Category Archives: Main Dishes (i secondi)

Another Easter Classic: Pizza Gaina

Easter is a busy time of year in my kitchen, and this year has proven to be no exception.  I’m helping to prepare the Easter meal with my daughter-in-law this year.  While she’s making the main meal, I’ve got artichoke and asparagus frittatas ready to go, steamed artichokes, lasagna, broccoli rabe, a ricotta pie (which I’ll share with you in the next episode) and of course the Italian Easter cookies we shared with you earlier today.  In addition, we’ve also got pizza gaina, which is what we’ll be sharing with you in this episode.

Pizza gaina is a delicious, indulgent dish, used to celebrate the end of Lent and the high holiday of Easter.  It’s typically made on Good Friday and eaten on Easter Saturday or Easter Sunday to break the Lenten fast.  It’s indulgent because it includes several meats, which in the old days is something people avoided eating during certain times at Lent.

Pizza gaina is made throughout Italy, especially in southern Italy, and takes on different forms and names depending upon where you’re from.   It’s also known as pizza rustica and Italian ham pie (although other meats besides ham are in there).  No matter what it’s name, you’re going to love this recipe.

This is my sister-in-law, Elaine Angelo’s recipe, because it’s something that she has perfected over the years.  I actually haven’t made the dish that often, which is why we had Elaine join the show to show us how it’s done.  As always, please share your comments and thoughts– we’d love to know how it came out if you gave it a try!

My sister-in-law, Elaine Angelo, showing off her finished product.

The ingredients you’ll need for the crust are: 4 cups of flour, 2 tablespoons of sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper, 1 stick of butter, 3 eggs and a half a cup of milk.  For the filling you will need 1 lb of ricotta cheese, 1 pound of fresh cheese, 1/2 cup of grated pecorino romano cheese, 8-10 large eggs, 1/2 pound of prosciutto (cut up), 1/2 pound of boiled or baked hame (cut up), and 1/2 pound of sliced or cut up pepperoni.  You can substitute or add other meats, such as capicola, sausage or other meats.  This is definitely a meat-lovers dish (sorry, no vegetarian option available!).

Preparing the Crust

The crust on pizza gaina is a savory one.  Start off by putting the stick of butter in a large bowl, mixing in the sugar.  Use a mixer to make sure it’s mixed well.  Add the pepper, and then slowly mix in the eggs.  Finally, gradually mix in the flour and milk, bringing the crust to a nice consistency.  Finish off by kneading the dough with your hands into a nice large ball.  Break the ball into 2 pieces: one for the bottom crust and one for the top crust.

Take the first ball and roll it out with a rolling pin on a cooking board.  Roll it out to about a quarter inch thick.  You will be using a 9 inch pie pan, so make sure you have enough to cover the bottom of the pan.  Transfer the crust over to the pan.  Next, pinch the crust up the side of the pan, making sure it covers all the edges of the pan.  Use extra crust from the ball if you need to fill in any gaps. Once completed, set aside.

Making the Filling

Get a large bowl and add the 1 pound of fresh cheese.  Fresh cheese is an Italian cheese, which you can normally find at the grocery store in the Easter time of year.  If you have trouble finding it, you can substitute farmer’s cheese (or basket cheese).

Mix up the fresh cheese, and then add the ricotta cheese.  Mix the two together with a mixer, and then add in the percorino romano cheese.  Next, gradually mix in the 8-10 eggs.  Once mixed thoroughly, add the prosciutto, ham, and pepperroni (or other meats).  Use a wooden spoon to mix the meats in.  Once mixed, pour the filling into the pie shell.  Smooth out the filling on top with the spoon.

Adding the Crust Top

Take the other ball of dough, and roll it out in the same way as the crust bottom.  Transfer the rolled out dough to the top of the pie, fully covering the filling.  Use your hands to mold the pie top to meet the pie bottom, ensuring it sealed (if it’s not sealed, you will have the cheeses ooze out of the sides, which is not something you want).  Use a fork to press the seams down.  Once completed, cut a couple of small “breathing” slices on top through the crust.

Place in the oven for 50 minutes at 375 degrees.

Once it’s done, let it cool down.  You will be serving it cold, so put it in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Pizza gaina is straightforward and bit of work, but worth every bite.  I hope you enjoy it.  I just wanted to offer a big thank you to my sister-in-law Elaine for sharing her recipe and walking us through this episode.  We look forward to having her back in future episodes!

Happy Easter to everyone!


First Guest Appearance Makes Pizza Aeola Extra Special

We have a special treat for you in this episode of Cooking with Mama Lombardo: our first guests ever on the show!  Our hope is to more guests come on the show to share their Italian recipes (let us know if you’d like to come on- we’d love to have you!), and we start off with two very special guests for me, two of my grandchildren.  Marco and Malena both provide some great laughs and bring their own special techniques to preparing this episode’s dish, pizza aeola or Italian style fish.

Fish is an important part of the Italian diet, given the country’s connection with the Mediterranean Sea.  This is especially true in Sicily, where pesce spada (swordfish), tonno (tuna) and other big fish have played such an important role in everyday lives throughout history.  Even today, buying fresh fish in the open markets, such as Palermo’s Vucciria, is lively everyday adventure and part of life.

Fish also plays an important part of the diet at this time of year, which is Lent.  In Catholic Christian families around the world (Italian and otherwise), abstinence from meat (beef, pork, poultry) on Fridays is the practice.  From this practice, a tradition of serving  fish on Fridays evolved, a tradition we continue to embrace during the Lenten season (Ash Wednesday through Easter).

With this backdrop, I’m happy to share with you a special recipe handed down to me from my mother and aunts, called pizza aeola.  I’m not really certain of the derivation of the name since it’s been lost in time (and probably evolved– as has many of the recipe names from word of mouth over time– from pesca d’aglio or garlic fish), but the name is appropriate because the fish is prepared with classic pizza toppings, and brings back the same memories as does pizza (see Episode 2- Mama Lombardo’s Pizza).

This recipe is really easy to prepare, requiring about 30 minutes total.  The recipe serves about 3-4 people.  The ingredients you’ll need are: 1.5 lbs of cleaned, skinless haddock filets (use more if you’d like to increase serving size), 1 clovee of garlic (use 2 if you really like garlic!), a handful of celery (use the tender top stalk leaves– not the main stalks), whole tomatoes (crushed), a 1/4 of small white onion, pecorino romano cheese, a pinch of dried oregano, 1/4 cup of olive oil, and a pinch of salt and pepper.

Preparing the toppings

Dice the cloves of garlic into fine pieces and chop the onions and garlic into diced pieces.  Place them into seperate bowls.  Grate the pecorino romano cheese and place in a bowl.  For the tomatoes, you can use whole canned tomatoes or fresh tomatoes.  I only use fresh tomatoes if they are ripened and pulled fresh from the vine from the garden (typically only in the summertime).  Take the about 3-4 of the whole tomatoes and crush them up with a fork in a dish.  Set aside.

Preparing the fish

You will want to use a white, flaky fish for this recipe.  Haddock is the best fish to use.  Use fresh, not frozen fish.  When buying it from your fish market, ask to make sure it’s fresh (that day) and to have it fileted.   Make sure to have the skin removed (or you can remove the skin yourself at home if you so desire).

Wash the fish thoroughly, then place it in a large casserole dish.  We will be baking and broiling it on the oven, so make sure the dish you use is appropriate for doing so. After placing it the dish, add the toppings:  sprinkle the onions, garlic, celery, and tomatoes.  Spread them evenly on top of the fish.  Then sprinkle the oregano, salt and pepper over fish.  Finally, spread the olive oil over the fish.

I also like to add thinly sliced potatoes around the fish, which add a nice side dish to the meal, especially since they absorb the flavors of the fish as they cook.

After you place the toppings on the fish, you’re ready to place it in the oven to cook!  Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Once heated, place the fish in the middle of the oven for about 20 minutes.  After the 20 minutes is up, place your oven on broil, then move the fish to the top shelf of the oven for 3-5 minutes.  This will help the fish brown on top, which adds a delicious texture to the fish.

Take the fish out of the oven, then serve hot!  Buon appetito!

Classic Tomato Sauce and Meatballs

A staple in every Italian kitchen is tomato sauce.  Ever since I was growing up, I could remember my mother spending hours– many times the entire day– preparing a rich, flavorful tomato sauce.  The scent of the tomato sauce filling the house, and carrying out into the street fill my childhood memories.   Preparing the tomato sauce was an art, and remains an art today.  Getting the ingredients right and including meatballs, porkchops, sausages, and other meats to add to the richness of the sauce, helped make tomato sauce a classic in my household and I hope it will do the same for yours.

In this inaugural episode, my son, Gary Lombardo and I walk through how to prepare the classic tomato sauce and meatballs, as well as other meats.  It won’t take you all day, but you will need about 90 minutes or so to do things right.  Enjoy Episode 1 and check out the recipe below.  As always, leave us your thoughts!

Classic Tomato Sauce

For enough sauce to feed about 4-6 people, you will need:

2  28 oz cans of pureed tomatos (Pastene Kitchen Ready is recommended) or you can prepare your own tomato from fresh garden tomatoes (you probably want to stick with homegrown garden tomatoes)

1 small white onion, 2 cloves of garlic, 1/4 cup of virgin olive oil, 2 half teaspoons of sugar, water

Heat the olive oil at a medium heat in a large sauce pan.  Dice about 1/4 of the onion and all of the garlic.  Place diced up garlic and onions into the oil and sautee until the garlic is golden brown and the onions are translucent.  Add a half teaspoon of sugar to each can of pureed tomato.  Pour cans of tomatoes into the sauce pan with the onion and garlic.  Add about 1 cup of water (add to the cans to get excess of tomatoes in the can).  Lower heat, let simmer and prepare the pork chops, sausage and meatballs in the meantime.

Meatballs, Pork Chops and Sausage

Adding meat is key to giving a tomato sauce a rich flavor.  You can use any kind of meat you’d like, but I like to use pork chops, Italian sausage (with fennel), and beef or turkey meatballs.  I usually use about 4 sausages and 2 pork chops, but you can use as many as you’d like.  You should start cooking the pork chops and sausage first since they take more time to cook.   So start off by heating about a 1/4 cup of oil in a frying pan, and then add the sausages and pork chops.  The goal is to just get them brown enough in the frying pan, then transfer them to the tomato sauce to finish cooking.  Brown the pork chops and sausages on each side, just enough for them to get golden brown all around.  Transfer them into the same pan as the tomato sauce, stir them in and let them simmer.  Now, get the meatballs ready!

The key to any meatball are breadcrumbs.  You can make breadcrumbs from a loaf of bread or buy unseasoned breadcrumbs, which would be less work.  Either way, you will need to season your breadcrumbs before adding them to meatballs or any other dish.  I usually make a large quantity of breadcrumbs at once and store the extra in the freezer.  Mix 3-4 cups of breadcrumbs in a cuisinart (or by hand) with about 5 tablespoons of chopped parsley,1/4 cup of percorino romano cheese (fine grated), 3 cloves of minced garlic, 1 teaspsoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper.   Make sure all ingredients are thoroughly mixed– you don’t want any chunky sections.

Now that you have your breadcrumbs completed, you’re ready to make your meatballs.  1-1.25 pounds of ground meet will make about 12-13 golfball sized meatballs.  Place the ground meat in a large bowl and mix with 1 cup of the seasoned breadcrumbs you made, 1 egg (2 eggs if beef), and about 3 tablespoons of water splashed on top.  Mix all the ingredients thoroughly with your hands, making sure all ingredients are smoothly integrated in the ground meat.  Take a small handful of meat and roll them into golf-sized meatballs.  (You can make them as large or small if you’d like– that will depend upon your preference).  Once you’ve rolled them all out, place them in hot olive oil in a frying pan and fry them until golden brown all around.  Similar to the pork and sausages, you don’t need to cook them all the way through since they will finish being cooked in the sauce.  Once you’ve finished frying them, place them directly in the sauce.  Stir them in, and let it simmer for about 60-90 minutes, making sure all the meat is cooked and giving plenty of time for the sauce to absorb the flavor of the meat. You can add fresh basil, crushed red pepper or oregano if you’d like, but I typically do not.

When you’re ready to serve, take all the meat out of the sauce and place in a large platter.  Mix the tomato sauce with some al dente pasta, top it with some fresh percorino romano or parmesan cheese and enjoy!

Buon Appetito!