Written by Art Petrosemolo
Easter is a special time for Christians and we all celebrate according to our religious and ethnic traditions.
Family was always important to the Petrosemolos and most holidays we gathered together as an extended group right into adulthood.
Sadly, my immediate family consists now only of a sister and brother-in-law in West Haven, Conn., who I fortunately see several times a year but we won’t be together this Easter. However, my sister Kristina and my wife Tina both will make one of my mother’s signature Easter (bread) recipes called Ham Pie by the family but officially known as Pizzagania, Pizza Chiena or—by some—Pizza Russtica.
The reason I bring it up in this Holy Week blog is that a new colleague—Dawn Nolt of Denver, Pa.,—who I wrote about two weeks ago for Lancaster Farming—tried the recipe last week and has made it part of the Westfield Egg/Nature’s Yoke recipes on their website.
Dawn creates the recipes for Nature’s Yoke, tests them on her family and when they give her the thumb’s up, she photographs them (sometimes before the kids get a chance to dive in) and then posts them on the website.
Dawn works closely with Helen Leibee who handles social media for Nature’s Yoke. I am pleased that the recipe will be posted with Helen’s comments and a blurb from me and that it honors my mother who passed away 18 years ago this spring at 95-years-young (I should be so lucky).
So, here’s the story. First, I would not try this recipe unless you are a glutton for punishment as just finding basket cheese (Russo’s in Reading) can be a chore and cutting the meats into small pieces also takes time.
Anyway, my grandparents came from the Naples region of Italy and they brought with them their recipe for Pizza Chiena (filled pizza). In my family, it has been passed down through two generations to my sister’s family and mine.
Regardless of what you call it, this indulgent Easter dish was made for years by my (late) mom, on Good Friday and eaten on Easter Saturday (refrigerated and then eaten cool or at room temperature) to break the Lenten fast. It includes a number of meats and cheeses and is quite an undertaking but well worth it. I now have the job of cutting all the meat into the small pieces when my wife Tina makes it.
My mother and many Italian moms have made the dish in the shape of a thick pie (my mom used a spring pan). My wife Tina, of Polish descent, now makes it in a loaf pan (we still call it Ham Pie) which I find easier to eat by hand. We refrigerate the loaf to keep it firm and it stays fresh for some time but I am not sure how long, as we eat it too fast. We make three pies, eat two and freeze one to enjoy a few weeks later.
This is a regional Italian dish and in Italy recipes can vary by province as well as by village and family and I look forward to it every Easter. Even though we love it so much, it is a special dish and only made at the end of Lent each year.
Photo credit: Dawn Nolt, Nature’s Yoke
Mix all the ingredients (except the water) in a KitchenAid Stand mixer using the dough hook. If the dough is dry, add a little water at a time and mix until a moist dough forms. Divide the dough into 6 balls, cover and set aside.
Dice the hard boiled eggs, ham, and the cheeses into ¼ inch pieces. Add the beaten eggs and coarse ground pepper. Mix well. Stir in the grated Romano until a wooden spoon stands by itself in the mixture.
Grease the bottom and sides of 3 loaf pans. Roll out 3 balls of dough and press into pans. The dough should hang over the edge an inch. Spoon the filling mixture into each loaf pan patting it down with the back of a wooden spoon to remove any air pockets. Roll out remaining 3 balls of dough and top each loaf with a pastry sheet. Roll and seal the edges. Cut 2-3 slits in the top crust to let steam escape. Bake at 350oF for 1 hour. Cover each loaf with foil and bake 1 hour more.
Let the loaves cool before slicing. The loaves can be frozen.