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Forget fluffy marshmallow chicks or chocolate Easter eggs. For me, Easter is not complete without a slice (or two) of ricotta pie. Growing up, I would easily forgo the chocolate in my Easter basket in favor of the ricotta pie our Sicilian family always baked this time of year.
Now, as an adult, I still go weak in the knees when I think of this delicious pie. The Sicilians love their ricotta desserts – from the infamous Sicilian cassata to their heavenly cannoli. According to Clifford Wright, the reigning English-speaking expert on Italian culinary culture, ‘the cassata was early on a springtime cake traditionally made as an Easter specialty by the monastery nuns or for Purim by Sicilian Jews. Cassata was so delicious and seductive that as late as 1574 the diocese of Mazara del Vallo had to prohibit its making at the monastery during the holy week because the nuns preferred to bake and eat it than pray.’ Hey, I get it. I drool at the thought of fresh ricotta.
The Italians have many versions of the Italian Easter pie. Some recipes call for savory ingredients; others sweet. The savory version often combines ricotta, with various meats such as prosciutto and salami and cheeses. Another common sweet version includes grain such as wheat berries with the ricotta (typically known as pastiera Napoletana).
My personal favorite has always been this simple, sweet creamy version that invariably filled my mother’s kitchen with an aroma that prompted our neighbors from their homes in order to follow the scent. Hints of cinnamon and vanilla mingle beautifully with fluffy ricotta and a simple buttery flaky crust. The pie comes together quickly even with making a homemade crust. In a pinch, you could substitute your favorite pre-made crust.
However, the crust takes such little time, it is worth the few extra minutes and dishes to wash. Try to use fresh ricotta, which can now be found in many supermarkets. This fluffier version usually has more flavor. Be sure to drain the ricotta as indicated below. If you cannot find fresh ricotta, use the full fat version supermarket variety. And should you have any extra filling, just pour it into a small baking dish. Sprinkle with a bit of cinnamon and toss in the oven along with the pie. A delicious treat!
Sicilian Sweet Ricotta Pie
For the dough:
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
2 cups all-purpose flour
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), chilled and diced into small pieces
1/3 cup sugar
A pinch of salt
Zest of 1/2 lemon
A few tablespoons of cold water
For the filling:
3 pounds ricotta, drained well if store bought
1/2 cup sugar (use 3/4 cup if you like your desserts sweeter)
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
Lightly butter a 9″ springform pan and set aside.
Make the pie crust:
Put all ingredients (eggs, flour, butter, sugar, salt) except the water into the bowl of a food processor or large bowl. If using a food processor, pulse the ingredients until a ball forms. If too dry, add the water tablespoon by tablespoon until the dough comes together. If mixing by hand, mix all ingredients with your hands until the dough comes together. Add water tablespoon by tablespoon if too dry until the dough comes together. Knead until smooth – about 30 seconds or so.
Gather the dough into a ball. Flatten and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
Prepare the filling:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into a circle that will fit in the prepared pan. Keep the dough as thin as possible. Roll around the rolling pin and unwrap into the prepared pan. Cut off any excess dough around the top. Prick the bottom of the dough with a fork and chill until ready to fill.
In a large bowl, beat together the ricotta and sugar until smooth. Add in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each egg. Add in the vanilla and cinnamon. Stir in the mini chocolate chips.
Pour the filling into the chilled shell.
Bake the pie for about 45 minutes or until set in the middle. Cool, dust with cinnamon and serve!
Joe and Michele Becci are a brother and sister team who love all things Italian. Together, from opposite coasts, they co-author the blog OurItalianTable.com.