Thursday, April 1, 2010

Two Easter Pies and a lot of confusion

Felice Pesach ai miei amici ebrei!

My Nana used to make the best Easter Pie in the entire universe. This is an indisputable fact. It was made with diced cold cuts, and had a cheesy, eggy filling to bind the whole thing together that was reminiscent of a heavy quiche. A slice of this pie looked like something from a biology poster, for it revealed cross sections of hard boiled eggs that looked like cells and their nucleus as well as the chunks of Italian dry sausage, Sopressata, Salami, Pepperoni, and ham and/or prosciutto, and cheese. The funny thing is, I never knew what to call it. Our nuclear family called it "Easter Pie" and when Dad tried to remember the Italian name one time, he said Pizza Grana, and then quickly corrected himself and said pizza "Gaina". Being a know-it-all tenager at the time, I tried to convince him he was confusing the name with Pizza Grana (or Grain Pie), another Easter pie made with ricotta and wheat berries. I'm pretty sure he remained unconvinced, but he let the matter drop, and we all went back to calling it Easter pie.

Many years after my Nana died, I happened to be in the Aurora Bakery in Poughkeepsie NY, picking up some pasteries for Easter, and to my surprise, they had Easter pie! They called it Pizza Rustica which is what I called it for the nearly twenty years, and Dad was silently complicitous in this eggregious error, until one day we happen to mention Pizza Rustica and Pizza Grana in the same conversation, and he says "Pizza Gaina, pizza Grana, eat Pizza Gaina, and you gain a lot of weight." I remembered my uncle Andy used to say the same thing when ever the topic of Easter Pie came up, and I had also recently talked to another person of Neapolitan decent who called the meat-and-cheese pie Pizza Gaina, so I Googled it, as any self -respecting word-geek would, and here is what I found:

Pizza Gaina (Full Pie - Americanized spelling based on pronunciation)
Pizza Chiena (Full Pie - 'correct' Neapolitan-Italian spelling )
Pizza Chena (Full Pie - 'alternate' Italian spelling )
Pizza Cena (Dinner Pie - Alternate Italian name based on similar spelling)
Pizza Rustica (Rustic Pie - Alternate Italian name and spelling)
Pizza Ripiena (Full Pie - Similar Pie from Northern Italy)
Pizza Pieno (Full Pie - Alternate name in Italian)
Pizza Grana (Grain Pie) - Another "Easter Pie"
There is also a festival of Pizza Chene at Torre Nocelle in October every year.

I never actually ever got my Nana's recipe for Easter pie, Each of her sisters made it differently. My Aunt Lucy said the recipe was simple, you just throw your old cold cuts in a pie crust with ricotta and eggs. I've tried several recipes now, and you know, Aunt Lucy was right, that pretty much IS how you make Pizza Rustica, I mean Gaina, er-um Chiena, ah what the heck... Easter Pie.

This is the recipe my daughter and I used this year (with pictures!):

Filling for two pies:

12 eggs Raw
9 eggs boiled
1 basket Cheese (or fresh cheese - Fromaggio Fresca) to dice like the meat - That's me on the left: the basket-case draining the basket cheese.
3 lbs Ricotta cheese
1 lb Ricotta Salata in chunk to dice like the meat
1 lb boiled ham
2 sticks of dry sausage-sopressata (remove casing)
1 stick of pepperoni (remove casing)

Dice all meat and hard cheeses, put aside.

In a large bowl, mix the Ricotta, and eggs.

Add diced meats, hard cheeses.
Peel and Cut eight of the hard-boiled eggs in half short-ways

arrange 7 halves in each crust distributed evenly

Pour into Two 9 inch deep crust.
Add the top-crust, trim edges and pinch closed, and vent

bake at 325° for an hour and a half or until filling is set – very, very light golden color on top – do not burn.

Happy Easter! Enjoy your pie, after all: it's Italian!