Happy Easter or Buona Pasqua!
Being Italian-American, it is oftentimes difficult to decipher what takes precedence during Catholic holidays, the historical and religious significance itself, or the hours of food preparation involved in celebrating these highlights in the liturgical calendar. Ritual warrants days of cooking and passing on family recipes in the kitchen to the next generation. Each holiday calls for specific culinary dishes that can vary greatly from region to region in Italy. As my own roots are Neapolitan, each Easter my mother makes her mother's famous Pizza Chiena (it has many names: Pizza Rustica, Pizza Ripiena, Pizza Piena (in Neapolitan dialect: 'full pie'), Pizza Gaina, Pizza Gain, Torta Pasqualina and Easter Pie). This savory pie is usually made after Good Friday, most typically on Holy Saturday. It is a highly caloric pie that is meant to provide sustenance after the 40 days of fasting during Lent. In keeping with tradition, here is a look at this year's pizza chiena, prepared in my mother's kitchen.
5 cups unbleached flour, unsifted
2 tsp. Fresh ground black pepper
1/2 cup Crisco shortening
4 eggs slightly beaten
3/4 cup warm water (from tap)
Preparation: Using a large bowl, add measured flour and black pepper, mix slightly with a fork. Add Crisco and, working fast, press together using your fingertips to blend evenly.
Make a well in the flour and add the beaten eggs and warm water (add 1/4 cup water at a time until you have a soft and pliable, but firm, dough). You may add more water if needed.
Press dough firmly together, turn onto a slightly floured surface and knead thoroughly, at least 5-7 minutes. This will produce a beautiful dough that is perfect to work with.
Cover in a bowl and let rest 1/2 hour or more.
Cut 2/3 of the dough, roll out, turning often to fit the broom and up the sides of an ungreased pan.
Roll out the remaining dough for the top crust and set aside (make a few slits.)
Have a butcher slice the cold cuts in thick strips, then remove skins and cut up all the cold cuts into small chunks.
2 lbs. ricotta cheese
1 large pepperoni
1 lb. ham
1 double Abruzzese salami (about 1/2 to 3/4 lb. total), cubed
1 large sopressata (about 3/4 to 1 lb. piece), cubed
1 dozen whole eggs, just toss in bowl
1 cup grated pecorino romano cheese
2 lbs. fresh cheese (formaggio fresco)
Preparation: Using a large spoon, combine all ingredients, except fresh cheese. When mixture is thoroughly blended, add the fresh cheese, which has been broken into large pieces, and toss gently. The idea is not to crush this delicate cheese.
Gently pour into prepared crust in a deep dish pan and cover with top crust. Take the edges of the top and bottom dough, press together and roll it over inward, continuing around the edges then press gently with the tines of a fork. Now take any remaining scraps of dough, roll together and cut it into lattice strips to form a cross. Place in the middle of the top of the crust. Brush all over with an egg wash.
Place in a pre-heated 400 degree oven for 1/2 and hour, then lower the heat to 350 degrees. Continue cooking for 1 hour longer or until golden brown. Let cool at least 6-8 hours. Cut in slices and serve. Serves 15 -20.
Note: you will need a heavy rectangular baking pan 13 inches long by 9 inches wide by 3 inches deep.