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Easter pie is delicious, rich Italian tradition

Published: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 12:51 p.m. CDT

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. It is definitely not diet food as it is rich and dense – part of the reason I only make it once a year.

There are many varieties out there depending on the region of Italy your family is from. The story, as it’s been told to me, is that this Pizza Piena is made by Italian women on Good Friday as an abundance of meat and rich foods that was abstained from for 40 days of fasting during Lent. It was prepared, cooked and chilled on Good Friday, but could not be cut and eaten before noon on Holy Saturday, although some wait to serve it on Easter Sunday.

Pizza Piena is meant to be sliced into pieces and eaten at room temperature. Serve it alongside colored eggs, hot-cross buns and fruit salad on Easter morning. It can be stored in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to a week, or slices can be individually wrapped and frozen. Enjoy!

Note: As a shortcut for this recipe, you could use pizza dough or Pillsbury pie crust instead of making your own dough.

Easter Pizza Piena

For the dough:

2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast (1 packet)

1 tablespoon granulated white sugar

2 cups warm water (about 115 degrees F.)

1 tablespoon Kosher salt

6-8 cups all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for greasing bowl

For the filling:

8 large eggs

1/2 pound of ham

1/2 pound of salami

1/2 pound of coppa 

1/2 pound of  Italian sausage, browned and chopped in small pieces 

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 pound fresh ricotta or Italian basket cheese

For assembly:

1/2 pound mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced

1/2 pound provolone cheese, thinly sliced

Parmesan cheese 

1 egg (to create egg wash over crust)

For the dough: In the base of a stand mixer, combine 1 package of active dry yeast with 1 tablespoon sugar and 2 cups warm water. Whisk well to dissolve and let stand 2 minutes. 

Add the tablespoon of Kosher salt and 6 cups of all-purpose flour, to start. Use the dough hook on your mixer to mix together, increasing speed as the flour is incorporated and a dough starts to form. Add the olive oil, and continue to knead at high speed in the mixer, adding more flour 1/4 cup at a time until the dough is smooth and springy but not sticky.

The dough should form a kind of a tornado within the mixer as it is kneaded – coming away from the sides entirely but still connected to the bottom. If it still sticks to the sides of the bowl, add more flour. If it comes off the sides and bottom completely, add an extra tablespoon or two of water. Let knead in the mixer for 5 minutes. The dough with be smooth and able to be handled when ready.

Prepare a large glass or metal bowl by drizzling olive oil in the bottom.

Remove the dough from the mixer and form into a smooth ball. Place into the oiled bowl, turning once so the oil coats the top and bottom. Cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap and place in a warm, draft-free place to rise until the dough doubles in size – about 2 hours. [Note: I always place my rising dough inside my (turned off) oven, allowing just the heat from the pilot light to keep it warm. Other good spots are inside a (turned off) microwave.]

For the filling: Stack various meats into small piles, and using a sharp knife, dice into half-inch pieces. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk 8 large eggs well until frothy. Whisk in the black pepper and the ricotta or basket cheese until combined. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to gently stir in all of the cut meat pieces, mixing until all are evenly distributed. Set aside.

To assemble: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F, and grease the inside of a springform pan with olive oil or nonstick baking spray.

Once the dough has risen, poke it down to release the air bubbles. Sprinkle some flour on a clean work space and transfer the dough to the floured surface. Cut the dough in half, returning one half to the bowl. Shape into a ball, and use a rolling pin to roll the dough into a large round (about 12 inches in diameter). If the dough keeps pulling back, let it rest for a few minutes before trying again. 

Gently fit the rolled dough into the prepared springform pan, tucking it into the sides. The dough should overhang about 1 to 2 inches around the top.

Use a large spoon to pour in about 1/3 of the egg and meat filling, spreading it evenly. Top with about 1/3 of the sliced mozzarella and provolone cheeses and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Continue in this order until all the filling, eggs, and cheese have been added (or until the filling reaches the top of the pan). 

Grab the second half of the dough and place on the floured work surface. Roll out a second round of dough. Cover the filled pan entirely. The dough should overhang about 1” on all sides. Use a knife or kitchen shears to trim off any of the dough longer than an inch, and then pinch together the top and bottom until sealed. Then roll up the edges evenly around the pan to create a rim. 

Whisk an egg in a small bowl with a 1/4 cup of water. Use a pastry brush to brush the egg wash over the entire pie. Poke holes into the crust to vent, perhaps in the sign of the cross for the occasion. 

Bake for 60 to 70 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for 30 minutes before releasing the spring and removing the outside ring. Transfer to a serving plate and let cool completely.

The pie can be enjoyed the same day, or chilled up to 2 nights in the fridge before serving cold or at room temperature. 

• Chef Debi Stuckwisch is the owner of Meals Like Mom’s Personal Chef service in McHenry County. She can be reached at 847-778-9351 or mealslikemoms@comcast.net, or visit www.mealslikemom.com.

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