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Easter Pie or Pizza Rustica

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Question:

My sister and I have been searching for a recipe for Easter Pie that my grandmother used to make at Easter time. The versions that we have found are not the same like she made. Her Easter Pie was made with ham, hard boiled eggs, chunks of cheese and pasta. We have used other recipes and included the food items she used but there is something missing and we just can’t seem to replicate her recipe. I wish I had written it down like so many other of her recipes that I watched her make as a young girl.  My grandmother told me her parents were gypsies who lived in the hills above Salerno and tended goats.


--Sara

Sara.  Wow about the gypsies. 

My Ligurian ancestors made “Torta Pasqualina,” which translates literally as “Easter Pie.” But this not the answer you’re looking for because your family comes from Salerno, which is in the Campania region to the south.  I am certain you are referring to a very different dish that goes by many similar names such as pizza rustica or pizza chiena.  Chiena means “filled” in dialect.  So it is a stuffed pizza.  Italian Americans changed the word from chiena to gain.  So it is often be called pizza gain. Whatever the name, I think this is more or less the same as your Easter pie--an incredibly decadent thing, filled with cheeses and meat and eggs.  It ends the fasting of lent with joy and celebration of Easter. 

In searching for this recipe for you, I found an interesting little book online called ”> The story of a year, many years ago. It appears to be a very personal account of life in Salerno int he 60s or 70s, and includes recipes.  I emailed the author, Marco Ferraiolo, and asked about your Easter Pie.  He graciously wrote as follows (my rough translation):

“I believe the pie you’re looking for from the hills around Salerno is a “Tortano,” which is a pie/brioche traditional to the Campania region, prepared for Easter, and made with a bread dough, kneaded with lard, pork cracklings, pepper, pecorino cheese, salame, eggs.” He describes a method of making it with many layers of pastry surrounding the filling.

In various incarnations, vegetable pies, or torte, exist all over Italy, and it will be difficult to find your exact recipe.  There is no one recipe.  They vary from region to village, to family.

That said, in Arthur Schwartz’s wonderful Naples at Table:  Cooking in Campania, he gives a terrific recipe for “savory Easter ricotta pie,” of which he writes:  Pizza Rustica, an open, lattice-topped or fully enclosed pastry filled with ricotta, diced cheeses, and various preserved pork products, is also called pizza ripiena (stuffed pie) or in dialect, pizza chiena--from which comes the frequently used Italian American name pizza gain. Follow the jump to the end of this story for his recipe. 

Also a bit more digging revealed this wonderful Italian-American woman’s description of her family’s Pizza Chiena, on her blog Egg And Soldier

Nick Malgieri gives a recipe too, although his pizza chiena is baked in a bigger rectangular pan

I haven’t given you much time have I?  One day till Easter. 

Well, if you live around New York, another option is to buy it at the Arthur Avenue market.

But if not, well, then here’s one more recipe:

Arthur Schwart’z version:

For the dough

1 1/2 teaspoons dried yeast
1/2 cup warm water
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons lard
3 eggs lightly beaten

For the filling

3 ounces soppressata, cut into 1/8 inch dice
3 ounces prosciutto, cut into 1/8 inch dice
3 ounces cooked ham, cut into 1/4 inch dice
3 sweet Italian sausages, boiled, skinned, and finely chopped (reserve the sausage cooking water),
8 ounces whole milk mozzarella, cut into 1/4 inch dice
2 ounces dried sausage with hot pepper (pepperoni)
peeled and cut into 1/8 inch dice
3 eggs lightly beaten
3 1/4 cups whole milk ricotta
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or pecorino or a combination
3/4 cup finely cut parsley
4 hard cooked eggs:  2 coarsely chopped, 2 sliced
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Plus:  1 egg lightly beaten, as a wash.


To make the pastry:

1.  In a small bowl or cup, dissolve the yeast in the water.  Set aside.

2.  In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, and salt.  Pinch the lard into the flour to distribute it evenly.  with a wooden spoon, stir in the eggs and dissolved yeast until a dough forms.  Still in the bowl, knead the dough, sprinkling lightly with flour to make it less sticky.

3.  Turn the dough out onto a floured board and continue to knead, adding flour a little at a time, even by the teaspoonful, until the dough is very smooth and silky, about 8 minutes.  Dust lightly with flour, place in a bowl, cover with a clean dishtowel, and let the dough rise until doubled in bulk, at least an hour.  Punch down and let rise a second time. 

To make the filling:

4.  In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients except the 2 sliced eggs and the egg wash, and blend very well, stirring in about 1/2 cup of the sausage boiling water.  It’s a thick filling.

To assemble and bake:

5.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

6.  Punch down the dough and divide into four equal pieces to make top and bottom crusts for two 10-inch, preferrably glass pie plates.

7.  On a lightly floured board, roll out a quarter of the dough into a 14- to 15-inch circle.  (It is very elastic dough and this takes some effort.) It should be thin and large enough to fit the bottom and sides of the plate.  Carefully drape the dough into the dish.

8.  Fill with half the filling.  Top with slices of 1 hard-cooked egg.

9.  roll out another quarter of dough to an 11-inch circle, large enough to cover the pie plate.  Cut off the excess dough, then roll the edges of the top and bottom crusts together, pinching well to seal.  Cut four slits in the center of the top crust, then brush with a beaten egg.

10.  Make a second pie with the remaining pastry, filling, and sliced hard-cooked egg.

11.  Bake for 50 minutes to an hour.  After 30 minutes, if the top is browning well, cover it with foil, shiny side out, to prevent it from burning.  Let cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then remove from the pie plate and cool to room temperature.  The pie may be eaten soon after it cools completely, but it can be kept, well-wrapped, int he refrigerator.  It should keep well for several days. 







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The picture looks like the easter pie my grandmother used to make and the ingredients sound right also. I am going to add boiled elbow macaroni like “Nana” did to the rest of the filling. I can’t wait to try it. This will be a perfect Easter meal. I will post the results of my baking trial. Thanks so much for all your efforts.

    –  (April 11 2009 at 11:21)


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