The balance sheet of a pie

Today I made Ricotta Wheat Pie, a traditional Neapolitan recipe. I had earmarked it a long time ago but never got to it because it seemed quite involved. It was.

Not counting the components of each, I used 16 kitchen tools and gadgets: a pot to cook the wheat berries, a cooking spoon, a small food processor, a blender, two bowls, an egg separator, two spatulas, a small kitchen knife, a pastry roller, a plastic container to chill the dough, a cookie press, a scoop, a jelly roll pan, and a cake pan. Plus two disposables: a sheet each of wax paper and aluminum foil. If the citron and orange peel had not been so dried out, I would have been able to avoid using the blender but only its ice crush function could chop them up. And, if I had had more time, I could have cooled the wheat in the pot instead of spreading it on a jelly roll pan and set it over ice packs to speed up the process. Even discounting those two, it’s a lot of dirty dishes for one pie.

Counting the time I spent on this, the gas for the stove, the electricity for the oven, the hot water to wash all those dishes, and… it would have been probably more economical and ecological to drive into town and buy a cake. But it would have certainly not been the type of cake I would want to eat! And, most importantly, I would not have had so much fun (despite the cleaning up). I also finally got the cookie press to work that I bought years ago and, it turned out, I had always screwed together the wrong way.

In 2010, the average American according to The New York Times watched 34 hours of TV every week. That’s baking 8.5 pies like this if you allocate a generous 4 hours active time from start to finish. I rarely watch TV and rather bake.

Seeing the pie cooling on the counter and smelling it all over the house gives me great satisfaction. If it tastes as good as expected and my family likes it, even better.

The recipe is adapted it from Anna Teresa Callen’s My love for Naples.

Ricotta Wheat Pie (Pastiera Napoletana di Grano)

Crust:

2 cups flour

¼ cup sugar

1 stick chilled butter, or 4 ounces Land O Lakes butter with canola oil (first time I tried this)

1½ ounces chilled vegetable shortening

1 large egg

Filling:

4 cups wheat berries

1 tablespoon butter

1 untreated lemon

1½ cups milk

½ teaspoon cinnamon

1½ tablespoons + 1 cup sugar

1 pound low-fat ricotta

2 tablespoons orange flower water

2 tablespoons diced citron

1 tablespoon candied orange peel

6 eggs

1. For the crust, put the flour and sugar in a food processor and process to a coarse meal. Add diced butter, shortening and egg and process until the dough forms a ball around the blade. Transfer the dough to a container and refrigerate.

2. For the filling put the wheat berries in a small heavy pot with 4 cups water and the butter. Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer, covered, for about 2½ hours. Check for water and stir once in a while to make sure it does not cook dry.

3. Drain the wheat berries and return them to the pot. Zest half of the lemon in one large strip and add it to the pot with the milk, the cinnamon and 1½ tablespoons sugar. Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and cook, uncovered, for 45 minutes until the milk has been completely absorbed. Stir often to make sure it does not scorch, and reduce the heat even further as necessary.

4. Roll out three-quarters of the dough on a sheet of wax paper to fit a greased 10-inch cake pan plus dough to come up almost all the way up the edges. Fit it into the cake pan and even out the edges with a knife. Roll out the rest of the dough and cut narrow strips for a crisscross pattern, or use a cookie cutter / cookie press to cut out shapes to your liking. Place them on a plate lined with the wax paper and put everything in the freezer.

5. Remove the lemon peel from the wheat berries and let cool.

6. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

7. Finely zest the rest of the lemon. Put it in the food processor together with the orange flower water, diced citron, orange peel, 1 cup sugar and ricotta and process until the citron and orange peel are finely chopped.

8. Separate the eggs and add the egg yolks to the mix. Beat the egg whites until stiff.

9. Mix the cooled wheat berries with the ricotta mix. Fold in the stiff egg whites. Pour the filling into the prepared crust.

10. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes. After this time, the filling should be set enough to the top crust won’t sink. Carefully remove the cake pan from the oven. Place the cutouts or dough strips on the surface in a decorative pattern and return the cake pan to the oven.

11. Bake for another 55 minutes, or until the filling is set and the top is golden brown. If the top darkens too much, loosely place a greased sheet of aluminum foil on top. Remove the pie from the oven and cool on a cake rack.

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