Easter Pizza Chena
Easter Pizza Chena
This weekend, Italian women everywhere will be knee deep in eggs, butter, sugar, and ricotta cheese — it’s time for making Easter pies. Easter, as with most holidays for Italians, is a time for culinary celebration.
Both sweet and savory pies are a hallmark of an Italian Easter. The daddy of all Easter pies though is the Pizza Chena.
It is time-intensive, so be prepared!
Pizza Chena, a Neapolitan dialect term meaning “full pie,” is a colossal two-crusted savory pie stuffed with various Italian meats, cheeses, and eggs. All of that savory “fullness” is encased in either a flaky pastry crust or, as my family made, a satisfyingly chewy pizza dough crust.
There are many regional differences in making Pizza Chena; my great-grandmother made hers with hot sausage, fresh basket cheese, mozzarella, and hard boiled eggs, preferences passed down from generation to generation.
Italian Pizza Chena Serves 10-14
1 packet of active dry yeast 1 tablespoon salt 2 cups water 5-6 cups all-purpose flour 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon olive oil 1/2 pound fresh, hot Italian sausage (in casing) 1/2 pound capocollo, thinly sliced 1/3 pound Genoa salami, thinly sliced 1/3 pound pepperoni, thinly sliced 1 pound fresh basket cheese (fresh basket cheese is a semi-soft cheese that is used primarily for binding ingredients together. It can be found at Italian markets and cheese shops. If you can’t find it, then substitute one (15-ounce) container of ricotta cheese (drained) and whisk it with 2 large eggs) 1/2 pound mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced 1 dozen eggs (8 will be beaten, 4 will be hard boiled) 1/3 cup minced fresh flat leaf parsley 15-20 cranks freshly ground black pepper 1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water for egg wash
In a large bowl, dissolve in 2 cups of water, yeast, and salt. Gently blend. Add 5 cups of all-purpose flour and 2 tablespoons of olive oil to start. Blend with a spoon just until the dough starts to form, then using your hands, transfer to a floured surface.
Knead well, adding flour if it’s too sticky, until the dough becomes springy and smooth. It should take a good 5-10 minutes of vigorous kneading. It will be soft and silky when done.
Place the dough ball in a large, clean bowl coated with olive oil and rub some olive oil on top of the dough. Cover with a clean, dry dishtowel and let rise in a warm, draft-free area until doubled in size (at least 2 hours).
Hard boil 4 room temperature eggs boiling water. Slice thinly and set aside.
Meanwhile, heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Remove the sausage from its casing and add to the pan. Cook for 5-6 minutes, or until browned and crispy. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.
Place oven rack in center of oven and preheat to 180 degrees C. Brush the inside surface of a 10 X 3 spring form pan with olive oil.
Once the dough is risen, punch it down to release air bubbles. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface, divide in half, and roll one half into a 12-inch round. Transfer the dough to a 10-inch spring form pan. Using your hands, fit the dough snugly in the pan, gently stretching it to hang 1 inch over the edge of the pan.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the 8 eggs, parsley, and black pepper. Fill the inside of the dough with alternating layers of sliced meats, cheeses, and sliced hard-boiled eggs. After 5-6 layers, pour half of the egg mixture over the filling allowing it to seep down. Continue layering the meats and cheeses, then pour the remainder of the the egg mixture evenly over the top. You should have enough for 10-12 layers.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the second half of the dough to a 12-inch round. Place the dough over the filling, and using a sharp knife, trim excess dough until it just meets the rim of the pan. Using your fingertips, pinch the edges of the dough together, and gently roll the bottom layer over the top layer creating a seal. Then pinch the dough between your thumb and index finger creating a slightly fluted edge all around. Brush the top of pie with the egg wash.
Bake pie for 60- 75 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool at least 20-25 minutes. Release the spring and transfer the pie to a serving plate. Cut into wedges and enjoy at room temperature.
Leftover pizza chena can be stored in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for 5-7 days. Individual slices can also be wrapped tightly in tinfoil and placed in a heavy-duty freezer bag for up to two months.