Every family has traditions. Every family has those things that it digs up once a week, or once a year. In my family, we can't speak the language. We don't remember what it was like in the old days. But every year we dust off the tattered parchments of our past, the worn and weary records of what we brought with us when we showed up. So when I tell you that this is something sacred, something important, I hope you understand.
I'm about to give you a family recipe.
Every Easter, we create a wonderful pastry sort of dish we refer to simply as "Easter Pizza". It is not vegetarian. It is not low fat. It is not heart healthy. It is not simple, nor cheap, nor quick to make. It is, however, delicious. It's something my family has been making for years, and which has recently been taught to me.
When I say "family recipe", I mean it in every sense of the word. This is not something you do yourself. This is something that will require you to enlist your brothers, mothers, sisters, cousins, romantic interests and close personal friends. The hard work and ultimate pay-off are best split among as many loved ones as possible. But this is also a recipe from a family.
For us, it was passed down to my grandfather from his father, through to my uncles. Somewhere during that time, my aunts and mother learned how things should be done. So this man's recipe has passed down to me, and I am not sexist enough to suggest that ladies shouldn't try it. I'm just warning you now, there's a reason it was a man's dish.
You will need:
- 7 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 4 eggs
- large clean table or counter space
- rolling pin
- spare flour
- some bowls
- cookie sheets-- preferably rectangular with sides
- wire rack
This is a traditional family dish that is prepared once a year for a very special occasion. Like all special occasion dishes, it is made rarely not only because it is so very special or meaningful, but because it is an absolute pain in the ass to make. Try not to let this deter you! Just try to start early.
Purchase and store your meats after tipping the meatperson. Ideally, you want this to be as fresh as possible, so keep in mind the day you want to devote to Easter Pizza genesis when ordering and procuring your meats. If necessary, freeze meats to maintain freshness.
Purchase your eggs, cheeses, and probably a lot of alcohol. Also some tunes. These will be used later, for jamming, rocking, and/or boogy-ing. My northern-transplant family has turned to Southern Rock.
- Ask the local meat marketer if they have the capability of slicing the meats thin. Ask for a demonstration of a very thin slice of meat. Use this as a taste-test. Ask them to cut it thinner than that. The closer to tissue paper you can get, the better. For the very best Easter Pizza, you should probably be able to see through the meat.
Note-- this is not as important for pepperoni, but pretty crucial for the other
meats. It is also better if you provide the deli with ample time to fill your order, as it's sort of a pain for them to have to do, and as you're going to have to get so much. This becomes even more important as, like in my family, you begin to multiply the recipe.
When eggs are cooled, peel and slice them, possibly using one of those handy wire egg guillotines. Eggs can be cut horizontally or vertically. It won't matter
much in the long run. If these are not going to be used immediately, cover and refrigerate.
Get out your meat, which hopefully is fresh, thin, and unfrozen. Set it up in easy peeling/placing range of the operations.
Grate the asiago and fontinella cheese. Mozzarella can also be roughly grated. It is not necessary to reduce any of the cheeses to a fine powder-- just ensure that they are suitable for spreading and/or sprinkling. The provolone should also
be shredded if you didn't have the decency to ask for it to be sliced.
When you honestly think you're ready to get started, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, or a comparable Celsius heat.
- Hard boil the eggs. It may be necessary to do them in several sets, as there are quite a lot of eggs to boil. Place these aside to cool.
Making the dough
Please note now that you
will get messy and tired. Your forearms and possibly triceps will ache by the time this is over. You will feel like
the flour will never come off. Keep these things in mind before beginning to prepare the dough.
Measure the 7 cups of flour on to the clean and dried table. Heap it up so that it forms a sort of mountain-- smaller and narrower at
the top than around the base. Make a small depression in the top of this flour volcano
Break the eggs in to this depression. Avoid getting any shell particles into your food, unless you are really hurting for
a calcium supplement.
Add the olive oil into the depression with the eggs. At this time, you may apply the salt and pepper. Use enough to achieve what you assume would be a rational and consistent
level of seasoning. This, for me, is generally somewhere around 7-10 shakes each, generally more with pepper and less of salt. Try not to worry about the salt content. You will have more than enough with your fillings.
Begin to mix the eggs in to the flour, attempting to maintain it near the top of the volcano. That is, do not allow the egg/oil
mixture to flow down the sides at this time. Do not go crazy and get this everywhere. There's a time and place for that later.
It is possible to use a fork or some other mixing implement, but it will ultimately
be easier and less frustrating to just use your hands. Bear in mind that this will be absolutely disgusting, you will feel gross,
you will still become frustrated, and children might insinuate that you have leprosy. This is part of the process.
The mixture will be very sticky. Begin kneading in the flour by adding small amounts from the mound in to the depression. You will continue mixing.
At this time, add a small amount of water-- approximately 2 tablespoons.
Continue to add flour , kneading it so that the mixture begins to become a consistent dough uh, consistency. If the mixture begins to appear too dry,
add more water, 2 tablespoons at a time. Remember that you are trying to incorporate all of the flour into this dough.
Knead. Knead like you've never needed to knead before. It will take some time and a lot of effort. This is the part where it becomes clear why this was a man's recipe. The dough will finally, eventually, hopefully, come to a smooth consistancy.
You will have to knead until all of the bubbles and separations of doughbits have glommed together to give you something that looks like
you just purchased it from a floury old Italian man named Luigi.
Allow the dough to rest for about 10 minutes, or until you can move your arms again. Consider taking an Aleve. The work is not over any time soon.
- Clean and dry the work surface thoroughly. Make sure it is clean enough to eat off of, because ultimately, that's exactly
what you're doing.
Architecture and Assembly
Flour the table and begin to roll out the dough. Attempt to keep this in dimensions that will
allow you to place it on the cookie sheet. You need to attempt to make the rolled dough big enough to overextend the edges of the pan. This is important later. Do not make it to fit the pan dimensions exactly, or
you will run in to problems.
To make the dough large enough, you will have to roll it very thin. This is the whole point. The dough should be as thin as you can possibly get it while still being able to lift it off the table. You will find
that this dough is not particularly elastic. This will piss you off. Don't worry about it. Just keep rolling. Roll until you have to stop due to muscle fatigue. This is the point
where having a male is especially useful. When you can see the wood grain through the table, you are doing a good job.
- From your large, hard-won ball of dough, slice a piece roughly the size of the palm of your hand. You may need slightly more or less depending on the size of your
cookie sheet. This is something you will have to learn by trial and error, unfortunately.
When the dough is thin and big enough, CAREFULLY peel it up from the table at one end. This is a concerted effort. As you lift the dough, someone else on the assembly line should gently
and quickly slide the cookie sheet underneath it, with the pushing end following the rising side of the dough. In this manner, as you lift the dough from the table and it hopefully releases
without protest, it is already being placed on the cookie sheet. This will hopefully prevent tears, bunching, or other undesirable dough outcomes.
Avoid, as much as possible, tearing the dough. Keep unused dough covered so as to prevent moisture loss, or the dough at the end will be particularly
frustrating to work with. If you do get some small snags, use a little bit of extra dough to patch it up, working it in as well as you can with the rolling pin.
When the dough is on the sheet, gently lift the edges to allow the sheet to be more fully inside the pan. Do not leave the dough on the top of the cookie sheet
like you are attempting to make a bongo. The dough should overlap on the edges of the pan, if you rolled it correctly. Repair any tears with dough scraps as best
you can. If there are any very low edges, attempt to fortify them with dough scraps. Just press the two pieces together along the seams and hope. Keep these edges out of the
way when you begin layering things. They won't do you any good at the bottom of the pile.
With the dough in place, it is time to work down the assembly line. The first layer is cheese. This will help to hold in the grease. I'm not joking. If you have slices of provolone,
use enough slices so that they span the bottom dough, edge to edge. This does not mean you should not be able to see the bottom, but rather that you put cheese edge to edge until the
opposing side of the pan is reached. The cheese can overlap slightly, but it is (again) not important that the entire bottom is covered. You just want a fair amount of coverage, without
wasting cheese resources.
Over the provolone, sprinkle the other 3 cheeses. Mozzarella can be used more liberally than the other two, which generally have a stronger taste and so
need less to be noticed. In general, a good handful of Asiago and Fontinella will probably suffice, with perhaps half to twice as much more mozzerella. When things are looking cheesy,
you're probably good. Just eyeball it. I realize this is nearly equivalent in helpfulness to telling you to "add a dash"
and that "you'll know" when it "tastes right". Sorry. I can't hold your hand all the way through.
The second layer consists of meat. Fortunately there is cheese insulation beneath it, because this is some fatty, fatty meat. The order of meat addition is not particularly critical, but it
will be easier to lay the larger slices first and follow with the pepperoni on top. Lay the meat much like you layed the provolone. Place several
slices abreast, and don't worry about the spacing or overlapping. Unlike cheese, it is unlikely that the meat will create an overpowering flavor, so it is okay to use it a little more
liberally. This is another thing that will have to be worked on. If you feel like you are using too much meat and running out, don't use as much. You will quickly get a feel for what is a
good meat-laying pace. So, place a layer of one meat, then the next, and finish up by placing the pepperoni. Since this is from whence the most grease will exude, use less pepperoni than
the other meats. They can be placed perhaps ever 2-3 inches. If you want more, add more, but you've been warned.
The third layer is eggs. Place sliced eggs much like you placed pepperoni-- they too can be a little overpowering, so it is better to have a little too little than a little too much. They may
withstand slightly more use than the pepperoni, so spacing them about an inch apart should be fine. If it looks too eggy, or you feel like you might run out, use less.
Repeat the layering pattern one to two more times. In general, the pizzas we make are 2 layers deep because three layers just gets to be a bit much. You also feel like you are eating
tiny baby portions if you make a three layer pizza, because you have to eat so little to be sated. In an Italian family, would you really assume eating less is ever better? Seriously? Regardless, end on cheese. Another layer of insulation isn't going to hurt anything.
This penultimate cheese layer must, somewhat unfortunately, be covered by another layer of dough. Hopefully you have read this recipe ahead of time and will be rolling the dough while the
construction was being done by other people. If not, stop crying, and roll another identical piece of dough like you did back when all of this started. In the same manner as before, lift the
hopefully intact and super-thin dough and slide the cookie sheet so that the dough comes to rest on the top of the whole delicacy. Attempt to line it up so that the overlapping edges overlap with
the edges from the bottom dough. If necessary, patch any holes (aren't you better at this yet?) but be extremely careful to avoid causing more damage, as this layer of dough will be pulled taught
over the top of the rest of the layers.
Use your hands to roll the edges of the dough together, so that the bottom curls up over the top, in toward the center of the pan. Just curl it so that a slight seal is formed. You are not trying to
make cinnamon buns. Do this around the entire perimeter of the pan.
Use a fork to crimp the edges you have rolled in. Press the tines of the fork toward the edge of the pan, careful to avoid ripping the dough of the top layer. This should create a true seal around
the edges of the dough, which will provide you with a completely self-contained little meat pastry.
Place several tine holes in the top layer of dough. Be careful, as it is a thin layer and you run a risk of skewering lower layers.
Place the pizza in the 350-degree oven. If by some miracle you have managed to get your assembly line working at top efficiency and have more than one pizza at a time, it is perfectly
acceptable to bake more than one at a time. Bake until golden brown (like most things), which should take somewhere around 20-30 minutes.
Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool. After a little while, it will be possible to cut and try the fruit of your labor, but honestly you will probably be working on the next one
and in such a huff that you won't want to. It is always adviseable to try a small piece and see if everything's going according to plan. All other pizza should be eaten the next day, when
you have forgotten the trauma and can only taste sweet victory. Try hot, but also try cold. You won't be disappointed either way. Easter Pizza can be frozen and eaten later in the year,
with little to no flavor consequence. It will, however, look a little gross in the egg department.
These are all the steps necessary to make approximately 4-6 Easter Pizzas. The total amount will vary due to size of pans, amount of filling, and total patience available. Hopefully you
have appreciated the humor and the hard work necessary for this recipe to work. That's what it's really all about-- having fun with your family and having something you can be proud of to show
for it. Happy Easter, and happy eating.
I'd like to take this space (because I've taken so much already) to point you to Italian Easter Pie by BrooksMarlin, which is somewhat similar to my dish but also quite unique. We've never picked a specific date to make this dish, though I'm sure at one time it was important. I was thrilled to see that it's not just my clan that spreads the recipe through males. I love the idea of making crosses with the fork holes. But overall, I think I'll stick with my recipe for tradition's sake, and pursue the alternate when I've finally wiped the dust off my apron.