Every Easter when I was a boy I looked forward to my mom’s Easter pie. An Italian tradition, “Easter Pie”, as it is colloquially known, is a quiche-like, savory pie, filled with eggs, cheese, meat, and a variety of other possibilities. As a kid, all I knew or cared about was that it tasted great. Little did I know that decades later I would be dissecting the intricacies of this festive preparation.
Easter is preceded by Lent, a period of time hallmarked by fasting, particularly from meat on Fridays. Come Easter Sunday, it was time to celebrate, splurge and indulge. Hence, the rich, cheesy and meaty Easter Pie.
Easter Pie has many different names and even more recipes, depending on the section of Italy in question. In Naples it is known as “pastiera,” and is made with ricotta cheese and whole grains of wheat to symbolize rebirth. It is also known as “pizza piena,” (stuffed pie), and in Italian-American dialect, “pizza gain.” “Pizza Rustica” is still another term and refers to the savory and rustic aspects of the pie.
Sicilians make a pie made from macaroni, pork, cheese and eggs. Calabrians favor ham, sausage, hard cooked eggs, mozzarella and ricotta. In Liguria, where it’s referred to as “pasqualina,” it’s made from spinach, ricotta, cheese and eggs. In central Italy, from Umbria to Marches, the Easter Pie is more of a bread than a pie and is known as “torta di pasqua” or “pizza di pasqua.”
Here’s my recipe for Easter Pie:
For the crust:
For the filling:
• 6 eggs
• salt and pepper to taste
• 8 oz. farmer cheese, fresh soft cheese or ricotta cheese
• 2 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese
• 3 oz. shredded ham
• 3 oz. shredded salami
• 3 oz. shredded prosciutto
To make the crust, mix the flour and salt and place it in the bowl of a food processor. Cut the butter into cubes and add them one at a time to the dough. After each cube pulse the food processor just enough to work in the butter but no more or you will overwork, i.e., toughen the dough. The dough should resemble a coarse meal. After you’ve mixed in the butter add the eggs and pulse the dough until it comes together in a ball. Cut the dough in half so that one half is a little bigger than the other. The smaller half will be the top crust. Wrap each in plastic wrap and rest the dough for an hour in the fridge. If you don’t have a food processor, work in the butter with a dough cutter or a fork and use your hands to integrate the eggs. As for the butter, every chef in the world will tell you to use unsalted butter. But I’m a maverick. I prefer the salted. Your choice.
When the dough is almost done resting start making the filling. First beat the eggs with the salt and pepper. Then blend the cheese into the eggs. If you’re using the farmer cheese, which is somewhat firmer, you’ll need to break it apart. Shred or slice the meat, or put it in the food processor for a finer textured pie and add this to the egg/cheese mixture. If you want to be really decadent add in some melted butter.
Roll out the larger piece of dough on a floured board until it will fill a 9-inch pie shell. Add the filling. Then roll out the smaller piece of dough until it will cover the top. Crimp it around the edge to seal it. If you’d like, you can brush the top with an egg wash, (beaten eggs). This will give it a sheen when it bakes. Finally, poke some holes or slits in the top crust to allow the steam to vent. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.
You can certainly adjust the types and amounts of cheese and meat to suit your taste. I would stick with soft or semi-soft cheeses since they will melt and bake better. Although you could add a finishing touch of some finely grated Romano or Parmesan for extra flavor. Other meat options include pepperoni, sopressa, pancetta, and sausage. Some people also prefer hard cooked eggs to the beaten or a mixture thereof. It really doesn’t matter. Every variation tastes great. You can even use store-bought, pre-made pie crusts like my mother. To this day I’m still trying to get her to make her own dough, even though her store-bought crust didn’t taste that bad. Easter pie is so good, even a touch of modern convenience can’t detract from it.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT - March 23, 2005 - Mark R. Vogel - [email protected] - Archive