During the Easter season, Italians make several traditional dishes to celebrate the most holy day of the year. Many Catholics give up something for lent, the forty day period leading up to Easter Sunday. And on Easter Sunday, they feast on both sweet and savory dishes and plenty of good wine, in an elaborate meal that could span the course of several hours.
Similar to the Feast of the Seven Fishes and the fruit-studded panettone bread during the Christmas season, there are a few traditional dishes that are commonplace at an Italian Easter table. Pastiera Neopolitan, also known as Grain Pie, is a sweet pie that combines both ricotta cheese and some type of grain, whether it be rice, wheat or barley. It is served for dessert or breakfast with a cup of espresso. Pane di Pasqua, or Italian Easter Bread, is a popular bakery item that many grocery and specialty stores carry during the week leading up to Easter Sunday. It’s a sweet bread that is usually braided and colorful, hard-boiled eggs are nestled in between the knots of the braid. Besides the Easter Lamb, there were two recipes that my late mother-in-law made every year for Easter Sunday and they were Torta con Strega (spongecake layered with chocolate cream that’s been infused with Strega liqueur) and my favorite – Pizza Rustica!
There are many variations of Pizza Rustica, which loosely translates to ‘rustic pie.’ The majority of recipes include some combination of Italian cured meats and cheeses within an egg custard, surrounded on all sides, top and bottom, with a flaky pastry dough. The term rustic refers to the fact that the meats and cheeses are roughly chopped and thrown into the egg mixture. My mother-in-law served Pizza Rustica at the end of the meal, but by that time, we were all so stuffed, we would pack up big chunks to reheat for lunch the next day! Many Italian-Americans serve Pizza Rustica as part of the appetizer course on Easter Sunday. It’s also lovely to include if you’re hosting Easter brunch. (It can — and should — be made at least a day ahead so it really has time to set up in the fridge, making it an ideal make-ahead dish.)
Now that I’m living a gluten free lifestyle, I can’t enjoy the pastry that envelops the traditional Pizza Rustica, so I created this version which is basically like a quiche, but has ALL of the flavors of the traditional dish! You can certainly make your own gluten free pie crust, but why go to the trouble when there are some really decent ones in the freezer section of the grocery or natural foods store? I picked up this one which is popular during Passover, but there are a few other brands out there, including one from Trader Joe’s. This crust is made with almond flour, as well as tapioca and potato starches, giving it a light texture and slightly sweet flavor that I like with the salty custard.
- Be sure to check that the meats you are using are gluten free if celiac or gluten sensitivity are a concern. Most Italian meats are naturally gluten free, but be sure to check.
- For best results, make the Pizza Rustica a day ahead and allow it to set in fridge
- Store any leftovers in the refrigerator
- To serve, bring the pie to room temperature; cover with foil so the top doesn’t get too dark and warm through in a 350 degree oven
- Any combination of meats and cheeses will work, but these are the more traditional ones. Mortadella, which is an Italian-style bologna flecked with pistachios, is also very common to include.
- To make this crustless, be sure to either grease your pie dish very well OR bake these in a muffin pan for an easy-to-eat appetizer or brunch option!
Gluten Free Pizza Rustica
- 8 large eggs
- About 1/8 pound (roughly 10 slices) each of ham, pepperoni, salami, provolone, mozzarella chopped into small cubes or pieces
- About 1/2 cup of ricotta cheese
- Freshly ground black pepper
- One frozen pie crust
- Step 1 Cut all of the meats and cheese into small pieces and set aside. I like to combine them in a bowl and mix them together.
- Step 2 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Step 3 Place the frozen pie crust on a baking sheet.
- Step 4 In a large bowl, combine the eggs and ricotta and beat using a whisk until well blended.
- Step 5 Add a good amount of black pepper. You don’t need to add salt since the meats and cheeses are salty enough.
- Step 6 Gently fold in the meat and cheese mixture.
- Step 7 Carefully pour the custard into the frozen pie crust until it just reaches the top.
- Step 8 Bake for about one hour or until the top is set and golden brown.
- Step 9 Serve warm or at room temperature.