My family’s traditional Italian Easter Pie, also known as pizza rustica or pizzagaina, is bursting with ricotta cheese, mozzarella, salami, pepperoni, and hard boiled eggs.
Most people have Superbowl parties or Halloween parties or Christmas parties, but me? I have an Easter party.
I can’t remember a year in my life where I have not had our family’s Italian Easter pie for the holiday. While this is a recipe passed down from my mom’s side, many other Italian families make similar pies for Easter, a custom that originates from the Catholic practice of giving up lots of things during Lent. (I’ve written about more traditional Easter recipes from around the world here!)
Back in the day, meatless Fridays were every Friday of the year, so during Lent (every day, not just Fridays) people gave up All The Things — Pope St. Gregory wrote in the 6th century, “We abstain from flesh, meat, and from all things that come from flesh, as milk, cheese and eggs.” They gave up fat and butter. And they only had one meal a day. Sheesh!
So by the time Easter came around after 6 weeks of all that business, a nice savory pie, also known as pizza rustica, bursting with ricotta cheese, hard boiled eggs, mozzarella, salami, and pepperoni was JUST the sort of thing that you’d want to celebrate with.
And celebrate we did, with this pie, every year of my life. We would make the Easter pie the night before and have it cold for breakfast the morning of, with salt and pepper. Any dough left over from encasing the pies would become spring-themed pictures on top of the pies (flowers, rabbits, and crosses were the usual pie-top images we made — a perfect step for kids to help out with).
When I went to college in Tucson two-thirds of the way across the country ten years ago (Gah!!) I didn’t come home for Easter, so I had to make my own pie.
The recipe my mom gave me makes enough filling for either one medium springform pie or four regular-sized pies (although I felt like the filling was a little scant in four pies, so I’d stick to no more than three in the future).
I didn’t have a springform pan, but there’s no way I could eat four pies all on my own! What’s a girl to do? Did I halve or quarter the recipe?
The clear solution was to have a party instead, to share the magic of Italian Easter pie with all my friends. Obviously the only logical option.
And that party has continued as a new tradition for me almost every year, whether I’ve had to cook in a cramped dorm kitchen or the adorable 1930s house I now share with my husband.
While the party is a potluck, I usually end up cooking far too many other things — potato salad, cucumber tomato salad, strawberry spinach salad — to supplement what people bring.
This year, I made:
- A giant bowl of lemon broccoli salad,
- mini croissants stuffed with my favorite sun-dried tomato chicken salad,
- and this delicious chocolate hazelnut pull-apart sweet bread I just discovered from the Plaid and Paisley Kitchen.
There were big glass beverage dispensers of sweet tea and lemonade, and we made sure someone brought the OJ and champagne for mimosas.
My dear friend Alex was in town for the weekend and helped me with all the menu planning, shopping, cooking, and flower arranging, and she also made a delicious pasta salad and some killer deviled eggs.
In exchange, we gave her a place to sleep and a slice of this fig, bacon, and blue cheese pizza, and kept her up wayyy too late. I don’t know how I would’ve done everything without her! (Love you, Alex!)
After a long day of cooking on Saturday, we actually busted into the pie that night, not wanting to cook something else just for dinner. GASP! I’ve never eaten our Italian Easter pie before Easter, but hey, I’m a grown-up now, I can do whatever I want, right?
Actually, turns out there’s a very good reason not to eat it right out of the oven. Refrigerating or cooling it is very important for the filling to set, and although we frequently reheat it (mmmm, melty mozzarella and hot pepperoni), it doesn’t cut very well while it’s hot. Just a little wisdom from a rebel who ate her pie before she was supposed to.
Some highlights from the party:
- It was a packed house with standing room only! It was so fun to have friends from multiple circles who all got to meet each other. Even my mom and stepdad came down from Columbia and stopped by for a while with my nephew.
- My nephew helped me hide Easter eggs on the porch and in the front yard before going back to my sister’s house, and the three kids at the party had to hunt them in the rain. Alex helped the girls find the “golden egg” (which contained $5) when it turned out I had hidden it a little too well, by pretending to find it for herself (she is a genius!!).
- We got to tell the very interesting history of and show off our WWII-era house that we love, and people hung out in our newly decorated, now very hang-outable music room.
- We told people “Oh, just use our side yard like a giant parking lot!” When the party was winding down and people were leaving, since it had been raining for two days straight, four cars got stuck in the mud. Luckily, our friend John David knew what to do, and he helped Mike, Alex, and two other guests wedge boards under the tires and push all the cars out one by one as the vehicles’ owners took turns driving. Everyone had a good attitude and considered it a “team building exercise.” On the bright side, you can now play tic-tac-toe in the tire tracks in the yard.
It was an excellent party, and definitely one for the books. It’s always nice to get to share our family tradition and the deliciousness of our Italian Easter pie with friends. And it’s nice to know that around the country, my three sisters, my mom, my cousins, and my aunt are probably all eating Easter pie too.
We just ate our last slices of leftovers yesterday. Sooo sad, but if we want to have it again soon, we might just make these Easter pie calzones! They’re basically individual sized pies you get to dip in marinara sauce!
What did you eat for Easter this year? Do you have a traditional dish you make? Tell me in the comments!
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Italian Easter Pie
- 4 tubes refrigerated pizza dough or croissant dough (My family prefers the pizza dough, and it’s more similar to our original homemade bread dough recipe, but I thought the croissant dough was also quite tasty)
- 1/2 lb hard salami diced
- 1/2 lb genoa salami diced
- 1/2 lb pepperoni diced
- 1 lb whole milk mozzarella diced
- 3 lbs whole milk ricotta cheese
- 5 hard boiled eggs chopped
- 2 beaten eggs
- 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 2 tsp black pepper
- 1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp water for brushing the top of the pie optional
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Line one medium springform pan or three 8″ cake pans with half of the dough. Set aside other half.
- Mix remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Divide filling evenly between pies.
- Top pies with other half of pie dough. Trim dough so there is about half an inch of overhang on top and bottom, and roll edges in to seal. Try to get out as much air from inside the crust as possible – if you notice an air bubble forming as you roll in the edges, open up the seam between the top and bottom crust and push out the bubble.
- With trimmed dough, decorate the top of the pies with spring-themed pictures. If you want a shiny crust, brush the top with the egg+water mixture. The water makes it go on smoother.
- Bake for 1 hour — lower temperature to 325 degrees or cover edges with tin foil if browning too quickly.
- Let cool and refrigerate until filling is set, or overnight.
- Serve hot or cold!