One of my fellow bloggers, John over at from the Bartolini kitchens, began his blogging journey in order to document his family recipes passed down from his mom and grandmothers. What better way to ensure these precious recipes wouldn’t be lost! I had left a comment on a post of his when I first discovered his blog and his reply stuck with me. I had mentioned how I loved his idea of keeping his family’s food traditions alive. He replied that by doing so, a bit of his mom and the rest of the clan lived on.
John’s remark stuck with me, you see, because I too no longer have my parents. My mom passed away when I was eight, which left my dad to raise 3 children. My dad took over as cook in our home, not because he knew how or had a dire passion towards cooking, but because he had no choice. My dad was an AMAZING cook! I’m not just saying that either. My friend Elizabeth still recalls his Stuffed Peppers as being the best! My friend Tonina commented once that his Tripe dish was out of this world (you clearly have to LOVE tripe to make such a statement!), while yet another friend thought his potato salad was the best! During my pregnancy with my first child, at 7 months pregnant, my dad passed away unexpectedly. This post is not about the devastation his death left me in, nor what a blow it was to both my siblings and myself. This post is about keeping the memory of my mom and dad alive. By cooking the foods my mom and dad used to cook and the foods my dad loved!
I seem to get nostalgic around the holidays. Because holidays are about family. And food. And I keep my mom and dad alive for my daughters by making the holiday foods I grew up with. My girls didn’t have the good fortune of knowing my parents, but they do know about our family traditions and the foods that made up those traditions. Pizza Chiena. “Chiena” in Neopolitan dialect, “piena” in Italian. Meaning a filled pie. An Easter savoury pie which is prepared on Good Friday, to be eaten the following day, thus ending the fasting of the 40 days of Lent. In the Middle Ages, Lent meant going without animal products. No meat, no eggs, no cheese, no butter, no dairy. I guess you’d call that vegan. What better way to break the fast of Lent than with a savoury filled pie of eggs, cheese, and meat!
Just as dialects vary from one region to another, from one tiny village to the next, so do the culinary dishes of Italy. While there are various versions to Pizza Chiena, or Rustic Pizza, this is how it’s made in the tiny village my parents are from. I called my Zia Maria (Aunty Mary) to get some instruction on their version. Quite simple really. Eggs, cheese and prosciutto. Depending on where you’re from, some will add sopressata, a dry, cured sausage, while others will add salami, mozzarella or provolone. My mom used to make this and I can remember waiting very impatiently to have a slice of that eggy, cheesy, salty delicacy in my little hands. Could you imagine a young child looking on as her mom baked a delicious pizza pie but having to wait until the next day to dig in?
We went to my sister’s home to make this, Zia Franca. She had made this before for my dad, whereas this was my first time. My Zia Maria wrote the recipe down for us and after deciphering her written words, we were left with a glass of this, a handful of that, a smidgen of…
Neopolitan Pizza Chiena
For the dough:
4 1/2 teaspoons of active dry yeast
1 teaspoon of sugar
1 1/4 cups of warm water
4 egg yolks
400 g of all-purpose flour, more or less
1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
Begin by stirring the yeast and the sugar into the warm water, in a large bowl. Let it sit for at least 10 minutes, until foamy. Add the egg yolks and stir until smooth. Stir in half the flour until smooth, then add the remainder and start working it with your hands. We encountered a bit of a problem here. We contemplated using whole eggs instead of just the yolks. We decided to try just with the yolks. We began with 300 g of flour, as the recipe suggested, but needed to add much more, at least 400 g in the end, maybe a little more. The dough was wet, so we just kept adding flour until we were satisfied with its consistency. Knead gently on a lightly floured surface and cover tightly with plastic wrap, allowing to rise for 1 hour. Once risen, roll out a little more than 1/2 the dough to fit the bottom and sides of your pan. We used one that was about 13 or 15 inches in diameter. You can also use a rectangular pan. Roll out the remaining dough for the top crust.
For the filling:
Caciotta cheese, 2, grated
Prosciutto, a piece of about 300 to 400 g
Caciotta is a mild cheese made of cow’s milk and widely used for the Neopolitan version of this pie. It is not a salty cheese, thus creating the perfect balance with the prosciutto. Here in Montreal, this cheese is made only around Easter time, mainly for this savoury pie. The entire cheese gets grated, crust and all.
Italian grocers will keep the ends of the prosciutto, the butt, which is what you want for this pie. They are also great in Pasta e Fagioli (pasta & beans). Cut off the skin and some of the fat, and chop into bite-size pieces.
Crack the eggs into a large bowl and beat with a whisk. Add the prosciutto and stir. Now for the cheese. Begin by adding half and stir together. You’re looking for a consistency that is not too liquid nor too thick (my Zia Maria’s words). So we added half of what remained and the consistency was just perfect. No need to add salt, but you can add some pepper if you like. Pour into the prepared pie crust and cover the top with the second crust. Brush the top crust with egg wash.
Bake in a pre-heated 350 degree F oven for about 1 hour and 20 minutes to 1 and 1/2 hours. Give it a look after the first hour and keep checking every 10 minutes. If you see the crust is browning too quickly, just add a piece of foil paper over the top. We didn’t have to, but every oven is different. Turn off the oven and leave it in there for about 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let it cool in the pan.
And now, the confession. We didn’t wait until the next day. We didn’t wait until it cooled in the pan. We removed it, piping hot as it was, sliced into it, releasing all the steamy heat, and bit into it. Mmmmm! All of those childhood memories came flashing before my eyes! And what bitter-sweet memories they were! Happy Easter to you and yours!