Last year, I signed up for Pies on Parade, the wonderful have-fork-will-travel event sponsored by the Historic Inns of Rockland. I was fortunate to be a guest of the LimeRock Inn, owned by Frank Isganitis and PJ Walter, and even more fortunate to not only watch Frank make his famous pizza rustica, but also to sample and savor it. I asked Frank to share the story behind his pizza rustica recipe as well as the recipe in this guest post.
LimeRock Pizza Rustica: The story
By Frank Isganitis
Growing up Italian-American (especially with immigrant grandparents) was quite a unique experience. You have to first understand people that came here with nothing, but were so grateful for the opportunity that they compromised the very essence of their identity in order to assimilate into American culture. Well, let’s say they “Americanized” themselves for the outside world, but their home was pure Italian.
With marble-topped tables and hand-made linens, my grandma’s house was a little slice of Italy, and as often as possible (and EVERY holiday), my family along with my two uncles and their families were beckoned for dinner. But this was no ordinary dinner. I used to enjoy inviting my non-Italian friends to watch my grandma guilt them into eating so much food they thought they would explode. For her, it was a way of life. I mean to be the center of attention by preparing the greatest meal of your life, but always there was her humility that the food was only OK or she would be disappointed that something didn’t turn out the way she wanted. Trust me, she was an expert cook, and everything was always delicious. I digress.
Pizza Rustica is one of my most favorite dishes and was the centerpiece of dinner the Saturday of Easter weekend. Remember, good Catholics (all Italian-Americans are) were required to abstain from eating meat on Fridays during Lent culminating to the ultimate sacrifice (i.e. fasting on Good Friday). I don’t know why Jesus wanted us hungry on the day he died, but again, I digress.
If you haven’t already peaked, take a look at the recipe for Pizza Rustica. A sweet pastry dough (pasta frolla) filled with ricotta, mozzarella and pecorino romano cheese (no parmagiano reggiano for my grandma), Italian and American ham, prosciutto and mortadella…. Tutti buoni Italiano. Everything good Italian.
My mom and grandma would spend Friday evening preparing these pies knowing that we could not indulge until Saturday, but man, it was worth the wait. The smell of this dish cooking in the oven caused uncontrolled salivation and evoked an immediate need to put on a Mario Lanza album. Patiently we waited for time to pass as the pies were removed from the oven and allowed to cool. Because the pies keep for up to a day un-refrigerated, they were perfect for this, and perhaps many other occasions.
I could ramble on and on about growing up in this special world, but that will keep you from enjoying this great dish. So get cooking!
LimeRock Inn Pizza Rustica:Pork & Cheese Pie
The sweet egg pastry (pasta frolla):
2 cups flour
2 egg yolks
A Tiny pinch Salt
1 stick butter cut up into small pieces
1/3 cup ice water
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
Mix all ingredients, and knead them together briefly, preferable on a cold surface, such as marble. Just as soon as they are well amalgamated into a compact dough, wrap the dough in wax paper and put it in the refrigerator. Leave it in the refrigerator at least one hour before proceeding with the rest of the recipe. It can be refrigerated up to 4 or 5 hours.
If you have a food processor, all the mixing and kneading can be done in it. Put all ingredients into the beaker and spin the blade on and off until balls of dough form on them. When you take the dough out of the processor, shape it into a single ball before you wrap it and refrigerate it.
2 egg yolks
3/4 pound whole-milk ricotta
1/4 pound prosciutto or country ham, salami or boiled ham, chopped not too fine
1/4 pound mortadella, chopped not too fine
1/4 pound whole milk mozzarella, cut up in small pieces
2 tablespoons freshly grated pecorino romano cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
1-quart soufflé dish or similar ovenproof crockery dish
Butter for greasing
The cold egg pastry form above recipe
1. Put the egg yolks into a bowl, and beat them briefly with a whisk
2. Add the ricotta, and beat until it becomes rather creamy
3. Add the chopped meats, the mozzarella, the grated cheese, a liberal amount of salt, and several grindings of pepper. Mix all ingredients roughly.
4. Preheat oven to 375˚
5. Thickly grease the inside of the baking dish with butter
6. Cut off about 1/3 of the pastry dough. Over a sheet of kitchen parchment, roll it out into a round shape large enough to line the bottom of the baking dish, and come a little bit up the sides. Turn th dough over into the dish, peeling the sheet away from the dough. Fit the dough into the bottom of the dish, spreading it evenly.
7. Cut another third of the dough, and always over parchment, roll into rectangular strips as wide as the baking dish is deep. Line the sides of the dish with these strips. You can overlap where necessary: where there are gaps, they can be filled by pressing them into little bits of dough where the sides meet the bottom into a tightly sealed seam.
8. Pour all the filling from the bowl into the dish. Press it lightly to force out any air bubbles trapped in it.
9. Roll out the rest of the dough into a disk large enough to cover well the top of the pizza. Place it over the filling, and press its edges tightly against the dough lining the sides of the dish, making sure of a tight seal. Trim away the dough along the sides wherever it comes up higher than 1/2 inch above the top of the pizza; fold the rest of it down. Smooth out all rough connections with a moistened fingertip.
10. Place in the upper level of the oven. Bake for 45 minutes, until the top has turned a light golden brown. Do not open the oven door during this time. If after 45 minutes the crust seems to you to require a little more browning, turn up the thermostat to 400˚, and bake for another 6 to 8 minutes.
11. When cool enough to handle, the pizza may be unmolded by being inverted on a plate. It is also very nice served directly from the baking dish.
Pizza Rustica may be served while still warm, or at room temperature, but not piping hot. It will keep for one day without refrigeration, at normal room temperature.