Discovering the tradition of Easter Pie

Pasta is my passion, but I was raised in a 2nd and 3rd generation American household of Eastern European decent.  Italian food and traditions were not a part of my homelife at all. I was raised in an Italian neighborhood developed as my great-grandparents sold their land parcels off.  As a result, I was related to half of our small Jersey City neighborhood by marriage of my great aunts and uncles, but that fact had no cultural influence on my traditional German grandparents, or our family’s eating habits at home.  Easter had no real tradition in my house; we did something different most years growing up.

Even though we had no Italian traditions at home, I was exposed to some of the best of what Hoboken, NJ had to offer in Italian Food.    Bar pizzas from Leo’s, sandwiches from Fiore’s, and pastry from Carlo’s City Hall Bake Shop.( famously known now from the Cake Boss). However, I still never experienced the traditional Italian Easter dishes. That did not happen until my adult life when I moved to Hoboken.  I worked with a woman from Bergen County, NJ with strong Italian heritage, who also lived in town. The first spring I lived there, she taught me about St. Joseph’s cakes, Pane di Pasqua (Easter Bread), Struffoli, and Pizza Rustica, that she introduced to me as Easter Pie. Carlo’s sold this pie by the pound.  They would cut thick slices from the loaves and bag or box per your request. Their version was a delicious, heavy, dense loaf of cheeses, deli meat and eggs with a top and bottom butter-based crust.

Years later upon moving to Maryland, and spending Easter with my significant other’s family — who are also transplanted from northern NJ — I heard them speak of “Pizza Geen”.  I noticed when served a slice of this pie, that it bore a strong resemblance to the Easter Pie from my beloved Carlo’s. I hadn’t eaten the Carlo’s version in years as I boycotted the bakery in protest of Buddy being a commercial sell out, and my refusal to stand in line or fight the crowds clogging the sidewalks of my hometown. The San Filippo family version is similar but differed by having hard boiled eggs and sausage with a much fluffier texture than the Carlo’s version. When I asked for a copy of the handwritten recipe, it was titled ” Mom’s Easter Pie”.

This year, I had some time on my hands, and knew I wasn’t going to be home for Easter with my San Filippo family. (Their name was, sadly, Americanized to Phillips). My holiday was to be spent celebrating Passover in NJ with my Jewish family (from my first marriage).  Feeling like I didn’t want to miss all the Easter traditions, and craving Carlo’s Easter Pie, I was able to find a published version of the recipe. There was a discussion about serving my version of Pizza Rustica (as it is also known) with the San Filippo version at the same brunch, and if that would be acceptable holiday practice.This sent me to do some research on the origins of the dish.

My conclusion is that Easter Pie is basically Italy’s version of stuffing at American Thanksgiving. The end result is that there are many different regional versions and every family has put their own spin on it.  That said, there would be nothing wrong with serving different versions at the same holiday table, as we regularly do with our stuffings at Thanksgiving.

One origin of Pizza Rustica comes from Naples, where it is called Pizza Ripena, and in Neopolitan dialect, Pizza Chiena. As these many versions of this recipe travelled to America, the americanized name by the “ungainly” Italians became Pizza Gain, as my San Filippo NJ family came to call it. (They pronounce it “Pizza Geen”.) All the regional versions differ on meats, chesses, eggs, savory and even sweet ricotta versions.  ( Check the resources tab of pastaacasa.com for a link to oher regional versions as well)

Below are the two versions that we made this week. One is Grandma San Fillipo’s recipe as given to me exactly, the second is my take on the Carlo’s version I found.

Mom’s Easter Pie (from the San Filippo/Phillips family)

Crust

2 Cups flour

2/3 tsp. baking soda

1/3 tsp. salt

3 tbs. shortening

1 egg

1/2 cup ice water

Stir together flour, baking powder, and salt. Cut in the shortening.  Mix egg into the water.  Add egg water mixture into the dry ingrediients and mix together until a ball forms.  Let stand 10 minutes.

Filling

2 hard boiled eggs

1/2 lb. pepperoni, diced

4 oz. salami, diced

3/4 lb. cooked sweet italian sausage, crumbled

2 oz boiled ham, cubed

8 oz. mozerella cheese, cubed

1 tbs. grated parmesan

2 eggs

1lb. ricotta

dash salt

Stir in eggs to ricotta, one at a time.  Mix in the rest of the ingredients.

Divide dough into 2 parts and roll into 2 seperate circles to fit 12″ pie pan for bottom and top crust.  Lay bottom crust into pan, place filling inside. Cover with top crust.  Place slits in crust and sprinkle top with water.   Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes and then lower the heat and bake at 325 debress for 45 minutes more until top is golden brown.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

 

Pasta a Casa Pizza Rustica (adapted from Carlo’s Bakery Recipe)

 

 

 

Dough

  • cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
  • 1/2 pound chilled salted butter, cut into large pieces
  • large eggs, beaten

Filling

  • ounces prosciutto, in 1/4-inch dice
  • ounces capicola, in 1/4-inch dice
  • ounces pepperoni, in 1/4-inch dice
  • ounces soppressata, in 1/4-inch dice
  • ounces mozzarella, in 1/4-inch dice
  • ounces sharp provolone, in 1/4-inch dice
  • pound ricotta
  • 1/4 cup grated pecorino Romano
  • large eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 large egg, beaten, for brushing crust

For the dough: In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the plastic blade, quickly pulse together 3 cups flour and the salt.  Place the butter into the flour and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add eggs and pulse for 30 seconds. Add about 2/3 cups ice water, a little at a time through the top opening, and pulse to form a cohesive dough ball.  Remove from the processor and knead the dough on a lightly floured surface into a smooh ball. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 30 minutes.

For the filling: Mix the meats, cheeses, the 5 eggs and pepper in a large bowl.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Divide the dough into two pieces: two-thirds for the bottom crust and one-third for the top. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the larger portion of the dough into a rectangle to line the bottom and sides of a 10-by-15-inch glass baking dish, with some overhang. Add the filling and smooth it lightly. Moisten the edges of the dough with a little water.

Roll out the remaining dough to cover the top of the dish with some overhang. Trim off excess dough and crimp the edges to seal. Poke several sets of holes across the top with a fork, or cut slits.  Here you can use cookie cutters for the excess dough to cut out shapes to put on top ( such as bunnies, flowers or eggs) Bake for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and brush top and edges with the beaten egg, then return to the oven until golden brown, another 45 minutes. Let pie cool completely before serving.

 

 

 

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