Pizza rustica has nothing to do with pizza. Also known as torta pasqualina or Easter pie, it is a southern Italian specialty. Creamy ricotta (or basket cheese) and salty salami in a flaky crust, that’s pizza rustica.
“Pizza rustica is so old-fashioned it’s cool again,” says David DiBari, chef/owner of The Cookery in Dobbs Ferry, New York, where Easter pie stays on the menu year round. “Growing up, I remember friends or family usually brought one to our house during Easter.”
Like other festive foods in the Italian canon, pizza rustica could be made in advance and carried to someone else’s home during a religious holiday. Both filling and crust are rich with eggs, symbolic of rebirth during the Easter season.
Individual tart pans or a springform pan are showier options, but I just use a deep-dish pie plate. Though pizza rustica is traditionally eaten at room temperature, as a snack, The Cookery serves theirs warm, as an appetizer.
No one ever brought my family a pizza rustica–no use whining, I didn’t grow up in an Italian-American household. But I did have the good fortune to see how pizza rustica is made in The Cookery kitchen, and here are the recipes for pie and crust.
Chef Dave DiBari’s Pizza Rustica
Makes one 9-inch pie
1/3 pound hot soppressata in one piece
1/3 pound sweet soppressata in one piece
1/3 Genoa salami in one piece
1-½ pounds whole-milk or part-skim ricotta (preferably a high-quality brand such as Montena Taranto or Calabro)
2 eggs plus 2 yolks
1 cup grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1/3 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
All-purpose flour, as needed
1 pound Rich Parmigiano Pastry Dough (recipe follows) or other pie dough
Preheat the oven to 350°F. To soften casings, place the two soppressatas and salami in a bowl. Cover with warm water and let stand for 5 minutes. Remove the meats, one at a time, and score the outsides with a knife. Strip off the casings. Cut the meats lengthwise in ¼- inch slices; cut each slice lengthwise in ¼-inch strips and then crosswise in small dice.
To prepare the filling: Combine the diced meats, ricotta, 1 of the eggs and the yolks, the parsley and the grated cheese in a medium bowl. Mix well until the mixture has the consistency of egg salad.
To roll the dough: Scatter a generous amount of flour on a pastry board or counter and on the rolling pin. Roll the dough in quick strokes from 10 to 2 (on a clock), turning it a quarter turn after each series, until the circle is about 14 inches in diameter. To judge whether the dough is thin enough, lift an edge and hold your hand under it with a light source behind; you should be able to see your fingers. Trim the edges with a pastry cutter.
Loosely roll half of the dough around a rolling pin. Using the pin to support the dough, unfold it over the pan. Gently lift the edges of the dough, allowing it to settle into the pan. Once it is positioned, press down, allowing the edges to drape over the sides of the pan.
Turn the filling into the pan, packing it down with your hands. To form a decorative border: Lift a couple of inches of the edge with both hands and pleat so the dough rests diagonally against the surface of the pie. Lift and pleat the next section, and so on.
Lightly beat the remaining egg. Use your fingers to stroke the egg over all of the exposed crust.
Bake the pie in the lower third of the oven for 45 minutes. The crust should be golden brown. To further test doneness, gently shake the pie from side to side to make sure the ricotta filling is set. Final test: Insert a knife 1 inch from the center (it should come out clean).
Cool the pie on a rack before slicing.
Rich Parmigiano Pastry Dough
Makes 1 deep-dish pie shell (9 inches)
2-1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padana cheese
1 teaspoon whole fennel seed
¼ teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
1 pinch ground hot red pepper (optional)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in small cubes
1 whole egg plus 1 yolk
1/3 cup heavy cream
Combine the flour, cheese, fennel seed, salt and (if using) hot red pepper in a food processor bowl; pulse until well blended. Add the butter and continue pulsing until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
Through the funnel, add the egg and yolk, pulsing until incorporated. Gradually pour in the cream, continuing to pulse until a ball of dough forms. If the mixture fails to form a ball, add water a tablespoon at a time (up to ½ cup) until it does.
Gather the dough with one hand, sprinkle with flour and knead briefly on a board or the countertop; form a ball, flatten it, and cover or wrap.
Let the dough stand for at least half an hour before proceeding. It will be quite moist, but not to worry. You’ll be using plenty of flour when rolling it out and I think you’ll find this dough quite easy to work with. It can be held for several days in refrigerator, or frozen indefinitely. Before using, let the dough come to cool room temperature.
Note: You may also be interested in Katia Amore’s recipe for Chocolate Chicken, a Sicilian Easter dish.