That’s it. I’ll never be able to enjoy rice pie from a mediocre Italian bakery ever again. Dry and gummy: that’s how I would describe most of the rice pies I’ve had. But not this one from my Great-Aunt Dava. This one is amazingly moist and tender. And unbelievably rich. Not surprising, considering the amount of milk, cream, and ricotta cheese mixed in with the rice. When I said get your wills in order before you make this, I meant it.
To clarify, this is a sweet rice pie served for dessert, not one of the savory varieties also common in Italy. Dava’s daughter, Roseann, makes this every Easter. Dava’s original recipe had a note about Galliano, an Italian herbal liqueur perhaps used as a flavoring here, but no amounts were given (I left it out in my testing, but experiment as you see fit).
This recipe makes two 10-inch pies. Any extra filling can be poured into ramekins for rice pudding. Or, in my case, eaten straight from the bowl.
1 recipe sweet Italian pie crust
½ cup rice (I used carnaroli, a plump Italian risotto rice)
2 cups milk
¼ tsp. lemon rind
¼ tsp. cinnamon
1 ½ lbs. ricotta
4 eggs, separated
1 ½ cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 pint heavy cream
Galliano to taste (optional)
In boiling water, parboil rice for a few minutes, and then drain. Add back to pot, and cook slowly in milk with lemon rind, cinnamon, and salt until done (for me, this took about 13 minutes). Remove from heat and let cool. Add ricotta and mix well. Beat in 4 egg yolks and sugar. Stir in vanilla. Fold unbeaten egg whites into the rice mixture, and do the same for the cream. Add Galliano, if desired.
Preheat oven to 350° F. Roll out dough disks on a well-floured counter until about ¼-inch thick and at least 12 inches in diameter. Dough will be soft and sticky, so flour your rolling pin well. To transfer dough to the pie dishes, I use a bench scraper to loosen the dough from the counter and push it up and over my rolling pin. Once half the dough is draped over the pin, I center it over the pie plate and gently unfurl it.
Give the filling another few stirs so the rice doesn’t all sink to the bottom, and pour filling into crust. Roll out leftover crust the same as before, and using a pastry wheel, pizza cutter, or knife, cut dough into thin strips. Make a lattice top by laying 3-5 strips of dough across the pie, pressing on the ends to seal. Layer 3-5 more strips on the diagonal (I don’t recommend trying to interweave the strips, as the dough likes to sink into the filling). Press ends of lattice strips against the edges of the bottom crust, tuck excess dough under itself along the rim, and crimp.
Bake about 1 hour 20 minutes, give or take 10 minutes depending on your oven. The filling should be set (meaning a slight jiggle is okay, but it shouldn’t look like there’s liquid still pooled in the middle). Cover with foil about halfway through baking time so the crust doesn’t brown too much. Let cool. Chill before serving.
Dava [Barbaresi] Catone
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