Monday, March 24, 2008

A New Pizza Rustica

I'm learning that every family has their own version of classic dishes, and Pizza Rustica among Italians is no exception. Our family friend Linda makes the traditional savory Easter pie with hard-boiled eggs and salami; my colleague Louisa uses dry basket cheese and sausage. Last year, my family abandoned our usual "Cement Pie" (so named for the dozen or so hard-boiled eggs in one pie) in favor of a jazzier version with spinach and roasted red peppers. And this year, my cousin Kathy and I continued to experiment, with a recipe Chris Kimball of Cook's Illustrated gave me last summer.

This Pizza Rustica was a free-form creation, meaning we shaped it into a pie on a cookie sheet, without the confines of the walls of a pie dish or springform pan. This resulted in a rather, um, rustic looking pie, gently misshapen, but we kind of liked it that way. Besides, it's what's inside the Easter pie that counts, right? And the contents of this pie featured some real gems: fresh spinach, mushrooms, ricotta cheese, freshly grated Parmesan, sweet Italian sausage, prosciutto, and plenty of herbs and spices, plus some beaten eggs to bind it all together. As with any Pizza Rustica I've ever made, this one was labor-intensive, but part of the tradition of the Easter pie is that you make it with your family's help, one or two days before Easter, knowing your extended family is going to be so happy when they see this culinary wonder hit the table.

And when we gathered at my aunt's house on Easter afternoon and sliced the pie, they were happy indeed. Aunt Mimi told me she never really liked Pizza Rustica (some comment about its cement-ness), but that this one, she loved. Pop did his usual routine, throwing his head back in ecstasy and hands in the air at the deliciousness of what Kathy and I had made, as he always does when we cook something--but he later admitted that his performance was not an act, because this time, the food actually warranted such grandiose behavior. My co-chef and I agreed; this was one tasty Pizza. Moist, rich, but not overly so, a little salty from the meats and light, thanks to our extra efforts to press the ricotta through a sieve before mixing it in with the other filling ingredients.

I'm sure we'll return to Cement Pie one of these Easters, but I, for one, am enjoying this walk on the lighter side.--S

Pizza Rustica

Serves 12 as a main course or 18 as an appetizer

10 to 12 ounces fresh spinach, stemmed, washed, or one package (10 ounces) frozen spinach, thawed, squeezed dry
2 egg yolks
1 egg
1 container (15 ounces) ricotta cheese
3/4 c freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3 T unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 t salt
1/2 t freshly ground black pepper
1/4 t ground nutmeg
1 T olive oil
1 to 1 1/4 c thickly sliced mushrooms (about 4 ounces)
1/2 lb sweet Italian sausage, meat removed from casings
3 to 4 ounces prosciutto, cut into small squares
1/4 c chopped fresh parsley
1 t dried basil, crumbled, or 1/4 c shopped fresh basil
Pinch cayenne pepper
Double recipe pastry dough

Egg wash:
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 t milk or heavy cream

1. If using fresh spinach, blanch briefly in large pot of boiling salted water until wilted, 1 to 2 minutes. Drain; rinse under cold water to stop cooking. Squeeze dry thoroughly. Coarsely chop fresh or frozen spinach. Reserve.
2. Beat egg yolks and egg together in bowl. Sieve in ricotta; stir to combine. Stir in Parmesan.
3. Heat 2 T of the butter in large skillet over medium heat. When foam subsides, add onion. Saute until wilted, about 5 minutes. Add garlic; saute 2 minutes. Add chopped spinach, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Raise heat; dry out spinach, tossing, about 4 minutes. Add to ricotta mixture.
4. Heat remaining 1 T butter and olive oil in skillet. When foam subsides, add mushrooms. Saute until lightly golden, 3 to 4 minutes. Add to ricotta mixture. Crumble sausage meat into skillet; saute until meat loses raw look, about 4 minutes. Drain excess fat; add sausage to bowl. Add ham, parsley, basil, and cayenne to bowl; toss to combine. Chill. Correct seasonings.
5. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
6. Roll out slightly more than one-third of the pastry on a lightly floured surface into 1/8"-thick rectangle or circle. Transfer pastry to baking sheet. Brush lightly with egg wash. Arrange filling on pastry, leaving 1- to 1.5" border all around. Mound filling in center, building up sides.
7. Roll out remaining pastry into rectangle or circle to match bottom. Lay pastry loosely over filling. Press edges of top piece of pastry together with bottom piece of pastry. Trim pastry, leaving 1- to 1.5" border. Brush top piece of pastry with egg wash. Roll up pastry border all around; press against top piece of pastry. Press edge with fork; brush border with egg wash. Cut two or three steam vents in top. Chill.
8. Brush pastry again with egg wash. Form decorations [we used a bunny cookie cutter] with pastry trimmings, if you like. Affix to top; brush with egg wash. Bake until pastry begins to brown, about 10 minutes. If browning too fast, lower oven heat to 350. Bake until golden, about 45 minutes in all. Let pizza sit about 10 minutes. Cut pie in half lengthwise with long serrated knife; then cut in thin crosswise slices. Serve hot or warm.


SarahHutch said...

You make me so hungry!!!!

Anonymous said...

I can’t really think of anything to add except that, along the lines of pressing the ricotta through a sieve, little steps like taking the sausage out of the casing were key. Also, the free form shape allows for an “upside down” pizza rustica. It’s top-heavy, not bottom heavy, which I think may have an effect on its lightness – the surface area of the top pastry is greater, allowing for more all-over baking. I'm no Alton Brown, but I think this might have something to do with more even baking which allows the heat to get to the cheese & other ingredients so they don't stay so wet, sitting in the pie dish.