Last year, I was going through a stack of my grandma’s old recipes when a newspaper clipping fell out from among the myriad of handwritten note cards that she used to write 95% of her recipes. The yellowed clipping was from 1994 and included a feature on a local ricotta cheese company, as well as a recipe for Italian Easter Pie. I didn’t recall my grandma ever making it, but I took one look at the ingredients – over a pound of Italian meats and nearly three pounds of cheeses – and knew that everyone in my family would love it. I tucked the clipping away in a safe spot and earmarked it for Easter this year. I finally tested the recipe last week and, not surprisingly, we all devoured the pie. It’s an Easter tradition I wouldn’t mind starting!
This pie is an Italian-Catholic recipe and is traditionally made the day before Easter and served at noon to signify the end of Lent and to break the fast. Nothing says breaking a fast like pie crust and the biggest collection of Italian meats and cheeses I’ve ever seen in one recipe!
Speaking of cheese, Italian Easter Pie contains one special ingredient: basket cheese. It’s a specialty item that most stores only carry around the Easter holiday. The cheese is made and then formed inside of a plastic basket, which is how it gets its name. It’s a soft cheese and very mild in flavor, tasting like a cross between ricotta and mozzarella. I bought mine at a local Italian grocery, however the next day, I saw an entire display of basket cheese in the cheese counter section of my local grocery store. If your supermarket is on the large size, you will probably be able to find it there, otherwise you can substitute any other soft, mild cheese of your liking.
As you might imagine, this recipe yields a lot of filling. The recipe didn’t mention a specific pie plate size, so I used a regular 9-inch, but it was bursting at the seams. When I make this again, I will definitely use a 9-inch deep dish or a 10-inch regular pie plate, and I’ve specified that in the recipe below. You can get away with a regular 9-inch but you could have some spillage in the oven.
I’ve loved unearthing old recipes of my grandma’s and making them in my kitchen. My mom said this is one that my grandma only made a handful of times; while everyone loved it, she had her own “standard” Easter baking that probably took up most of her time. What are some of your favorite traditional Easter recipes?
Italian Easter Pie
Yield: 10 to 12 servings
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 50 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours
This meat-and-cheese pie is traditionally served by many Italian Catholics at noon the day before Easter to mark the end of Lent.
For the Pie Dough:
2½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
13 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into ¼-inch cubes
7 tablespoons vegetable shortening, cold, cut into pieces
4 to 5 tablespoons ice water
For the Pie Filling:
8 ounces sweet Italian sausage
1 small sweet onion, finely chopped
4 ounces pepperoni, chopped
4 ounces hard salami, chopped
4 ounces prosciutto, chopped
1 pound fresh basket cheese, drained and cut into bite-size pieces
1 pound ricotta cheese, drained
4 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 1 cup)
4 ounces provolone cheese, shredded (about 1 cup)
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 eggs, lightly beaten with a fork
Freshly grated black pepper
For the Egg Wash:
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1. Make the Pie Crust: Add the flour, salt and sugar to the work bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Scatter the butter pieces over flour mixture, tossing to coat butter with some flour. Cut the butter into the flour with five 1-second pulses. Add the shortening and continue pulsing (about four more 1-second pulses) until the flour is pale yellow and resembles coarse cornmeal with butter bits no larger than small peas. Turn the mixture into medium bowl.
2. Sprinkle 4 tablespoons of ice water over the flour mixture. Use a rubber spatula to mix; press down on the dough with the broad side of the spatula until the dough sticks together, adding up to 1 tablespoon more ice water if the dough will not come together. Shape the dough into two balls with your hands, one slightly larger than the other. Flatten into 4-inch-wide disks. Dust lightly with flour, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 30 minutes before rolling out.
3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
4. Prepare the Filling: While the dough is chilling, prepare the pie filling. Brown the sausage over medium heat in a large sauté pan, breaking it up into bite-size pieces as it cooks. Cook until the sausage is no longer pink in the middle, adding the onions during the last few minutes of cooking.
5. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the sausage and onions to a large mixing bowl. Add all the remaining ingredients and mix well until thoroughly combined.
6. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the smaller piece of pie dough into a circle about ⅛-inch thick. Transfer the dough to a 10-inch regular pie plate or a 9-inch deep dish pie plate.
7. Transfer the filling to the dough-lined pie plate. There is a lot of filling, so you'll want to pack it tightly into the pie dish, mounding it slightly in the center. Roll out the other dough round and place over the filling. Trim top and bottom edges to ½ inch beyond pan lip. Tuck this rim of dough underneath itself so that folded edge is flush with pan lip. Flute edging or press with fork tines to seal. Cut four slits at right angles on dough top. With a fork, beat together the egg yolk and heavy cream, and brush over the top and crust of the pie.
8. Bake the pie until the crust is golden brown and the cheese is bubbling through the slits on top, about 50 minutes. Let the pie sit for at least 30 minutes before serving. Any leftovers should be refrigerated.
- If you cannot find basket cheese, you can substitute any other mild, semi-soft cheese in its place.
(Recipe adapted from Lamagna Cheese Co., as printed in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 3/27/1994)