Pastiera Napoletana is a buttery tart with a creamy filling that’s not overly sweet. This Italian grain pie mixes the flavors of smooth ricotta and pastry cream, candied citrus, cinnamon, and vanilla. The filling is cheesecake-like, but not quite.
Italian Grain Pie Recipe
I couldn’t imagine celebrating Easter without baking something typical and wonderful from Italy. Granted, I would rather be in Italy eating something typical and wonderful, but this Pastiera Napoletana is a good substitute.
Pastiera Napoletana is a traditional Easter dessert made in Naples and throughout the region of Campania. Some families may bake even up to six of these Easter grain pies to share with family and friends who come over to visit on Easter weekend. Six! This Italian Easter pie is so delicious that I could understand why they would bake that many. They even take these on their picnics they have on Pasquetta (Easter Monday). You may have heard Pastiera Napoletana called Pizza di Grano (grain pie), as that is how Italian Americans also call it.
I should mention upfront that this Pastiera Napoletana takes a while to make one. It is a tart filled with wheat berries and ricotta, and it’s scented with orange flower water. I know that some bakers do add crema pasticcera (pastry cream) and this is the way I chose to make my pastiera. I also added lemon and orange zest. The more zest the better as it enhances the citrus flavor! I highly recommend adding the pastry cream. It adds a whole different dimension to the ricotta. It makes it truly creamy and dreamy.
Giorgio Locatelli says of Pastiera Napoletana:
“The combination of ingredients may seem strange but they are associated with ancient Roman celebrations of the rite of spring; flowers, eggs for new life, ricotta from the ewes, wheat and flour from the land…One of the many legends associated with the dish involves the siren Partenope…she lived in the Gulf of Naples and to celebrate the arrival of spring she would come and sing to the inhabitants. One year, to say thank you for her songs, they offered her local gifts – ricotta, flour, eggs, wheat, perfumed orange flowers and spices. She was so delighted she took them to her kingdom under the sea where the Gods mixed them together into a cake.”
Every ingredient in the pastiera recipe is symbolic. I know you may be shaking your head wondering, “cooked grains in my pie?.” But trust me, this Easter grain pie is wonderful. If you are going to make this, don’t cut out this part of the recipe.
What’s Needed for Pastiera Napoletana?
To make this Italian grain pie recipe, you’ll need:
- Pastry flour
- Unsalted butter
- Granulated sugar
- Hulled wheat berries
- Cold water
- All-purpose flour
- Orange flower water
- Candied orange peel
- Lemon zest
- Vanilla extract
Where Can I Buy Wheat Berries?
I recommend using white wheat berries, which can be found in any health food store (unhulled darker berries take a very long time to cook up). I found mine at Whole Foods Market (I purchased the red winter whole grain wheat berries from the brand Nature’s Earthly Choice).
These wheat berries took about 20 minutes to cook up. When cooking the wheat berries, note that they should still have a chewy texture. If they are mushy, it is not the same.
You could also substitute the wheat berries with cooked barley or short-grain rice. Pearl barley would be the closest substitute to the wheat berries as it ends up looking very similar to the wheat berries when cooked up.
How to Make Pastiera Napoletana
Since there are a few components to this incredible Easter pie, it’s best to plan some of them one to two days ahead. You could make the pastry the day before or even two days before.
I make the pasta frolla (pastry dough) in my food processor. You could make the whole thing by hand if you prefer. It’s so easy to put together in the food processor. Once it’s ready, you wrap it with plastic wrap and let it chill in the fridge.
The next thing to do is make the pastry cream and cook the wheat berries. You could even cook the wheat berries in a rice steamer to make it really easy. I cooked it on the stove as I wanted to check it and make sure it’s not overly cooked and mushy.
Once the pastry cream is ready, mix it together with the eggs, ricotta, and other filling ingredients. When the wheat berries are cooked, let them cool down and then fold them into the ricotta mixture.
Roll out your pastry dough and place in your fluted tart pan. Spoon the filling into the pan.
Spoon the filling into the pastry dough.
Then, roll out the second portion of pastry dough and cut out your strips. Place the strips on top and place the tart on a baking sheet. Bake for 30-40 minutes.
Tips for Making Pastiera Napoletana
If you can’t find candied orange peel and don’t have time to make your own, you could leave it out. Or you could add a mixture of lemon and orange zest to the filling instead of the candied orange peel to give it an extra citrus flavor. (When I make it at home for just us I leave out the candied orange peels since my kids don’t like it.)
The most important tip is to make this Easter grain pie in steps. I made the dough and the filling the night before, but you could even make them a few days before.
After baking the pastiera, keep it at room temperature the day it’s baked. After that, wrap and refrigerate leftovers. Bring to room temperature before serving again.
More Italian Easter Recipes:
- Pane di Pasqua (Italian Easter Bread)
- Sicilian Ricotta Pie
- Lemon Ricotta Cake
- Casatiello (Italian Stuffed Easter Bread)
- Easter Chocolate Chip and Ricotta Ciambellone
Pastiera Napoletana (Neapolitan Easter Pie)
For the pasta frolla (pastry dough):
- 300 grams pastry flour (10.54 ounces)
- 200 grams unsalted butter (7.025 ounces)
- 100 grams granulated sugar (3.512 ounces)
- 1 egg
- 1 egg yolk
For the wheat berries:
- 1/2 cup hulled white wheat berries
- 6 cups cold water
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
For the pastry cream:
- 1 large egg
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup milk
To assemble the filling:
- 1 cup whole milk ricotta (about 8 ounces)
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon orange flower water
- 1/3 cup candied orange peel , cut into 1/4-inch diced
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest ( I used organic)
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 cup wheat berries
Make the pastry dough:
- In the bowl of a food processor, add the flour and sugar and process a few times to mix together.
- Next add the butter and pulse a few times until the mixture looks like wet sand.
- Add the egg and yolk and process a few seconds more until the dough forms (this should be about 5-7 more pulses). Be sure to not overprocess the dough.
- Dump the dough from the food processor bowl onto a lightly floured counter. Form the dough into 2 disks (one a little larger than the other. The smaller disk will be used to cut the strips for top of pie) and chill in the refrigerator for about 1 hour.
- While dough chills, make the wheat berries and pastry cream.
Prep the wheat berries:
- Combine the wheat berries with about 2 quarts cold water and the salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then decrease the heat to low and allow the wheat to simmer gently until it is cooked though, about an hour.
- Drain and cool the wheat in a bowl. While wheat berries cool down, prepare the pastry cream.
Make the pastry cream and filling:
- Whisk the egg and yolk together in a bowl, then whisk in the sugar and flour. Whisk in the milk and scrape the mixture into a small saucepan.
- Place over medium/low heat and stir constantly until the mixture thickens and comes to a gentle boil. Cook, stirring constantly, for a few seconds after the cream reaches the boil.
- Scrape the pastry cream into a bowl. Immediately whisk in the ricotta until smooth. Whisk in the sugar, then the eggs one at a time. Stir in the orange flower water, candied orange peel, vanilla, cinnamon and the cooked wheat berries.
Assemble the pie:
- When dough is nicely chilled, remove from the refrigerator.
- Roll out the dough between 2 sheets of plastic wrap into a 13-inch round about 1/8 thick. Spray an 11-inch fluted tart pan with removable bottom with baking spray. Gently wrap the dough over the rolling pin and place it over the tart pan; release the rolling pin and let the dough fall into the tart pan.
- Press the dough softly into the bottom of the tart pan. If some of the dough breaks while you press it into the tart pan, that's not a problem. Simply piece the dough together. Press the sides of the dough about 1/2 inch up the side of the tart pan. The rim of the tart should be lined with a slightly thicker layer of pastry than the bottom (about 1/4-inch thick). Cut off the extra dough from the sides and keep these excess pieces to make the lattice topping.
- Place this tart pan in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes (or even longer if necessary) to chill.
- When the dough is chilled and ready to fill, remove the tart pan from the refrigerator and prick the pastry bottom with a fork a few times. Set a rack in the lowest level of the oven and preheat to 350 F.
- Spoon the ricotta filling into the prepared crust. Remove the other portion of chilled dough from the refrigerator to make the lattice strips. Use a serrated cutting wheel to cut it into 3/4-inch wide strips. Arrange 5 of the strips parallel and equal distance from each other on the filling, letting the excess dough hang over the edge of the pie. Place the 5 remaining strips on exactly the same way, but at a 45-degree angle to the first ones. Gently press the ends of the strips to adhere to the edge of the bottom crust. Carefully remove any excess pieces of dough with your fingers or with the back of a knife.
- Bake the pastiera until the filling is set and slightly puffed and the crust is baked through, about 40 minutes. Cool on a rack.
- Storage: Keep the pastiera at a cool room temperature on the day it is baked. Wrap and refrigerate leftovers. Bring to room temperature before serving again.
- Filling is from master baker Nick Malgieri.