Italian Easter traditions are unique to each region of the country and have been lovingly handed down within families through the generations. Ricotta cheesecake, a version of which was first served by the Romans centuries ago, has come to play a part in the Easter celebration in Sicily as well.
The recipe given below is for a Sicilian Easter cheesecake—actually a “ricotta pie,” made with a sweet Italian pie crust and sweet ricotta and farro wheat filling. It has been passed down through the years within my father’s family from the town of Ragusa in Sicily. If you would like to see how the lattice pie crust top is assembled, visit the Stella Lucente Italian Pinterest site.
Farro wheat is one of the oldest forms of natural wheat grown in southern Italy and has been enjoyed by Italians for centuries. This whole-wheat grain is added to the ricotta filling as a symbol of renewal, along with dried fruit left over from winter stores and traditional Sicilian flavorings, in order to create a rich texture and a perfectly balanced sweet citrus and cinnamon flavor. Try it this Easter for a taste of Italian tradition!
Pasta Frolla (Sweet Pastry)
2 cups flour
¼ cup sugar
½ tsp salt
¾ cup butter
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3 Tbsp brandy
1 tsp grated lemon zest
Farro Wheat* Preparation
½ cup whole farro wheat (about 1¼ cup cooked)
¼ cup hot milk
½ tsp salt
2 Tbsp candied orange
1 Tbsp minced dried apricot
1 Tbsp minced dried prune
¾ lb. whole milk ricotta cheese
¾ cup sugar
3 egg yolks, beaten
dash of cinnamon
grated rind of 1 lemon (yellow part only, not white pith)
1 tsp vanilla
1 Tbsp orange juice or orange blossom water
2 egg whites, whipped until stiff with a pinch of cream of tartar
Prepare the wheat
Cook the wheat according to the package directions; drain the water.
Add the scalded milk, salt, and sugar and boil an additional 5 minutes.
Remove from heat, add the orange peel and dried fruit, mix, and set aside to cool.
Prepare the pasta frolla
Sift the flour, salt, and sugar into a bowl.
Cut in butter with a fork and fingertips until the size of small peas.
Stir in egg yolks one at a time, mixing gently with a fork.
Gather the crumbly pieces of dough, adding a little milk if necessary to moisten.
Turn out on a floured board and press together with a soft, gentle kneading motion with the palm of the hand until a dough forms.
Form two discs, one slightly larger than the other, wrap them in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Make the filling
Mix together all the filling ingredients except the egg whites.
Fold in the prepared wheat and then the whipped egg whites.
Assemble the pie
Roll out the larger disc of dough for the bottom crust and lay it in a 9” springform pan.
Prick the bottom with a fork. Add the prepared filling and refrigerate.
Roll out the top crust and cut it into strips using a knife or pasta wheel, and use the strips to make a lattice crust on a pizza plate or other flat board (see Stella Lucente Pinterest for step-by-step pictures).
Slide the lattice crust onto the top of the pie and crimp the edges.
Bake in preheated oven at 350° for about 40–50 minutes, or until crust is nicely browned. Cool in oven.
Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar when cool if desired. Refrigerate until serving.
*Whole farro can now be found in many specialty stores and on the Internet. Rustichella D’Abruzzo brand “whole farro cereal grain” was used in the recipe.
—Kathryn Occhipinti: Adapted from the cooking classes given by the Italian-American Society of Peoria
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, author of Conversational Italian for Travelers,
is a teacher of Italian for travelers to Italy in the Peoria and Chicago area.
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Easter Cheesecake Recipe: Traditional Sicilian Sweet Farro Wheat Pie