Pizza rustica is a round, traditional Italian savory Easter pie layered with a number of meat and cheeses, topped with a crust to enclose the entire dish. It’s served as a hearty antipasto before the main holiday meal, but the leftovers (if you have any!) can serve as a snack or even a meal once the holiday has passed.
You don’t have to wait for Easter to make this lovely dish, however. Pizza rustica is a simple yet impressive dish to serve to your family for dinner, pair with a side salad for an easy lunch or take as an antipasto to your next get-together.
What is pizza rustica?
Pizza rustica is a savory pie cut into thick wedges and served as at room temperature as an antipasto, traditionally at Easter. “Pizza” in Italian means pie. The deep dish you might get delivered on Saturday night is just one variation of the many different kinds of pizza in traditional Italian cuisine.
When it comes to pizza rustica, forget about that delivery slice. Instead picture prosciutto, salami and capicola (among others) beautifully layered between, or mixed with eggs and mozzarella, ricotta, provolone and other cheeses, all surrounded by a tall handmade crust.
When is pizza rustica made?
In Italy pizza rustica is associated with Easter. This is the second largest holiday season for Italians, just behind Christmas. Along with other religious observances and celebrations is the Triduum – Holy Thursday, Friday and Saturday. These days are filled with church services and other traditions.
Pizza rustica, because it celebrates the end of Lent, is made at the end of the week when the Triduum occurs. It may be eaten on Easter Sunday itself, and may also be enjoyed on Easter Monday, when many families head outside for picnics or cookouts. Whenever you enjoy it, pizza rustica is a festive treat.
Where does pizza rustica come from?
Though it goes by many names, and is now popular throughout Italy and wherever anyone carries on Italian culinary traditions, pizza rustica emerged from Naples around the 1600’s. Even then it was a traditional Easter dish, a way to break the Lent fast of abstaining from meat, eggs and dairy. This cheesy, satisfying antipasto is the perfect way to celebrate the end of that fasting as well as the holiday itself.
“Pizza rustica” may also be known as pizza ripiena or pizza chiena, among a number of other variations, based on the Italian region or dialect referring to it. Each name means roughly the same thing – a “stuffed” pizza. In America this dish, which was brought over by Neapolitans and other Italians emigrating to the States, is often known as pizzagaina.
Stateside the dish may sometimes look a little different than its traditional counterpart. Some Italian cooks had a hard time finding the cured meats and salami the original recipes call for, so they experimented with ham, pepperoni and other ,eats. The same is true of “basket cheese” and the other cheeses used.
Is one version superior to the other? Is the traditional pizza rustica always going to beat out newer versions from other areas of the world? Not really. Pizza rustica is a dish that allows for an array of experimentation and substitution. So if you don’t care for salami or prosciutto, feel free to try other meats. In the end, creating a sturdy deep dish pie filled with meat and cheese is going to be delicious any way you slice it.
What is Italian basket cheese?
Go searching for traditional pizza rustica recipes – of which there are many, with numerous regional variations – and “basket cheese” is something you’ll encounter quite often. This is a fresh cheese, made from cow’s milk, first drained and then pressed in baskets, giving it a distinctive basket weave imprint pattern. But of course not everyone has access to fresh made cheese such as this, which is why more modern recipe accommodate a wider array of cheese – and meat! – options. Ricotta, a soft and creamy cheese, is a good substitute for basket cheese.
Can it be refrigerated or frozen?
Once cooled, pizza rustica will last for about four or five days in your fridge in an airtight container or wrapped well in plastic. If you want to freeze it, wrap it tightly in plastic and then foil, or use plastic freezer bags. There it should keep well for months.
You can also freeze just the dough, wrapped and stored in the same manner, so that next time you want to make this dish or any number of others you can simply pull out a package of pre-made dough to save time.
- 6 cups unbleached flour plus additional flour for dusting surfaces when rolling out the dough
- 1 tsp salt
- 5 large eggs
- 1 lb butter chilled. You can choose salted or unsalted, based on your tastes
- 1 ¼ cup ice water
- 12 oz prosciutto cut into small bite-size pieces
- 8 oz each: soppressata ham, mozzarella and provolone, all cut into small bite-sized pieces
- 2 lbs ricotta cheese
- 4 oz pecorino romano grated fine
- 10 large eggs
- 1 tsp pepper
- 1 additional egg for brushing onto the dough
- Whisk together flour and salt
- Cut the cold butter into the flour using a fork, pastry cutter or your hands until you’ve created a mix of coarse crumbs.
- Beat the eggs and add to flour, mixing and kneading together well
- Add the water slowly until a dough forms. You may not need to use all of the water, but if you need to use a little more that’s fine too. What you’re looking for is a dough you can pick up out of the bowl easily in one piece
- Flour your counter lightly, then knead the dough for a few minutes until it becomes smooth and a little shiny. Put back into your bowl, cover with plastic and let rest for about half an hour
- Beat the eggs. Add in meats and cheeses, mixing well
- Preheat oven to 350
- Divide the dough into two pieces, roughly 1/3 and 2/3 in size of the whole. The smaller piece will be the top of your pie
- On a floured surface roll out the larger piece of dough into a circle wide enough to accommodate the size of your spring-form pan. If you’re using a square pan, roll it into a square
- Carefully lift the dough and put it into your well-greased pan, pressing the dough gently into the bottom and up the sides of the pan. You’ll want a little overhang around the sides
- Pour in your filling. Make sure it’s smooth and even
- Roll out the smaller piece of dough to the width of your pan. Wet the edges of the dough already in the pan (this will help it stick to the top), then lay this piece over the top of the pie. Pinch the top and bottom together to seal the pie. Trim off excess overhang
- Make a few slits with a sharp knife to the top of your pie. This will allow steam to vent out as it bakes
- Use a pastry brush to brush beaten egg over the top of your pie, then bake for 45 minutes
- Brush with egg again, then bake an additional 45 minutes. Let cool to room temperature before serving.