When I joined Baked Sunday Mornings over 3 years ago, the group was working their way through BAKED’s second cookbook, Baked Explorations, and they were just cracking open the newly released Baked Elements— I was so excited to jump in! The premise of our group is to bake through every recipe one by one and learn/enjoy/chow down along the way. During the first two books, there were some recipes that I skipped because of an aversion to certain ingredients (almond paste, bananas), though I really did make the large majority. When we got the opportunity to test the recipes for Baked Occasions, I had heard about one called Mega Easter Pie, which was allegedly a meat-and-cheese-stuffed behemoth of a savory pie, though it was not one of my assigned recipes; it had gained something of a reputation among the testers. From what I had heard, and then actually seeing the recipe once the book was published, I decided that that recipe was not for me. Nope, no thank you. I grew up keeping kosher, so pork in its various incarnations was quite foreign to me for the first half of my life; although I don’t keep kosher anymore, I’m still relatively new to pork products. Now, I have to say that I’ve come a long way in exploring the delicious world of porcine delights in recent years, particularly those of the Italian persuasion. The delectable sweet, silky goodness of prosciutto is unparalleled, especially paired with fresh buffalo mozzarella; the peppery bite of dry salami on a sandwich takes it to new heights. However, the idea of various types of ham co-mingling with delicious cheeses and pie pastry did not sound appealing in any way. So I knew from the outset that I wasn’t going to make this recipe when it came up on the BSM schedule. But… I haven’t missed a single recipe from this book! After over a year of working through Baked Occasions, I am proud to be one of the few bloggers who has baked every single recipe so far, and I decided that I don’t want to break my streak. I will not let this beast-pie break me!
And so, I dug into this pie somewhat reluctantly, but with determination. After reading through the recipe, I realized that this Easter pie is an example of pizza rustica, which is a typical dish on the Italian Easter table. Although there are countless regional versions, the gist is that it consists of a thick cheese-and-cured meat filling enclosed in a double pastry crust. I made one in a cooking class a while back, and it occurred to me that this was the same concept. I was still squeamish about the meat part, so I decided to make it “primavera” style, i.e. a vegetarian version. Instead of the ham and proscuitto inside, I substituted layers of grilled zucchini, sautéed mushrooms, and sautéed spinach, which made it similar to a veggie lasagna. However, to honor the pork-tastic spirit of this dish, I served the baked pie alongside prosciutto and arugula, a typical pizza topping in Italy.
Now, let’s talk about cheese– this is a veritable cornucopia of Italian cheeses, and I am totally on-board with this. There are five different cheeses here, and I tried to stay true to the recipe since I detoured so far from the meat, but wasn’t able to do so completely.
- Basket cheese: The book describes this as “unfortunately named” (agreed!), but it sounds delicious. It is something like a cross between fresh mozzarella and ricotta, sold in a plastic basket around Easter. I was not able to find it, so I used Bellwether Farms‘ fabulous whole cow’s milk ricotta, which is also sold in a basket and needs to be drained of its liquid. I’ve been eating this dreamy, creamy cheese on a slice of good bread every morning for many weeks– I can’t get enough! Anyway, it did the trick instead of basket cheese, though I sure would like to try that sometime.
- Smoked Mozzarella: While it’s fine to make substitutions for the other cheeses, the recipe is pretty adamant about using smoked mozzarella. No complaints here!
- Parmesan: While there were no particular specifications, I used a nice 24-month-aged Parmigiano-Reggiano, which was a touch salty, but pretty balanced.
- Romano: Sooo, I wasn’t sure exactly what “romano” meant– Pecorino-Romano? I didn’t know if there was a specific cheese simply named “romano”, but the interwebs told me that there is, in fact, an American aged cow’s milk cheese by that name, but two people at two different grocery store cheese departments told me there was no such thing. Needless to say, they didn’t have it, so I went with Pecorino-Romano, which is actually a salty aged sheep’s milk cheese, but it’s one of my favorites, and it worked out well.
- Soft Provolone: I’ve mostly used sliced provolone in sandwiches, but this recipe calls for cubing the cheese, which I hoped would lead to cheesy pockets in the pie. 🙂 I took “soft” provolone to mean the same kind one finds in sliced form, as opposed to aged; the aforementioned grocery clerks didn’t know of any other soft provolone.
Mmmmm, formaggio… 🙂
One thing I noticed in the recipe: The measured amounts of parmesan and romano are ¼ cup each or 30 grams. When I weighed them, I found that 30 grams was more like 1 cup each, so I suspect that people using weights will have a cheesier mixture. Also, I added a little extra provolone because it’s a free country.
To make the dough, combine the chilled flour, sugar, and salt and toss the cold butter cubes in the mixture. Put it all in the food processor and pulse until the butter is broken down to hazelnut-sized bits, then add ice water until a dough forms. This is the only area where I struggled a bit with the recipe. I’m not sure where I went wrong, but my dough looked rough and patchy, with some soft spots and some firmer patches. I had to add a little more than the prescribed ¾ cup ice water for the dough to come together, but I didn’t want to keep processing it for fear of overworking the dough. I’m no pie dough maven, but I don’t think I’ve ever had this happen, so I wasn’t sure what to make of it. The only thing I can think of is that I froze the butter cubes so they’d be extra cold, but maybe this affected the consistency of the dough (though I’ve done it before with no problem). The dough didn’t firm up much while chilling in the fridge either, so I really didn’t know what to expect…
For the filling, if you’re making the meat version, you would sauté onion, thyme, crushed red pepper, and diced roasted red peppers, which get added to a mixture of all the cheeses above, eggs, prosciutto, ham, parsley, lemon zest, and black pepper.
For my veggie filling, I sautéed about 6 cups of baby spinach with the diced roasted red peppers and spices, then chopped the mixture down a bit before adding it to the meatless cheese mixture. (I omitted the onion because I find it to be the most vile of all vegetables. Ugh.) I also sliced 2 large zucchini into thin, wide ribbons, then tossed them in olive oil, sea salt, and pepper, and grilled them up on the Foreman Grill. Finally, I sliced 12 large white mushrooms and sautéed them in olive oil in the same pan as the spinach and peppers, then added a splash of vermouth to deglaze the pan. (I spread them out on paper towels to cool in order to absorb any water.) I didn’t add any other salt to the dish because the cheeses were already quite salty. I let all these veggies cool before using them.
To assemble the pie, you roll one piece of dough out to 14″, as you’ll be transferring it to a springform pan. Gently coax it into the corners and up the sides. To create my filling layers, I started with the cheese-spinach mixture on the bottom, then alternated thin layers of zucchini, cheese, and mushrooms, and a final layer of the cheese-spinach.
Lastly, you’ll roll out the second round of dough and place it on top, then crimp the dough edges, eggwash the top, and cut a few steam vents in the dough.
I was pleased that the pie would be a handsome height due to the added layers, but I was nervous about having a watery filling and/or a failed pie crust. I was able to form pretty crimped edges around the pie, but I wished that I had chilled the whole thing before baking to firm up the dough because the crimps didn’t stay sharp and defined, since the dough was so soft. Still, I was very pleased that the dough seemed to bake up flaky (at least on top) despite the earlier weirdness. I baked the pie for exactly 1 hour, after which is was a nice golden brown on top.
I let it cool for a couple of hours and was pleased that it released quite easily from the springform, and the pastry was a beautiful golden brown all the way around! Having made it the day before Easter, I chilled it overnight, which I’m glad I did– it’s quite a hefty pie, and I think it would have been difficult to move to a serving plate were it not a cold brick. Also, it sliced beautifully and there was no errant liquid. I first tried it cold (which I liked in the same way that I love cold pizza), but served it to other sentient beings at room temperature. The prosciutto and arugula on the side was a great accompaniment.
Verdict? LOVED IT. This was not a recipe that I envisioned enjoying so much, but it was really terrific. The dominant flavor is salty cheese– in the best possible way. I thought the veggies worked really well, and the dish was well-balanced. I would have liked the layers to be a bit more distinct (I could increase the amount of cheese filling next time to allow for this), but you can see the vague strata. The one disappointing thing is that my crust was underdone. It probably could have used another 10 minutes or so in the oven, particularly as the bottom was a bit doughy. But really, this is a minor quibble, and it’s easily correctable for next time– and there will be a next time!
I loved this veggie version, and I’m confident that I enjoyed it much more than I would have the meaty version. I also think it’s especially nice as a bright, spring dish. It was significantly more work due to the vegetable prep, but well worth the effort! If you wish to try your hand at this Mega Easter Pie, you can find the recipe at Baked Sunday Mornings, and see how the other bakers fared with this monster! Buona Pasqua. 🙂
UPDATE 3/29/2016: I’ve been munching on this for a few days now, and it’s grown on me more and more. I might even go so far as to say that it’s one of my favorite recipes in the book! I’ve been eating it alongside fried eggs and arugula for dinner– delish. And other variations keep popping into my head: pesto, eggplant, kale… This is an absolute keeper for me, and I plan to make it every spring!
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2016.