Pizza rustica is a rich Italian pie of cured meats, fresh cheeses and eggs baked in a slightly sweet pastry crust known as pasta frolla. With about as many variations as Italian families, pizza rustica is traditionally eaten on Easter. In fairness to Marcella, I have modified some equipment and techniques to fit the available tools in my kitchen. Her original recipe is worth a read and can be found in her book, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.
Happy Spring, friends! Easter is quickly approaching, which to me, means new beginnings. I love this time of year because everything seems brighter. The days are longer, the snow is melting, and the trees are beginning to bud ever so slightly. It’s only a matter of time before I can take my first bites of radishes, spring peas and asparagus.
In the meantime, why don’t we talk about Italian meats and cheeses? While we’re at it, why don’t we stuff them in a pastry?
This is pizza rustica, an Italian pie that finds its way to many tables on Easter. You might already know it as pizza ripiena, pizza chiena (pronounced kye-na), or Italian Easter pie. While its name and ingredients vary from region to region, a pizza rustica can be summed up as a bind of meats and cheeses baked in a slightly sweet Italian pastry dough known as pasta frolla. It’s not too dissimilar from a quiche.
In many Italian families, the Easter feast is an institution. Since lent is sometimes celebrated by some form of fasting—giving up indulgences, not eating meat on Fridays, fasting during holy week—the pizza rustica holds extra importance. Not only does it incorporate those fresh spring eggs and cheeses; it also introduces meats back into the post-lenten diet.
Since there is such a strong variety in how people make pizza rustica—and because I don’t have particularly strong ties to this tradition—I consulted Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking for a little assistance. Marcella’s writing is filled with detailed knowledge on the specific tastes and recipes of Italy’s regions.
The recipe I’m sharing with you hails from Abruzzo and includes ricotta, mozzarella, prosciutto and mortadella. In case mortadella is new to you, I can best describe it as a bologna that is “dressed up” with pistachios, peppercorns and bits of fat. It’s mild in flavor and balances out the bold and salty flavor of the cooked prosciutto. When cooking cured meats, it’s important to remember that they will generally taste more salty. In this particular dish, the eggs and ricotta balance out the salt with their mellow flavors. The pasta frolla also helps by adding a bit of sweetness and sturdiness.
When making the pasta frolla, be patient with kneading the dough. It will appear entirely too dry at first, but I promise, it will all come together.
In some regions, it is not uncommon to see a pizza rustica filled with soppressata, sausage, or even ham. Some recipes use hardboiled eggs, some use basket cheese (a fresh, soft white cheese drained in baskets), but in the end, a true pizza rustica is a soft, cheesy slab that is wrapped in pastry and studded with beautiful cured meats—like salty pink jewels. There’s something about the pastel colors and the sweet pastry dough that lifts you right into spring!
While pizza rustica hasn’t been my tradition (yet), I’m certain that Marcella’s recipe will be a good start for all of us. May it help us all remember past holiday traditions and create new ones with our families.
Buona Pasqua e buon appetito!
Pizza Rustica can be served warm or at room temperature. While it’s delicious either way, I prefer to eat it at room temperature once the filling has set.
Pasta Frolla (pastry):
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 egg yolks
1 tsp salt
8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
3 tbsp ice water
2 tbsp granulated sugar
2 egg yolks
3/4 lb ricotta (fresh, if you can find it)
1/4 lb prosciutto, coursely chopped*
1/4 lb mortadella, coursely chopped*
1/4 lb fresh mozzarella, chopped
2 tbsp grated parmigiano-reggiano
pinch of salt
freshly ground pepper, to taste
butter, for greasing
*When buying your prosciutto and mortadella, ask your butcher if they have “ends” available. If not, ask them to cut your meat into one thick slice (usually 1/4 inch or so).
1-quart pie plate**
**If you’re unsure, test the holding capacity of your pie plate by filling it with 1 quart of water.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar and salt with a whisk. Add the egg yolks, ice water, and chilled butter cubes. Give a quick stir with a wooden spoon to distribute the ingredients and to coat the butter with the dry flour mixture.
Turn the mixture out onto a clean surface. It will look very dry for the first couple minutes, but don’t despair—it will come together! Kneading the dough will require two hands—one for blending the dough, and one for gathering the scattered pieces. Using the heel of your “blending” hand, push the mixture forward in one smooth motion. With your “gathering” hand, use a bench scraper to slide the mixture back toward your body. Repeat these steps until the dough comes together in a smooth ball that slightly resembles Play-Doh. This may take a solid 3-5 minutes, or more. Try not to use the palm of your hand, as it will heat the dough.
Once your dough is incorporated, gently pat down on the ball to flatten it out slightly. Wrap the dough in wax paper and chill in the refrigerator for about an hour.
While the dough is chilling, clean up your counter surface and begin preparing the filling.
Filling & Assembly:
Preheat oven to 375º.
In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks together until they are smooth. Using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, add the ricotta and mix with the egg yolks until well combined. Add the mozzarella, prosciutto, mortadella and parmiggiano, along with a tiny pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper. Stir everything together until the ingredients are distributed throughout.
Remove the pastry dough from the refrigerator. Using a bench scraper, divide the dough in two, creating one 2/3-sized portion and one 1/3-sized portion.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the 2/3-sized portion of dough into a circle large enough to come up the sides of the plate with about ½ inch of overhang. It won’t be perfect, but that’s what scissors are for! Grease your pie plate with butter and carefully place the rolled out dough into the plate. Smooth the dough out gently. If you have any tears, use your fingertips to mend them.
Spoon the ricotta filling into the lined pie plate. Use the back of a spoon to smooth out the filling and release any bubbles.
Roll out the remaining 1/3 of the dough into a circle the size of the pie plate. Place the dough over the filling and smooth it out gently and neatly to create a tight seal. It’s okay if there’s a little overhang.
Using a pair of scissors, cut away any large, uneven pieces of the overhanging dough. It doesn’t need to be perfect—you just want to eliminate any awkwardly large pieces to help tuck the crust more easily. Once your overhang is fairly uniform, roll the overhanging edges in toward the pie.
Using a fork, gently pierce the dough throughout to help release some of the steam. It’s not unusual for the the top crust to swell as it’s baking.
Place the pie in the oven and bake for 45 minutes. You can raise the heat to 400º and bake for an additional 5 minutes if you’d prefer a more golden crust.
Remove from the pie from the oven and cool on a rack for at least 20-30 minutes. Run a sharp knife around the outside of the pie to loosen it from the plate. You can serve it right from the pie plate, or you can turn it out carefully onto a serving plate. The longer it cools, the more it will “set,” making it easier to work with.