You can keep your Cadbury eggs and jellybeans– for me, the food that signals spring is Easter Pie, a savory Italian meat and cheese dish that my father’s family has been making for generations. When I bite into this pie, I am a child again on Good Friday, rolling dough with my dad, smelling the grease on my fingers but unable to lick them because meat was not allowed on Fridays during Lent. We had to savor the wonderful smells of it baking and then wait excitedly till morning to devour thin slices of it at breakfast and then more, snacking through the weekend and into Sunday. I remember leaning way forward in my childhood kitchen while I nibbled, trying not to get grease on my pastel church dress.
Each year, my dad declares the final product is the best pie he has ever made, and each year it feels truer.
2 1/4 ounce packages yeast
2 1/2 pounds flour
2 cups hot water
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 pounds hot Italian sausage
1 1/2 pounds mild Italian sausage
10 slices deli ham
10 slices Genoa salami
10 slices hard salami
10 slices hot soppresatta
10 slices hot cappicola
8 slices prosciutto
2 pounds Basket Cheese
1 pound provolone (the stinkiest you can find!)
Let’s take a moment to talk about ingredient selection so I can mention the importance of buying the highest quality deli meat one can afford. A cheaper cut of cured meat with be fattier and contain more water, which causes wetness in the pie and can impede achievement of a dry bottom crust. The meat quantities listed above are not really an exact science because they will come in different shapes and varying diameters, but one can try to visualize each meat being a single layer in the pies and purchase as many slices as needed to create that layer.
Making an Easter Pie is a great excuse to acquaint oneself with a local Italian deli. Yesterday morning, my dad and I went to Indelicato’s Market in Auburn, NY. It is a tiny shop that smelled so strongly of provolone that I had to step outside for a moment of fresh air while the butcher was slicing up our order. This is, believe it or not, a selling point for me. Stinky provolone fills me with Easter joy, and I encourage potential Easter Pie chefs to purchase the FUNKIEST provolone they can find.
The other cheese needed for Easter Pie is basket cheese, which is a soft, bland cow’s milk cheese formed in a basket and usually only available at this time of year. We were sad to learn that Indelicato’s had sold out, but we were not surprised due to the high Italian population in Auburn and how deeply we dagos dig Easter Pie. If basket cheese is absolutely not an option, one can use mozzarella. We got lucky and discovered that Wegman’s still had some left.
Start with the crust. Preheat the oven to 100 degrees F. In a stand mixer’s bowl, whisk yeast, sugar, and a quarter cup of water together, then let it sit for ten minutes. Add flour, then salt. Using a dough hook attachment, put the mixer on your slowest setting and allow it to knead as you crack in 3 eggs. Pour in the rest of the water slowly. Let the machine knead the dough until it is relatively smooth and consistent, then knead it by hand until it absolutely smooth and consistent.
Place the dough in a greased glass bowl and cover with wrap or foil. Then, put it in the oven for one hour.
While the dough is rising in the oven, it’s time to prep the sausage. Squeeze the meat from its casing into bite-size bits and saute on the stovetop until crispy on the outside and cooked throughout. Then, pour into a bowl and set aside. If you haven’t already hard-boiled your eggs, now is a good time.
After the dough has rested for an hour, remove it from the oven and cut into quarters. Time to knead the living ess-aych-eye-tee out of it. Flour your surface and use a rolling to flatten it out and guide into a circular shape. This will require some muscle and patience.
Preheat oven to 350 F.
My dad and I used slotted pizza pans to hold the pie, but regular pizza pans or a cookie sheet works just as well. If your surface is nonstick, the dough can go directly on the pan, but if not, it may be wise to use parchment paper.
Time to start layering! Use ham as your bottom layer- the density of it will help contain moisture and protect your bottom crust. The rest of the deli meats can be stacked in whatever order feels right to you. Once the deli meats are arranged, top with Italian sausage bits and cut-up hard-boiled eggs. My dad likes to omit the yolks, so we did one with and one without.
Next, cube the basket cheese and grate your stinky provolone, then sprinkle on top.
Now, create your top crusts using the same rolling technique as the bottom. Lay your crusts atop the pies and seal at the edges but rolling in toward the center of the pie. Use a skewer to poke 10 or so tiny holes in the top crust.
Back for 45 minutes to an hour, until golden.
Enjoy in moderation, and share it with your family. Happy Easter!!