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!
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!