My father in-law recently gave my husband Jack a priceless treasure – an envelope full of hand-written recipes from his grandmother that are over 100 years old! Among those recipes, was a recipe for an Italian Easter Pie.
As a child, Jack has distinct memories being served Easter pie at his Nanna and Grampa’s house. It’s full of eggs, cheeses, and Italian cold cuts and has a firm crust. This delicious pie is traditionally served at Easter in Italian households as a way to ‘break Lent’ – hence the name – Easter Pie!
There are actually many different variations of Easter Pie – some with 33 layers of crust (one for each year that Christ lived) called Torte Pasqualina and that is made with greens, ham, cheese and hard boiled eggs inside. Ours is a meat and cheese version called Pizza Giana (Giana means “God is gracious” in Italian) – and in fact, there are actually a number of names and variations for this type of meat and cheese Easter pie – all depending on what region of the country your Italian family comes from.
Our Easter pie is dense, filling, savory and delicious! It’s made with Italian meats and cheeses – all of which are easily found at your local supermarket. You can make a pattern on the crust (we did a cross) for the holiday, or leave it plain – completely your choice!
Sadly, Jack’s grandmother’s old handwritten recipe was battered and yellowed to the point of not being fully-legible. So this recipe also draws inspiration from one of our favorite Italian cookbooks, The North End Italian Cookbook, as well as what Jack could read in the handwritten recipe and his memories of the dish his grandparents made for their family growing up.
- 2 ½ cups flour
- 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper (yes I said 1 tablespoon)
- ¼ cup vegetable shortening
- 2 eggs, beaten
- ½ cup or less warm water
- 1 egg and one tablespoon milk for egg wash
- 1 pound whole milk ricotta
- ½ pound pepperoni, cut into small cubes (don’t use pre-sliced)
- ¼ pound double Abbruzese, cut into small cubes
- ½ pound sopressata, cut into small cubes
- ⅛ pound Genoa salami, cut into small cubes
- ¼ pound fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into small cubes
- 6 eggs
- ¼ cup freshly grated Romano cheese
- ½ tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound fresh cheese (such as formaggio, queso fresco, or other similar fresh uncultured cheese)
- ½ pound thinly sliced prosciutto
- In a large bowl, mix flour and black pepper together with a fork. Cut in shortening and mix to pea sized crumbs. Make a well in the center and add beaten eggs and half the water. Mix by hand and keep adding water until a dough forms. (I should note that the traditional crust for this sort of savory pie is a stiff hard crust, not a flaky crust so the next step is contrary to the usual way to make a pie crust but is needed for the crust to be stiff). Knead the dough on the counter for 5-7 minutes, wrap in plastic and let rest for 30 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees
- While dough is resting, in a large bowl, mix all filling ingredients except fresh cheese and prosciutto. Break fresh cheese apart with your hands and gently work it into mixture without over mixing. Set mixture aside.
- Take ⅔ of the dough and roll out to fit your dish or pan, having it cover the bottom and sides, spilling over the top. Lay half the sliced prosciutto on the bottom right over the dough, then cover with the filling. Lay the second half of the prosciutto over the filling.
- Roll out the other ⅓ portion of the dough and cover the top of the pie, trimming excess. Crimp the edges together tight using a fork to press the two edges together. For the traditional Easter pie, take the excess dough, roll out and cut two dough strips and form a cross on the top of the pie. (Or any other decoration you feel that fits your needs)
- Make egg wash with the egg and milk and brush all over pie top including the cross and the edges.
- Make four slits through pie top to let steam escapes.
- Place in the center of the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Lower heat to 350 and bake for 30 more minutes. Lower heat to 300 and bake for 30 more minutes. If not browned enough, bake for 10 more minutes.
- Cool to room temperature, chill for six hours and serve cold wedges.
- Will last for up to five days refrigerated.
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