Baking With Mom, Part 1: Pizza Rustica

Today is Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter and the beginning of Holy Week for Christians everywhere. Holy Week is the final week of Lent. It commemorates the events of our Lord's last week before His death.

It's hard to believe that we're already about to celebrate Easter! It is said that as we get older, time appears to pass much more quickly. I guess I can attest to that. Though I still have quite a way to go before I'm eligible for AARP discounts, there's no denying that I am getting older - and time seems to be whizzing by me at warp speed!

The Easter season is one of my favorite times of the year. Yes, I enjoy the hustle and bustle (and the cookies!) of Christmas time. I love the carolers and the beautifully decorated houses, and even the inflatable lawn ornaments. I espcially love perpetuating my family traditions through cooking and baking, and learning about the cherished traditions of others. But the reality is, that Christmas has become a multi-billion dollar marketing bonanza controlled by the retailers, where bigger, brighter and grander is always better. They tell us what to want and how much of it we need to make our lives complete. Sorry, but I don't need some corporate honcho in an ivory tower defining my wants and needs!

To me, Holy Week and Easter are about reflection, quiet joy and renewal. The promise of rebirth and hope. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Easter usually falls in the early Spring. To me, Spring is also about rebirth, renewal and hope. The best part of it is that no one is shoving any video iPod Nanos and XBox 360 Consoles down my throat!

One of the things that my family looks forward to each year as Easter approaches, is enjoying the many traditional Italian baked goods associated with the holiday. They're not fancy. There's no Swiss meringue, chocolate ganache, puff pastry towers or spun sugar decorations in the lot. Just simple, rustic goodness made by loving hands and warm hearts.

In my family, my Mom was always in charge of the Easter baking. Since she did such a great job, the rest of us didn't interfere much, except when it came to taste-testing! Actually, that's a big, fat lie. We were just all too lazy or busy doing our own thing and couldn't be bothered with baking Easter pies. Then, a few years ago, my father got sick and everything changed. Mom didn't have the drive to do it anymore. All of her energy was wrapped up in taking care of him. In an attempt to keep some normalcy in our lives, I sucked it up, stepped in and took charge of the Easter baking. Some recipes I kept the same and some I tweaked, because well, sometimes I can be a contrary, royal pain in the a$$!

This year, I was able to talk Mom into baking with me. It didn't take too much conning...uh, I mean encouragement. After the French bread fiasco, I guess she was ready to get her hands back in some dough. We made two kinds of Pizza Grana, Easter Bread (easy, easy, easy - you will love it!), Zeppoli and the recipe I'm sharing with you today, Pizza Rustica. How about that? In one afternoon, I ended up with a week's worth of post material! Anyway, I don't want you to exhaust yourselves from reading about all of our exploits in one sitting, so I'll be spreading it out over the course of the week. In addition to some great recipes, you'll hear all about the good, the bad and the ugly of baking with Mom!
Pizza Rustica is a traditional Italian Easter pie with a ricotta base, which is then filled with a variety of dried meats and cheeses. The name literally means "rustic pie". My Pizza Rustica is big, cheesy, creamy and gooey hunk of a pie stuffed to the gills with six, count 'em, SIX different kinds of dried and fresh MEAT! Though many recipes for Pizza Rustica specify that the meat, cheese and other filling ingredients be layered, I like to make mine, Napolitano style, so I cut or chunk them up and add them to the ricotta filling. It makes it a lot easier to cut the pie into slices. I also like to mix a little sugar and lemon zest into my crust. Mom absolutely insists that you must add a pinch of freshly ground black pepper to the crust too. She's been making this pie since before I was born. Who am I to argue?

(Look at all that meat!!!)

The original recipe calls for something called dry "basket cheese". Basket cheese is a is very mild and lightly salted cheese made from cow's milk. It get its name from the way it is formed - inside a basket. It can be difficult to find unless you live close to a large Italian community. In the cultural wasteland that is the Gulf Coast of Florida, I can rarely find it. You can easily substitute dry mozzarella. Also, I use a rich, dense homemade ricotta that I am actually able to get here. If you can find some, use it. If not, drain your ricotta for a while in some cheese cloth to get rid of any extra liquid. It makes for a richer filling. This is a pretty versatile recipe. If you don't care for any of the meats or cheeses that I've used here, choose something else.

Pizza Rustica is best eaten when it is completely cooled. You can even eat it right out of the fridge. Although it is traditionally enjoyed at Easter time, it makes a great meal anytime.

Since Pizza Rustica is such a quintessential Italian holiday dish, I've decided to submit it as my entry to Festa Italiana, a new blog event sponsored by Maria of Proud Italian Cook and Maryann of Finding La Dolce Vita.

I can't wait to see what everyone else has come up with!

Pizza Rustica

For the crust:
4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
4 eggs
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tbsp fresh lemon zest
2 tbsp heavy cream

For the filling:

2 tbsp olive oil
1 lb hot Italian sausage, casings removed
2 lbs whole milk ricotta
4 large egg yolks and 2 whole eggs, lightly beaten
8 ounces dry basket cheese or dry mozzarella cheese, diced into small cubes
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
6 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into small pieces
6 ounces thinly sliced mortadella, cut into small pieces
4 ounces thinly sliced sweet sopressatta, cut into small pieces
4 ounces thinly sliced hot sopressatta, cut into small pieces
6 ounces thinly sliced cappicola ham, cut into small pieces
1 egg white

To make the crust:

Combine flour and butter in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the butter is broken down and the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Add the eggs, sugar, pepper and lemon zest. Process until the mixture turns into a smooth dough. Add 1 tbsp of the cream and pulse until incorporated. The dough should be smooth and soft, but not sticky. If it looks crumbly or dry, add a few more drops of cream. If is is sticky, add a tablespoon or two more flour. You kind of have to use your judgment here. What! Do I have to tell you everything?

Remove dough onto a lightly floured surface and form into a large disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour.

To make the filling:

Position the rack on the bottom of the oven, and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a heavy large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and saute until golden brown, breaking the sausage into pieces, about 5 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a small bowl and set aside to cool.

Into a large bowl, stir together the eggs, ricotta, mozzarella and Parmesan cheese, mixing well. Add all of the meats and stir to combine. This step will definitely build up your biceps. You may have to use your hands for this, but hey, when else do you get a free pass to play with your food!

To assemble the pie:

Cut off 1/3 of the dough and set aside. Roll out the larger piece of dough on a lightly floured surface to a 16-17 inch round. Transfer the dough to a 10-inch springform pan. Gently press the dough to fit. Trim the dough overhang to 1 inch. Save the scraps for patching up holes.

Spoon the filling into the dough-lined pan.

Roll out the remaining piece of dough into a 12-inch round. Place the dough over the filling. Pinch the edges together to seal.

Brush the egg white over the entire pastry top.

Bake on the bottom oven shelf until the crust is golden brown, about 1-1 1/2 hours, until a toothpick comes out clean.

Let pie cool for at least 30 minutes. Release the pan sides and transfer the pie to a platter. When cooled, cut into huge wedges and serve.

Go outside and run two miles wearing a weighted vest, to counteract the assault on your arteries.


For more recipes like this, check out:


Anonymous said…
Look at all that meat, indeed! I'm drooling over here. YUM!
I will have 2 slices please at the Festa Italiana. This type of pie is just amazing and a welcome additon to the event:D I also know what you mean about time flying by..when we were young we couldn't wait to be older and now we'd just like time to stand still.
RecipeGirl said…
This is so fabulous and impressive!! I just love the pictures you were able to capture too. I don't think I could create that masterpiece quite like you did!
Peter M said…
I saw this being made on a Cdn. food show and I'm every bit in awe of your Pizza Rustica.

Meat lovers unite!
Gretchen Noelle said…
My goodness, doesn't that just look scrumptious! I may not know what all of those meats are exactly, but I could sure play! Tell me, is basket cheese a bit like queso fresco? I have seen it done in a basket, super mild flavor.
Susan @ SGCC said…
Culinography- Yup. Meat is a beautiful thing! ;)

Valli- Thank you so much! If you can eat 2 pieces, you can have 2. This pie weighs about 10 pounds!

Recipegirl- Thank you! I'm so glad you like it. If I could do it, you could certainly do it too.

Peter- Thank you so much! That is really sweet. I'm glad you like it.

Gretchen- I'm not an expert, but I think that queso fresco has a texture more like feta. Fresh basket cheese is more like ricotta and dry basket cheese would be more like mozzarella or oaxaca. If your queso fresco is really moist, I don't see why it wouldn't work. If you try it, let me know. Also, any variety of hams or cured meats can be used.
Pixie said…
Absolutely wonderful- I came across this twice this week and I'm sure that's a sign that I must attempt to make this one day! It looks so delicious!!!!!!!
This looks like a lovely dish and since my fling with ricotta is developing into a full fledged love affair I may just give it a try.
Look at all that meat!!! My goodness!!! That's a wayt to celebrate the end of lent!!!
running42k said…
That looks incredible. I am definitely making this for Saturday.
Ok, that looks like an awesome pizza. I read the post title, saw the photo, and forgot it was pizza. Then I saw all the meats, and like Pavlov's dog, just started drooling. I absolutely have to try this soon!

and lol, "cultural wasteland" is definitely the best term...very fitting for central FL as well, at least where I am.
Anonymous said…
This is a wonderful dish and a beautiful contribution to our Festa Italiana. Thanks for joining us :)
Susan @ SGCC said…
Pixie- Thanks! Glad you like it. It is definitely a meat lovers dish! Let me know how it turns out.

African Vanielje- Thank you! Do give it a try and report back.

Aran- Lol! This is not the dish to make if you're shy about meat!

Running42k- Thanks! Let me know how you like it.

Mike- You're too funny! If you decide to make it, you can get just about everything at Publix. Mine carries Boar's Head products and they have all of these meats.

It is definitely better here than it was 20 years ago, but still has a long way to go. I get so jealous when I read about the resources available in other places!

Maryann- Thank you! It is my pleasure!
Yes this is definitely one of those regional Italian treats--I never had it at home and no one makes it here in my village either...guess it's time to start a new tradition ;)
It looks gorgeous and must taste wonderful! Yummy!


Marianna said…
This looks really good, I also didnt know it was a typical Easter dish in Italy- so I also learned something new :-)
In our family the staple Easter dish is lamb (we are Greek Orthodox) and our Easter will be on April 27th this year.
Wow! I can tell this dish was made with loving hands, I'm sure you made your family proud! What a great addition to our Festa Italiana table. I can't wait to try this rustic goodness!! thanks again!
LyB said…
That is some gorgeous piece of pie! Wow, all of those ingredients together look delicious! Thanks so much for posting the recipe!
Ooooh! That looks sooo good. I think dh would love this. Maybe I should surprise him with it. Ah heck. Maybe I can have him make it for me???
Susan, make sure you cut my slice pretty large, ok?? ;)
Cakespy said…
Shh--don't tell MY mom--but I'd take this over her pizza any day! (shhhhh!)
Hi Susan,
How I enjoyed every single word of this post. You know I adore these family stories and recipes, and your pizza rustica is so similar to my pizza chena. Most books I have found use the terms interchangeably. I saw yourshas mortadella in it too--Jeff's favorite! Well, thanks for sharing the beautiful story and superb pie. I just love your blog.
Oops! I forgot to say thank you for the link. Thank you!:)
Susan @ SGCC said…
Michelle- Yes, with all of the wonderful ingredients you have access to, you definitely must try it. With a tossed salad, it is a meal.

Rosa- Thank you! It really does taste great.

Marianna- Thanks! Apparently, different regions have different versions.
I'm crazy about Greek food!

Maria- Thank you so much! Glad you like it. I'm really happy I was able to participate in la Festa.

LyB- You're so welcome! I'm glad you like it.

Judy- That's the ticket! Let the Husband make it for you. Mine can't boil water!

Patricia- As big as you want! ;)

Cakespy- Don't worry. Your secret is safe with me! ;)

Susan- Aww! You're making me blush. I'm so glad you like it. You know, I never quite know what I am going to write until I sit down to do it. Somehow, the words come spilling out.

You're welcome for the link, and I love your blog too! Often, as I'm reading your posts, I'm sitting here nodding, because I know just what you mean!:)
Beautiful picture! It looks really great!
Anonymous said…

i *love* pizza rustica. love. how could you not?

truly, we italians are gifted in the ways of food, and of pork in particular.
test it comm said…
That looks so good! A pie with lots of tasty meats, cheese and eggs...mmm...
Anonymous said…
Wow . . . beautiful photos . . . looks and sounds incredibly delicious!
Mandy said…
I share your sentiment about Christmas. Who needs others to tell them that Christmas is not complete without Xbox/Ipod! Love the pizza rustica, and all the cured meats!
That is an amazing pie. Not like the meats and cheeses you chose??? Delicious!

Have a wonderful Easter!
My husband would be in HOG HEAVEN (no pun intended hehehe) w/this pie. You would need to carry around a defibrilator in your purse for weeks after eating this. Just in case............
Susan @ SGCC said…
Jessy- Thanks! Glad you like it!

Michelle- So glad you like it! You are so right. Not only food, but all things creative!

Kevin- Thanks! What could be better than that combinaton?

Food Rockz Man- Thank you! You flatter me. ;)

Mandy- Yeah. It is getting ridiculous. This year, the stores skipped right over Thanksgiving. They went from Halloween straight to Christmas. I'm glad yo like the pie. :)

Lynn- Thanks so much! Happy Easter to you too. :)
Susan @ SGCC said…
Obsessive- Hog Heaven! Lol! Very clever. ;) You just made me realize that it's a good thing that one of my closest friends is a cardiologist! By the way, he ate 2 pieces!
Thistlemoon said…
That is just gorgeous Susan! You can tell that a lot of love went into that pie! Such a great thing to do with mom! :)
OH MY GOSH!!!!!! I totally want to make this.. i wonder if I can do it! Do you think you could use "american" pizza toppings? Maybe some veggies and such??

I'm totally going to give this one a spin.. I'm worried about you saying to bake in on a low rack at 375 for 1 1/2 hours! wont it burn?????????
*sigh* This blog makes me think of lost things.

In second grade my class put together a class cookbook made up of family recipes. My mother contributed my great-grandmother's easter pie recipe. She had a battered, hand-written copy of it in her files. For the cookbook, they typed it out neatly, so Mom got rid of the original version and various other family members relied on their class cookbook copies for the recipe.

Years passed. Grandmothers stopped hosting Easter. Mom stopped hosting Easter. The cookbooks were cheaply printed on regular paper. They were easy to forget about and throw away. Our copies were the only things that still had the family recipe. It was lost forver.

I've been looking to replicate Nonni's recipe ever since. I love seeing people's Easter pie recipes because of this.
Susan @ SGCC said…
Jenn- Thank you! We had a good time, even though we argued a lot! ;) I'm still waiting for her to write down her recipes so I can post about the other things we made.

Ryley- You could put whatever you want into this pie. Veggies would probably be great. Almost like a quiche.

You need to judge according to your oven. Mine is electric and isn't always too accurate. My Mom's oven is gas and everything bakes faster in it. Check the pie after about 50 minutes. When a toothpick comes out clean, it's done.

Short (dis)Order Cook- Oh my! I'm sorry! I too have lost some precious recipes in the same way. My grandmother couldn't read, so she never wrote anything down. There are so many thing that she used to make that no one can remember how to do.

Perhaps, if you know what region her she is from, you can search online and come up with a recipe that is close to hers.
That cardiologist is MY kind of Doc!!!! Take 2 viagra w/a bacon chaser......or is that Lipitor??? I never can keep them straight. I guess a side of bacon goes well with either hehehehe.
Cakelaw said…
Susan, you have outdone yourself - this looks absolutely delicious. Can I trade some fig crostata for a slice??
CookiePie said…
This looks so decadently amazing!
Susan @ SGCC said…
Obsessive- Um...I think it's Lipitor.;) Lol!

Cakelaw- Thank you very much! I love fig crostada!

Cookiepie- Thanks! I'm glad you like it. :)
Elise said…
What a gorgeous meat pie, so tall and majestic. I've never even heard of Pizza Rustica (obviously not Italian) but I can imagine that it is absolutely fabulous.
Susan @ SGCC said…
Elise- Welcome! I'm so glad you liked the pie. Pizza Rustica is what my family has always called it. I know that there are other names too. One thing that everyone calls it is delicious!
Anonymous said…
Oh, yumm! I can't wait to try this. I have dreams from my college days in Roma eating pizza rustica daily (& not gaining weight!) Thank you for sharing.

xoxox Amy
Gloria Baker said…
When I saw this Pizza Rustica Im in love!!!!!!! love it, I have to make!!! Really congrats is beauty and yummy!!! Gloria
Laurie said…
Beautiful Pizza and beautiful post!
This looks so amazing! I'd love to try making one for Easter. My Italian in-laws never made one, and I have yet to attmept making one, but it looks so good. I'll have to check out all your other Easter treats too!
Anonymous said…
I made one last year that was SO close to my Nonna's and didn't save the recipe and have been searching and searching for one that was similar ........ thanks so much!!!!!
I can't wait to get cooking!!!
Susan @ SGCC said…
Bellababe- So happy you found this! I'm glad you liked it. Let me know how it turns out. :)
Unknown said…
Yum! This sounds a lot like a caciathia my grandma (from Italy) makes at easter time. Her are individual loaves rather than a whole pie. I will have to try this...
Thanks, and Happy Easter!!

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