All over the world the word “pizza” usually refers to a slab of hot bread dough topped with savoury bits and pieces. However, in Italian cookery, and particularly in Southern Italian cookery, “Pizza” also means “pie”: one can talk of a “pizza di ricotta”, for instance, a sweet ricotta pie or of a “pizza di scarola”, a savoury pie with an escarole filling. One of the best of these pizza-pies is “pizza rustica”, a Neapolitan concoction of a crumbly pastry, enclosing an exuberant filling of cheese, ricotta, eggs and spicy salame, a feast for the palate as well as the eyes. Pizza rusticais traditionally prepared for Easter lunch, to be eaten as a hefty antipasto. Alongside other traditional Easter dishes, rich in eggs and cheese (the symbolism of new life and regeneration is pretty obvious), it should be baked on Easter Friday and eaten on the festive day – a scrumptious way to break the long Lent fast.
Pizza rustica goes back centuries. These are two celebrated versions from the past:
A 1773 pizza rusticafrom Vincenzo Corrado, a celebrity royal-cook of the day:
“(Torta) Neapolitan style – slice up provatura(a mozzarella-type cheese) and add it to ricotta, grated provola (a mild, young cheese), sliced ham (I think he refers to prosciutto crudo, like Parma ham), sliced (cooked) sausages, whisked eggs, black pepper and cinnamon, you will place all this, well whisked, within the puff pastry, you will cook it and serve it hot”.
Notes: Corrado uses the term “torta” instead of the later “pizza rustica”
(Vincenzo Corrado, Il Cuoco Galante, 1773 (trattato 12, capitolo 1: Delle torte. Here you can find the 1820 edition)
An 1837 pizza rustica from Ippolito Cavalcanti, Duca di Bonvicino, a nobleman who wrote Cucina Teorico-pratica, a book that became very important in the history of Italian cookery books because it contained (an oddity for the time) recipes of Neapolitan dishes written in the Neapolitan dialect.
“You will make the same dough as the previous one for sweet cauzuncielli(small pastries similar in shape to Cornish pasties); get the (baking) tin you need and grease it with lard, and then line with some pastry that you have rolled with the rolling pin; as for filling, use the same one I have told you above, but using cheese and eggs, mozzarella and ham, then cover with more pastry, seal it well all way round, and grease all the top with lard, and you will cook it in the oven”.
Here u can see his recipe
The sweet pastry mentioned in this recipe is the traditional one still favoured by many: it is a pasta frolla, the typical Italian sweet, crumbly pastry. It is the one suggested, for instance, by Joanne Carola Francesconi in her masterly La cucina Napoletana (1963), the bible of contemporary Neapolitan cookery (by the way: do check out the website I linked to: Memorie d’Angelina is one of the best in English). I did try it and I liked it: the contrast between the full-blown sweet pastry and the savoury filling I find almost exotic in its “strangeness” – a relic from Medieval and Renaissance cookery, when the distinction between sweet and savoury was far less clear. I then tried the same recipe using a standard, savoury pastry (signora Francesconi gives also this option) and this was greeted by my English eating companions with more cheer. You decide.
Pizza Rustica, from Jeanne Carola Francesconi’s La Cucina Napoletana (1963)
A 20-22 cm cake tin, with a removable base, well greased
For the sweet pastry, you need:
250 g 00 flour, a pinch of salt, 3 yolks, 125 g caster sugar; 125 g diced butter or lard (I used half and half)
Follow your own method for sweet pastry (pasta frollain Italian,pâte sucrée in French). This is much better if made the day before. Before rolling it, remove it from the fridge and let it soften a little.
If you decide to use a plain brisé pastry, use any recipe you are comfortable with. I use Thomas Keller’s recipe – exceptional and easy.
Line the bottom and the sides of the tin with two thirds of the rolled out pastry; roll out the remaining third into a circle, which will become the top of the pie. If you want you can cover the top with a lattice of pastry instead. Keep everything in the fridge whilst you assemble the filling.
Filling: mix 250 g drained ricotta, 100 g diced scamorza (also known as smoked mozzarella, outside Italy), 250 g shredded mozzarella, patted-dry, 4 whisked eggs (reserve a couple of tablespoons to glaze the top of the pizza rustica), 100 g grated parmigiano, salt, black pepper, chopped parsley, 100 g diced prosciutto (of the Parma ham style) or (my preference) spicy salame (I used a chorizo, because the quality of Neapolitan salame is not great here in London). You can also add a couple of fresh sausages, diced.
Mix well and check for salt and pepper. If u want you could add a touch of cinnamon, as suggested by Vincenzo Corrado.The filling should be well seasoned and speckled green with the parsley.
Fill the pizza with this gloriously cheesy bounty, cover with the top or lattice, brush with the egg wash.
Bake in a preheated oven 180 C for about 1 hour: I place the pizza rustica on the floor of the oven for the first 15 minutes and then transfer it in the middle shelf for the remaining time.
Let it cool down for about 30 minutes, before unmoulding.
Eat it barely warm or at room temperature. Do not refrigerate.
Pizza rustica keeps very well for a few days. Ideally you should make it Easter Friday for Easter lunch on the Sunday.
When I used the sweet pastry, I also sprinkled the top with some flaked salt (Maldon), before baking it.