Spring, Daylight Savings Time, Easter, Warmer weather, NO MORE WINTER…these are a few of my favorite things at this time of the year. However one thing above all is my most favorite…and it’s the PIZZA CHIENA or PIZZA GAIN or PIZZA PIENA or PIZZA RUSTICA. We called it the second one in my house..2 generation ItalianAmericans usually from Napoletana ancestry use the Napoletana name for this pie. PIZZA CHIENA. CHIENA is Napoletana for the word PIENA, which means FULL. Let’s stroll back to the real old days. Lent in Catholic countries was a very serious affair. No Meat or Dairy was consumed for 40 days. This pie is an exhuberant celebration of all the foods that were “forbidden”. It’s special. It’s rich. It’s wonderful. SIDEBAR HERE: This is my version of this pie, it’s not THE version of this pie because that doesn’t exist. However it’s made in kitchens where the tradition is kept, that’s the “right way” to make it because it’s a personal family or regional tradition that you are keeping up with. I’ll say that my version is a close one to that which my maternal grandmother made. Her kitchen style was a blend of Avellino and Naples, she lived in both those towns, with a heavy dose of influence from my grandfather’s town in Matera, Basilicata. My own research on the PIZZA CHIENA NAPOLETANA shows that our family’s version only deviates slightly. Ours included sliced or chopped roasted Sweet Fennel Pork Sausage in addition to the cured salumi. We encase ours in the southern Italian short crust pastry known as PASTA FROLLA with the addition of some black pepper to the dough. Delicious. Some call this pie (pizza) a type of quiche. The difference is the cheese is dense in this pie, not a smooth custard. All the cured meats give a little bit of their flavors up to the Ricotta and/or Basket Cheese that the base along with a heavy dose of cracked Black pepper. It’s amazing. TANTE MILLE GRAZIE (A thousand thanks) to my family for teaching me this wonder of a dish. Again, there’s no SET ingredients, but a core that is constant and from that you have some wiggle room. My ingredients are Eggs, Ricotta, Diced Mozzarella and Provolone, Cracked black pepper, Diced DRY sausage, roasted sweet fennel sausage, sweet sopressata, sometimes prosciutto cotto. Let get into my kitchen and make this Pizza which “can only be made after 3pm on Good Friday”. Mom’s words, not mine. Fantastic way to remember those who we’ve lost…It’s like having them next to me as I make this.
SERVES: LOTS TIME: 5 HOURS (included dough making and resting)
4 c. flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2tsp. salt
1 3/4 cup shortening or Lard
1/2 c. water (iced)
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp. + 1 tsp. vinegar
Blend flour, sugar, salt and shortening. Mix water with egg and vinegar; add to dry ingredients. Divide into 2 balls. Wrap in Plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. Then. Roll out each with a rolling pin. Yield (top & bottom) crusts. Makes enough for an 11 X 13 pan. Use one for the bottom, and one for the top. Pasta Frolla can be TEMPERMENTAL but patches back up easily for any screw ups. I have plenty when I make this but the end product always is great.
Credit for this crust goes to fellow StatenItalian Gloria Delio Glickman. I tried her Pasta Frolla once and have used it ever since!
6 Sweet Fennel Sausages, roasted until cooked, then sliced or chopped.
1 cup diced Sopressata
1 cup diced Dry Sausage
1/2 cup Cacciatorini sausage or 1/2 cup Prosciutto Cotto or 1/2 cup Salami
1 lb. diced Mozzarella (here I use PollyO type, WHOLE MILK, it holds up better in the baking, trust me. )
1/2 lb Diced Provolone (Auricchio or the same quality type of Provolone that’s FROM ITALY, not the American made one.)
6 beaten eggs
1/8 cup GRATED PECORINO ROMANO
1 1/2 tbs. cracked black pepper (my personal addition. you can scale back if you wish…why would you though? LOL )
3 lbs. DRAINED RICOTTA
Mix the eggs with the ricotta till smooth. Now blend the meats and cheese with the grated cheese. Fold that mixture into the ricotta mixture till well blended. Pre heat oven to 350 degrees F. Pour the mixture into the pan you’ve layered with one of the dough. I roll to about 1/4 inch. Needs lots of flour on the table/board. Then lay the other dough over the top.. Cut around the sides and crimp the top and sides together. Trim any excess. Decorate with a cross or other decoration you chose to make with excess dough, or leave it plain Now do what Grandma did…Poke 5 holes in the top..i do it where you can’t see it. These holes signify the 5 wounds of Christ on the Cross. In our home this pie is made after 3pm on Good Friday. So much historic and cultural significance you can’t help but love it!! Bake in the middle rack for at least and hour and 1/2 or until the a knife inserted in the CENTER comes out clean. Let the pie rest and don’t you dare cut into it until 12:00am Easter Sunday morning. Mom’s rules. She’s gone now 19 years but these Easter cooking rules she taught me still hang tough in my mind. Writing this recipe and story down is like they are all here around my kitchen table. Having “American” coffee or Espresso (demitasse), Wine, the big meal, and knibbling on this Pizza Chiena along with the other Easter traditions. Makes it special. Enjoy making my recipe!!
SIDEBAR: Let this fully cool down before cutting it. Can be served at room temp, cold, or lightly heated. GREAT dish on a buffet.