Pizza for Easter? Southern Italians Have a Legendary Pie That's Perfect for the Holiday

Pizza ripiena is a rich, filling, seasonal treat.By Nancy Harmon Jenkins

You may know some Italian-Americans who adore the Easter treat often called "pizza gaina." If you've ever wondered what this spring delicacy is, the name is Italo-American for pizza chiena which is Campanian for pizza ripiena, aka pizza rustica, a legendary treat, a thick pie. You could call it Italian quiche and not be far wrong -- rich with salumi, eggs and cheeses, pizza ripiena by any name is served up at Easter from Naples to Bari and points south.

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It's a staple for Pasquetta, or Easter Monday, a national holiday in this sensible country, when families debark for the countryside bearing picnics of leftovers from Easter lunch. Pizza ripiena can be both a centerpiece for an elaborate picnic and a handy tool for filling up children's empty stomachs before the main course comes out.

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For this treat, you must use the best salumi (Italian cured pork products: prosciutto, salame of various kinds, mortadella if you can find it) and cheeses available. The ricotta must be as fresh as possible and drained in a fine-mesh sieve overnight to get rid of excess whey. Pecorino should be Toscano or Sardo -- not Pecorino Romano, which is too strong for this dish. (Best quality provolone could be substituted.)

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As for the mozzarella, above all it should be Italian, made from buffalo milk and as fresh as you can get. Don't ever, for anything, use that weird rubbery supermarket cheese called, for reasons that are unclear, mozzarella. It is not. Once you've assembled all these ingredients, you're good to go.

Pizza Ripiena

Rustic covered pizza with salumi, asparagus, eggs and four cheeses

Makes 10 to 12 servings, more if served with lots of other things as part of a buffet or picnic.

For the crust:

Ingredients

½ cup room-temperature water

½ cup room-temperature dry white wine

½ cup best quality extra virgin olive oil

pinch of salt

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

3 cups semolina

Directions

1. Combine the liquids in a large mixing bowl and stir in a big pinch of salt.

2. Start adding the flours -- a cup of all-purpose, a cup of semolina, stirring each addition in but not worrying whether the combination is a bit lumpy. Keep this up until you've added 4 cups.

3. Knead the dough gently in the bowl. It should all come together very well into a soft dough that is malleable and not at all sticky. If necessary, add another half cup of all-purpose and then, if needed, another half cup of semolina. But you shouldn't have to add more than 5 cups flour total to get the right consistency. The remaining cup is for the board, when you roll the dough out.

4. Shape the dough into a ball and set in the rinsed-out mixing bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for several hours. If you think it's wise, you can refrigerate it overnight.

For the filling:

Ingredients

1 to 1½ pounds total mixed salumi, sliced (salami, prosciutto,
mortadella, coppa, capocolla, etc. -- it could be all one kind of salumi, but it's best to have a mixture; you could also add some sliced cooked ham)

1 pound slightly aged Pecorino Toscano, Pecorino Sardo or provolone, cut in half-inch cubes

1 pound fresh buffalo milk mozzarella, in big dice

4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and quartered or sliced

1 pound fresh ricotta, drained in a fine-mesh sieve

7 raw eggs plus 1 egg yolk

about ½ cup chopped mixed green herbs: parsley, basil, chives, etc.

1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

½ pound asparagus, cut in one-inch lengths and steamed until tender

plenty of freshly ground black pepper

Directions

1. When you're ready to make the pizza, take the dough out of the refrigerator if necessary and let it warm up to room temperature. Set the oven on 400 F. Have ready a spring-form pan about 10 inches in diameter and 3 inches high.

2. Cut the dough in two unequal "halves" and roll the larger half out to fit the spring-form pan. Roll the dough as thin as you can and tuck it well into the angle of the pan. Let the excess hang over the top edge.

3. Chop the salumi into coarse pieces and scatter half of them over the bottom of the pan. Top with half of the cubed cheese and half the diced mozzarella. Arrange the boiled egg quarters over the top.

4. Combine the ricotta with 6 of the raw eggs in a bowl and beat just to mix well. Stir in the chopped green herbs and the grated cheese. If the mixture seems too thick, add the seventh egg, beating to mix thoroughly. Spoon half of this mixture over the top of the stuff in the pan.

5. Continue with the remaining layers -- remaining salumi, remaining cheese and mozzarella. Scatter asparagus over the top, then spoon the rest of the egg-Parmigiano mixture on top. Add plenty of freshly ground black pepper.

6. Roll out the second piece of dough to fit the top of the pan -- again, making as thin a crust as possible. Set the dough on the top, trim off any excess with scissors but leave enough of the top and bottom to be able to crimp them together.

7. Mix the egg yolk with a teaspoon of water, beating well, then paint the entire top of the pie, including the crimped crust around the edge. There is no need to pierce steam holes in the top crust, but if you're feeling clever, you could use the excess dough to make a pastry pattern on the top.

8. Transfer to the preheated oven and bake for 45 to 65 minutes or until the top is golden and the smell is fragrant. Remove from the oven to a cake rack and let sit for several hours or even overnight before cutting into the pizza. If you must refrigerate it, be sure to let it come back to room temperature before serving.

Nancy Harmon Jenkins is the author of several books, including "Cucina del Sole: A Celebration of the Cuisines of Southern Italy" and "The Essential Mediterranean."

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