I have to admit that I’ve been obsessed for years over finding the perfect recipe for, what my family calls, “Pizza Rustica.” This is a very traditional Easter dish for Italian families, but it seems that every family makes it differently, and every family has a different name for it. Personally, I call it an Italian Quiche Lorraine. Actually, it’s a quiche on steroids. The amount of ingredients that go into the filling is amazingly abundant. It’s very rich, but oh, so delicious! Over the years, I’ve tried many different recipes and tasted many versions of this torte, and they all were delicious, but I always come back to the way my family ( on my mother’s side) made it for many generations. While my grandmother on my father’s side was alive, we ate her version (also sensational) every Easter, but after her death, at 103 years old, my mom started making it the way her mother taught her. Over the years, she must have forgotten how to make it, as I found many recipes in her files with the names of several women in her family on them. What she did remember, however, were the traditions that went along with this dish. She said that her mother always kept aside a little bit of dough to form my grandfather’s initials on top of the pie. My mom does the same with my dad’s initials, JD. She said they always made this on Holy Thursday or Good Friday, but had to wait until after midnight on Good Friday (Holy Saturday) to break the Lenten Fast. My cousins and I recently visited the house where my mom and her six siblings grew up in Brooklyn. I can now picture these seven children salivating over this torte, and waiting patiently until Holy Saturday to dig in. My mom, at 93, still tells this story with a sweet, reminiscent smile, as if it were yesterday, A psychologist once told me that, “the greatest gift you can give your children is tradition.” I’m beginning to think she was right.
I hope you enjoy this version of Pizza Rustica… or whatever your family might call it.
*You’ll need a heavy 9 by 13 baking dish. This doesn’t have to be exact, just as the ingredients don’t really have to be exact either. “Rustica” means rustic, obviously, but what it really means is “unsophisticated”…..anything goes. It will taste delicious no matter what you do!
For the Dough:
4 cups flour
2 eggs and 1 yolk
1/2 cup cold water
1 1/2 baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
For the Filling:
1 1/2 lbs ricotta
1 lb fresh farmers cheese (in basket)…sometimes called basket cheese, cut in small chunks
1/2 lb. mozzarella cheese, cut in small chunks
1/2 lb provolone, cut in small chunks
1 cup grated Romano cheese
1/2 lb. dry Italian sausage, cut into small pieces
1/4 lb sliced salami, cut into small pieces
1/4 lb. prosciuto, cut into small pieces
8 large eggs, plus 2 yolks for the egg wash at the end
Black pepper to taste
1. Combine all the ingredients for the dough in either a Cuisinart or Kitchen Aid Mixer, using the dough hook for either. You can do this by hand by making a well with the dry ingredients and putting the wet ingredients in the well, and slowly incorporating them until you have a moist dough. If my mom is with me, I do the latter. If not, it’s the Kitchen Aid for me!
2. Mix until all ingredients are combined well, and a moist ball of dough forms. Add a little more water if needed.
3. Put on a lightly floured pastry board, and form into a ball. cover with plastic wrap, and let it sit for 20 minutes or so. Don’t ask me why…I’m just doing what my mother told me!
4. Meanwhile, beat the eggs in a large bowl. Add all the other ingredients for the filling and mix everything very well.
5. Cut the dough into 2/3 and 1/3 pieces ( save a little for initials, if you like). Roll out the larger piece for the bottom of the pan, and up the sides as much as possible.
6. Pour the filling into the pan.
7. Roll out the other piece and place on top. Close off the dough on the sides to seal in the filling. Add the initials if desired.
8. Brush the entire top (including sides and initials) with the beaten egg yolks.
9. Put in preheated 375 degree oven for an hour and a half, but definitely check after 1 hour. You might want to lower the heat to 350 at this point, or it might even be just about done. You want it to be a dark golden brown.
10. Let it come to room temperature before serving, but leftovers are great warmed up.