“I’m not a chef, I’m Italian”- David Rocco

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Easter Pie: Part due

Ciao. Let me start by saying Buona Pasqua or Happy Easter. As soon as I had the idea for this blog, I knew I was going to post my Grandma Nettie’s Easter Pie. Pizza Rustica. Pizzaghena. Every family has their own name for it and their own special recipe. But no matter what goes into it, everybody feels theirs is the best. You know what, they’re right. Because more goes into this pie then just the ingredients.  For this post, I have my mother, Elvira, helping me out.

My mother has wonderful memories of her family baking the pies going back to when she was a small child. Days of preparation; shopping, cooking, chopping, baking, dozens and dozens of pies were made. My mother tells me how her mother and her grandmother before that would make the dough, roll out the pies and someone else would fill, a top crust would go on and into the oven they’d go. They had a large old stove and could fit as many as six or seven pies, at once, depending on the size. Small, large and even tiny ones that they would make for each child individually. The tins came in all sizes came from so many places, old bakeries that had the names stamped on the bottom. These were old, even when my mother was a child.

They’d start early on Holy Saturday morning and relatives would start filtering in around twelve, because everyone knew you weren’t allowed to eat any meat before you heard the noon church bells.   

A clean sheet was laid out over the bed, the windows opened, so as the pies came out of the oven, they could be laid out to cool, but not before each pie got an egg wash so it would be nice and shiny.

This is a picture of my grandma Nettie, myself and my brother
And then, the bells would toll; someone would go grab one of the largest pies and make the first cut. My mother told me that somehow everyone always felt that that first bite, from that first pie, that you waited a whole year for, was always the best.

By three or four in the afternoon, the baking was finished, the kitchen cleaned, the relatives on their way home, each with a pie of their own. My grandmother would wrap the cooled pies and put a little slip of paper with a nice designating who the pie was going to go to. She’d bring them to friends, neighbors and hand them out at work (she was a sewing machine operator.) But always, a good amount of pies would stay in her refrigerator and a few in the freezer to be enjoyed later on. (http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2007/04/08/the-miracle-of-my-mother-s-easter-pies.html)

By the time my mother was eight, she’d be helping. Maybe a little chopping, maybe a little filling and usually my mother was the one to brush the egg wash on the finished pies to give them a lovely sheen.

After time it was just my mother and her mother making the pies. But the same pattern of the relatives, the bells and the first bite would continue. By the time my brother and I came along, my grandmother felt it was too much work for my mother to have to come over with small children, so my grandma made the pies by herself.  

I999 was the last time my grandma made pies. My mother never wanted to bake the pies herself, even though I asked her many times. But this time she did. We made them together. The pies came out great. My grandma would be proud.

Easter Meat Pie

2 pounds of ricotta cheese
¾ pounds of hot sausage
¾ of a pound of smoked pork shoulder
8 eggs
¾ cup of grated parmesan or romano (we used a mix)
1 pound mozzarella (used fresh, chopped into little cubes)
Fresh Parsley, chopped
Freshly ground pepper

Boil sausage and pork shoulder for at least 3 hours, you want the meat of the pork to fall apart. Cool and chop coarsely. This can be done a day or two ahead. Empty ricotta into a large bowl, break it up. Add your eggs one at a time and blend. Add parmesan, mozzarella, chopped parsley, salt, pepper (these three ingredients are quanto basta.) Blend thoroughly. Fill your pie crust, top with another crust and bake slowly, 350-400 degress, depending on your oven, until a knife in the center comes out clean. It can be 45 minutes; it can be an hour and a half. Beat an egg; brush it over the top crust to give your pie a nice finish. Let it cool. These can be eaten warm or room temperature, they make a great picnic lunch. (This is one of those family recipes with no actually direction, just a lifetime of doing and remembering.)

Our crust was made differently than any traditional pie crust and it’s a recipe that remains in our family. But you can use any hearty crust to put your filling in. You can even bake this crust less, if you eat a gluten free diet or you can even fill an omelet or add more eggs and bake into a frittata.