Easter is around the corner, so it’s seems like an Italian Easter pie should really be on the menu.
It was a really sad weekend in our tiny Tuscan town. One of its residents passed away suddenly on Friday night from cancer and it shook the town a little. Deaths in small towns are a community affair, especially if the person isn’t old. That sounds heartless, but we have a lot of senior citizens. They live on average well into their 80s. It’s incredible. Someone should write a book about it! French women mightn’t get fat, but Italians live forever!
When one of our older citizens passes on, it’s sad, but it’s a small affair. Guido had barely turned 60 and while I didn’t know him personally, he worked with Giulio during his short stint as vice-mayor.
In Italy, a person has to be buried 24 hours after they pass away, so the funeral was on Saturday afternoon. Giulio wanted to attend, I couldn’t get him to wear black, which was frustrating until we arrived at the tiny little church and saw that no one was wearing black. I guess it’s not really a done thing in Tuscany?
Even though we were early, there entire church was filled to the brim. Hundreds of people were standing in the courtyard and on the road. They couldn’t see the mass or hear the priest, but they stayed for the entire service. There were maybe 300 people of all ages quietly discussing his life while the service was on and then most of them followed the hearse all the way to the cemetery where a smaller service was said as he was buried.
It’s such a macabre topic for your Tuesday afternoon, but I was really moved. When I asked my mother-in-law why so many people had come to the funeral. They couldn’t have all been his friends. She simply replied, “He’s Mancianese” (as in a born and bred local from our town of Manciano) and the people there knew his parents, his grandparents, his brothers and wife. It was a beautiful tribute for his family to see so many people there saying goodbye.
What does this have to do with Easter? Absolutely nothing, but it was on my mind as I made this Italian Easter pie. It’s a really old and traditional recipe that I think suited the weekend, which was infused with custom, heritage and tradition.
While I was making this, my mother-in-law walked in and asked me if it was a Torta Pasqualina, the Tuscan name for Italian Easter pie. Technically it is, but it doesn’t have eggs or ricotta. This is a lighter, almost vegetarian version that comes from Southern Italy, where ricotta and eggs always seem to be replaced with a gooey helping of parmesan cheese.
The outside crust is a traditional Tuscan bread dough with very little salt and a drizzle of olive oil. The recipe is courtesy of my husband’s fornaio (baker) parents. In fact, I asked my father-in-law to knead this one for me. He did such a good job that the dough was risen in 30 minutes and caught me entirely off guarded.
The filling is seasonal, delicious and super healthy. It’s guanciale, which is a fatter, more flavourful version of prosciutto and a mix of cavolo nero and silverbeet, which I picked in the pouring rain from the muddy mess that is our vegetable garden.
All in all, I prefer my version to the fatty original. I feel like the Italian Easter pie you find all over the net is too close to a pork pie, which is unappetising and frankly, unItalian.
This is more of a stuffed focaccia or calzone, which you can fill with whatever is on hand and seasonal. The cavolo nero and silverbeet here have a really nice bitterness, but I wouldn’t say no to sausage and broccolini or gorgonzola cheese and salami!
My Italian Easter pie is a really nice dish that you can whip up in the days leading up to Easter and then serve it just warmed through in the oven as part of your antipasto. We love a mixed Italian antipasti with all the trimmings – olives, cold cuts, cheese and hard boiled eggs (not sure why the latter always appeared in all my childhood antipasti, but it did, along with gherkins and cocktail onions, my nonna’s very own nod to the ’70s Australian dinner party!).
BTW it was so hard to capture the deliciousness of this Italian Easter pie in photos. It just looked like one big bread frisbee. You’ll just have to trust me when I say it is melty cheesy savoury pie heaven!
italian Easter pie with cavolo nero, silverbeet and guanciale
for the bread pastry:
7g active dry yeast
400ml lukewarm water
2 3⁄4 cups plain flour
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon salt
for the filling:
400g cavolo nero, silverbeet, chicory or broccolini
1⁄2 cup guanciale, roughly chopped
1⁄2 cup finely grated parmesan
1 tablespoon finely chopped flat leaf parsley
1 garlic clove, peeled and left whole
2 tablespoons olive oil
Combine the yeast and water. Set aside in a warm place for 10 minutes or until bubbles appear on the surface. Place the flour and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and add the yeast mixture and olive oil and mix until it comes together. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 7 minutes or until smooth.
Cover with plastic wrap and a clean tea towel and set aside in a warm place for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until doubled in size. Divide the dough into 2 disks. Cover with a clean tea towel and set aside in a warm place for a further 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large heavy-based saucepan over medium heat. Add the greens, pancetta and parsley and cook for 8 minutes. Remove and cool.
Preheat oven to 240°C.
After the second rise, roll the dough balls out into 2 rough 27cm disks. Place one disk on a lightly greased pizza tray lined with non-stick baking paper. Spread over the filling and top with the cheese and olive oil. Top with the remaining disk, fold over edges, seal with a fork. Prick the surface with a fork and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce oven to 200°C and bake for a further 20-25 minutes or until golden and cooked through. Serves 8.