shelves in the second refrigerator in our basement sagged from countless dozens of eggs, pints of cream, pounds of butter, and tubs of ricotta cheese needed for our pie production.

Although it can be made year-round, ricotta pie (torta di ricotta) is an Italian cheesecake that is especially associated with Easter. There are many regional recipes for ricotta pie, some savory and some sweet. Savory versions usually include meats and additional cheeses, while sweet pies are typically flavored with citrus, nuts, and chocolate.

When I called my mom for her recipe last week, I learned that it was Nan's and that it had a storied past. Nan was the first person in the family to use pineapple instead of citron in her ricotta pie. And boy were her sisters jealous!” I had no idea Nan was a baking maverick.

Rumor has it that Nan thought her sisters' pies were “too dark” because they used that “awful citron.” (Nan was never one to mince words.) In 1945 she dropped her own bomb on Easter Sunday by showing up to dinner with her new-fangled ricotta pie with pineapple. It was as yellow as an Easter chick. There were mumblings in Italian and raised eyebrows among the women. When dessert time came, all the men agreed: Nan's pie was the best – beautiful and sweet. The women conceded victory. Well, that's the way Nan would tell it anyway.

ricottapieslice.jpgMy family has been enjoying this ricotta pie recipe for the past 62 Easters. It really is a treat. We would eat it for breakfast (along with the rice pie and pizza gain) every morning the week after Easter. It apparently can even be used to get your child into college. In an episode of The Soprano’s, Carmela tries to bribe a woman to write a letter of recommendation for Meadow.

Carmela: "Threat, what threat? I brought you a ricotta pie and high school transcripts so you could write a letter of recommendation for my little daughter to Georgetown."

I still laugh every time I see that scene. If the mob uses pineapple ricotta pie to muscle people, then it must be something special.

This was my first ricotta pie. My mom told me it’s the “easiest Easter dessert to make.” It was, except that my crust needs a little work. It wasn’t as beautiful as Mom’s, but the texture of the pie was like hers: rich, dense, and velvety ricotta that holds its shape perfectly when sliced.


Italian Ricotta Pie with Pineapple

Pie Crust:

For the last few years, my mom has used Nick Malgieri’s crust recipe from his cookbook so that’s what I used. This recipe will make 2 (two) 9-inch crusts. This ricotta pie uses only a bottom crust, so you will have enough dough for a second pie.

3 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 ½ sticks unsalted butter (chilled)
3 large eggs

Filling: This is all Nan. This will make enough filling for 2 (two) 9-inch pies. Simply cut in half for one.

2 pounds ricotta cheese (drained)
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
6 large eggs
1 (20-ounce) can of crushed pineapple (drained)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (dusted on top of pie, and slightly swirled)

For the dough, combine the dry ingredients in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse several times to mix. Add the butter and pulse about 10 times to mix the butter in finely. Add the eggs and pulse repeatedly until the dough forms a ball. Invert the dough to a floured work surface and carefully remove the blade. Wrap it in plastic, and refrigerate it while preparing the filling. You may keep the dough in the refrigerator for up to 2 days before continuing.

If like me, you don’t have a processor, then follow these instructions: Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl, then add chunks of the chilled butter. Using a pastry blender or two forks, chop the butter until it resembles little pebbles. At this point, add the eggs, and stir with a spoon until the dough begins to form. Using your hands and working the dough as little as you can, form a ball, wrap in plastic, and chill for about 20 minutes before rolling out. You may keep the dough in the refrigerator for up to 2 days before continuing.

For the filling, place the ricotta in one strainer and the pineapple in another for at least 1-1/2 hours, or preferably overnight. Discard the liquids. This will create a thicker pie filling and keep the crust crispier. Add the ricotta to a large mixing bowl, and beat it smooth with a rubber spatula. Beat in the heavy cream, sugar, cornstarch, and vanilla. Beat in the eggs, making sure the texture is smooth. Finally, stir in the pineapple.

When you are ready to bake, set a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and gently knead it on a floured surface until it is smooth and malleable. Roll the dough into a 10-inch disk.

Coat the pie plate with cooking spray. Transfer the dough to the prepared plate and press well into the bottom and sides of the plate. Use the back of a knife to remove the excess dough at the rim of the plate. Create a crust by pinching the dough between your thumb and forefinger.

When you are ready to bake the pie, place the pie plate on the oven rack, then pour the filling inside the pie crust. (Mom’s sage advice for not spilling the filling.) Pour right to the top of the pie plate leaving just a bit of room for the filling to puff up. Sprinkle the top of the pie with ground cinnamon. If you have some extra filling left over as I did, you can pour it into a small baking dish or ramekins for a crustless version, and follow the same baking instructions. Or you can simply discard.

Bake the pie at 425 for 15 minutes, then lower the heat to 350 degrees and bake another 25-35 minutes. The filling should be slightly puffed and golden and “set,” meaning it should be firm not jiggly when you gently move the pie plate. Remove from the oven and let cool on a rack. Serve at room temperature or chilled.


- Originally published on Susan Russo's site FoodBlogga