Making Italian Meat Pie Is My Favorite Part of Easter

In uncertain times, pizza rustica brings joy to the table.

Pizza Rustica
Photo: Bridget Hallinan

As the world practiced social distancing to prevent the spread of coronavirus, holidays looked a little different in 2020. People hosted their Passover Seders over Zoom, paring down their big feasts to feed three, two, or even one, and on Easter Sunday, my family was in the same boat. We're not all that religious, but Easter dinner is a tradition we've always participated in, whether we're hosting at ours or visiting in-laws. Piled around the table with relatives, my dad and I eat too many appetizers as my little cousins run around and play their secret games. Each time, we find new reasons to laugh.

It was a lot quieter this year with our numbers down to just my mom, my dad, and me (four, if you count the dog). But I'm grateful that we have our health and could still prepare a celebratory meal. We swapped the classic giant ham for a much smaller pot roast using meat we had in the freezer, and we skipped our typical spread of appetizers and desserts. Even with the reduced menu, there was one traditional Easter dish we knew we absolutely had to make: pizza rustica.

Not to be confused with pizza you'd get from a pizzeria, pizza rustica is actually a giant baked Italian pie with two layers of pastry dough, one on the bottom and another blanket of crust on top. In between is a mixture of eggs, cheese, and so. much. meat. There are plenty of variations out there; some just use salami, and others, like this Real Simple version, call for five (five!) different meats. In the dozen-plus years we've been making pizza rustica, we've always relied on the same vintage recipe from McCall's Cooking School, which simply requires sweet Italian sausage and prosciutto.

The page has a few notes scrawled on it — we use olive oil instead of the requisite salad oil, switch homemade pastry dough for pre-made, and add salami because the one thing Italian meat pie could always use more of is meat. (We skip the decorative dough leaves on top, too.) Even with the shortcuts, what comes out of the oven is so marvelously, consistently delicious that I can't imagine making it any other way.

If you cut out the dough-making steps and buy store-bought, the ingredient list is pretty short: olive oil, sweet Italian sausages, eggs (some raw, some hard-boiled), ricotta cheese, grated mozzarella cheese, grated Parmesan cheese, salami, prosciutto, parsley, black pepper, and a little bit of water. Our version starts by browning crumbled sausages in a skillet and setting them aside and then beating eggs in a bowl. Next, you pile in all three cheeses and the sausage, parsley, black pepper, and deli meats, which should be coarsely chopped.

It's quicker work, of course, if you're able to divvy up the duties. One to cook the sausage, one to preside over the hard-boiled eggs, perhaps another to slice the prosciutto and salami. For the first few years, my mom made the pie on her own, and I remember watching her go through the motions before I, too, joined the assembly line. I'm so glad that I did — beyond wanting to help her out, it's created a nice set of memories, and new ones to look forward to each year: the meditative chopping, the smell of the sausage cooking, the mini dance breaks. It's a warm feeling, creating something together with someone you love.

pizza rustica filling Easter
Bridget Hallinan

After the filling's mixed together, all that's left to do is assemble the pie and bake. A layer of pastry dough goes into the pie pan first and then the meat and egg mixture. You're probably wondering where those hard-boiled eggs come in — now's the time. With a spoon, you create indentations into the filling and place a whole egg, shell removed, in each, forming a circle like the picture above. You'll then swath them with a little more filling and the final layer of pastry dough, crimping the edges and sealing everything in, kind of like a quiche sandwich. (At least, that's how I think of it.) With a brush of egg yolk for color and a few slits cut for ventilation, the pie's ready to bake.

Thirty-five to 40 minutes later, the glorious, golden pizza rustica emerges. It's tempting to cut into it as soon as it's cool enough to eat, and some recipes do call for serving it warm, including our own. But we like to prepare it the day beforehand and then eat cold slices for Easter breakfast — something about letting the ingredients meld together in the fridge overnight really enhances the flavors. Savory sausage, prosciutto, and salami; brightness from the parsley; butteriness from the crust. One hearty slice will definitely be enough to carry you well into the afternoon, and you're pretty much guaranteed to have some leftovers. Those were often my favorite part — when I was younger, I'd take a wedge of pie and proudly tote it to school in Tupperware for lunch.

Middle school turned to high school, high school turned to college — my parents would graciously bring pre-made pie with them for Easter visits — and college turned to work, where yes, I still packed leftover pie for lunch. It's a tradition I look forward to as much as making cookies for Christmas and fresh pesto for summer. And in these uncertain times, it was a comforting and familiar routine to fall back on. I didn't pack leftovers to go anywhere this year, of course. But I enjoyed them with my family, and for that, I'm incredibly thankful.

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