It’s been years since anyone in my maternal family has partaken of Lenten fasting; nevertheless, when Easter rolls around, we manage to eat as if we’ve all been subsisting on gruel for forty days. This enormous savory stuffed pie is the centerpiece of our Easter table, and perhaps the greatest treasure of our inherited family recipes.
Pizza chiena (pronounced in my grandmother’s southern Italian dialect as “pizza gain”) is the Neapolitan form of pizza ripiena (literally a “filled pie”) or pizza rustica, and I’ve never tasted two that were exactly alike. Our Easter pie is always filled with a combination of pepperoni, salami, ricotta, mozarella, Parmigiano Reggiano, and eggs; were I making it for myself I’d substitute equal quantities of prosciutto and sopressata for the pepperoni. Use whatever you like best: ham, salami, cappicola, etc., as long as it comes out to 1 1/2 lbs.
It’s an absurdly decadent dish, an embarrassment of proteinaceous riches, and I reproduce it here with great pride. I was capable of eating shocking quantities of it as a small child, much to my grandmother’s delight.
This recipe yields two pies, each serving 8-10 people. I make them in 9-inch springform pans. My mother divides hers between 4-quart and 2-quart CorningWare casserole dishes, which also works fine.
4 tablespoons vegetable shortening
4 cups water
2 to 2 1/2 lbs. flour (8-10 cups)
2 teaspoons salt
Large pinch of sugar
If you don’t feel like carefully cutting up the meats, you can pulse them–coarsely chopped first–for a few seconds in a food processor. Don’t leave the processor running: you don’t want meat paste.
1 lb. pepperoni, thinly sliced and chopped
1 lb. mozzarella, chopped
1/2 lb. salami or prosciutto, thinly sliced and chopped
3 lb. ricotta cheese
4 oz. Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
4 large eggs, hard-cooked and chopped, plus 2 raw eggs
Preheat your oven to 350º.
In your most enormous bowl (I don’t have a big enough bowl; I use a stockpot), mix together all ingredients for the filling. With your hands works nicely, and you can lick them clean later. Chill filling until ready to use.
In another very large bowl, sift together about 8 cups of the flour, the salt, and sugar. Make a well in the center of the flour, add the shortening and two eggs, and pour in about 2 cups of the water. Mix this together, adding more liquid or flour as necessary, until dough forms a ball. Knead until smooth and elastic. It’s a really springy dough that loves to be stretched, pulled, and–dare I suggest–tossed.
Roll the dough out to 1/4-inch thickness and to the desired size and shape of your pan (cut it into smaller portions first to make it more manageable). Line the bottom and sides of the pan, pressing the dough into the corners and patching any tears with scraps of dough. Spoon filling into the pie, pressing lightly and smoothing the top. Roll out the remaining dough to make a top crust. Lay this on, then crimp the edges of the crust together, trimming off any excess. Make a few small slashes or cutouts in the top crust with a sharp knife. Lightly beat the remaining egg and brush over crust.
Bake about 1 hour, or until the top is golden and juices are bubbling.