My mother came for a visit this past weekend. Since it is the Easter season, Ma wanted to do some holiday baking while she was here.
Ma wanted to make some traditional Easter dishes—one such treat is the Italian Ham Pie.
Italian Ham Pie is known in the Italian–American community by several names. Some people call it Pizza Gain and others call it Pizza Rusticia. It can also be referred to as simply as Ham Pie.
In my family, we use all the names when talking about this dish—it depends on who is talking about it. No matter what you call it, it is a delicious dish that will cause your mouth to water at the mere mention of it.
Ham Pie is a kind of savory quiche like pie, filled with eggs, and Italian meats and cheeses. It's traditionally served only at Easter.
Eating such a pie is a symbolic representation of “breaking the fast” from meat, which happens during Lent. Lent is preceded by Easter and during this time many people abstain from eating meat on Fridays.
This type of dish is mainly composed of smoked or cured Italian meats. The overindulgence of this ingredient in the pie represents all the meats that were not eaten during the Lenten season. I really can’t think of a better way to break a fasting from meat than eating a rich meat and cheese laden pie on Easter.
One story that I heard about the history of the Italian Ham Pie is that in the spring time, many farmers would clear out their dried sausages leftover from winter to make room for the new ones that would be made.
Making a large Ham Pie at Easter was a perfect way to use all the meats and keep them from spoiling.
When is the Ham Pie served?
According to Ma (the expert in the family on such matters), “It is served as part of the appetizer and a plate of it is always left out during the meal to snack on in case you get hungry between the courses—and then it is served along with the desserts."
Every family has its own recipe, and each is unique to them. The main components are eggs, Italian meats (smoked and cured) and cheeses.
However, there are an infinite number of possibilities and combinations when making it. Some recipes use the basics, and add ricotta cheese and cooked Italian Sausage. Others call for cooked greens (spinach) to be added to it. Any way it is made, it will be delicious.
I purchased the necessary ingredients and started preparing for baking. I asked Ma to help cut up the meats and cheeses. My daughter was helping out as well—three generations in one kitchen.
We were all making a dish that was originally made by my great-grandmother and one that has been made by my family for more than 50 years.
I looked over at my mother; she was nibbling on pieces of salami and bread. She was done helping, and sat back with a glass of wine and ate her little snack.
The pie was ready and it was put into the oven. The conversation between us went something like this:
Ma: “Did you bless the pie?"
Ma: “You have to bless the pie before you bake it!"
Me: “Why? You never made this and Nana always did. Did she do this?"
Ma: “YES. We always bless the pies before we put them in the oven and yes this pie needs to be blessed—and it does not matter who makes the pies!"
Ma: “YES! It brings good luck while baking the Ham Pie."
End of discussion.
Needless to say, I went to the oven opened the door and gave the pie the sign of the cross. We were all happy. The pie would have good luck and it will be wonderful.
I am not sure what magically happened in my oven, but the Ham Pie came out so delicious. It is a mouth-watering combination of salted meats, eggs and soft basket cheese in a light and flaky pie crust—perfect.
My kids love it, as well as my husband. We ate most of it this weekend so there are a few flecks of the pie left. I have already begun to think about next spring and when I can make this again.
Can I share a recipe with you?
No, because I really do not have one. I use a combinations of Italian meats (genoa salami, pepperoni, capicola, prosciutto, sopressata), eggs, hard-boiled eggs and basket cheese/farmer cheese (or fresh mozzarella). I put it in a pie crust and bake it.
This is a very forgiving dish to make. Use what you like and what is available. I have included several recipes to show you how different pies can be made. Use whatever crust that you like. Pizza or pie crust works well; homemade or ready-made are perfect.
Buona Pasqua (Happy Easter)!
Editor's Note: In my family, we call it Easter Pizza—it's a tradition Easter wouldn't be the same without. Anyone else?