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Cheesy Easter Pie

Torta di Pasqua al Formaggio

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This is actually a bread, rather than a pie, and is common over a broad swath of central Italy, from Umbria to the Marches, and goes by a number of names. In Umbria it's a Torta di Pasqua, whereas the Marchigiani, and especially those of the provinces of Pesaro and Ancona, know it as Crescia Brusca, and others still call it Pizza di Pasqua. It's often served as an antipasto, and is very good with cold cuts.

This particular recipe is easy to do, though it does require several hours of resting time. You'll need:
  • Salt
  • 3 eggs and 2 yolks
  • A little rendered lard
  • 1 1/4 cups (150 g) unbleached all purpose flour
  • 9 ounces (250 g) bread dough (buy this from your baker, or make your own bread dough from scratch -- see below)
  • 2 cups freshly grated Parmigiano
  • 1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon (100 g) olive oil
  • 1/4 pound (100 g) fresh pecorino (a mild sheep's milk cheese; Romano will be too sharp here), finely diced
Crack the eggs into a bowl and add the two yolks as well; salt lightly and stir in the cheese and the olive oil. Let the mixture rest for at least four hours. Flour your work surface, spread the bread dough out over it, and work the remaining flour into it; shape the dough into a mound, scoop a well into it, put the cheese mixture into the well, and incorporate it. Put the dough in an oiled bowl, cover it, and set it in a warm place to rise for at least two hours.

Once it has risen, grease a high-sided bread mold with the lard and put the dough into it. Cover the pan and let the dough rise another hour; towards the end of the hour preheat your oven to 360 F (180 C).

They say to bake it for about 10 minutes, which strikes me as not enough; I'd bake it for a half hour to 45 minutes, and employ the toothpick test (stick it into the bread, and if it comes out dry the bread is done), let it cool for 20 minutes, and turn it out onto a rack.

It can be served hot or cold, and achieves amazing grace when it's sprinkled with shaved black truffles. In their absence, it's perfect with salami or hard-boiled eggs.

Some observations:
Rodante da Fano, an excellent cook whose posts to the It.Hobby.Cucina newsgroup never fail to illuminate, says to use:
  • 6 eggs per kilo (2 1/4 pounds) of flour (he starts from scratch, without the bread dough)
  • 2 ounces (60 g) rendered lard
  • 1/3 cup good olive oil
  • 4 cups freshly grated Parmigiano
  • 2 cups moderately aged pecorino (again, not romano, which is too sharp)
  • 1/4 pound (100 g) each fresh Parmigiano and fresh Pecorino, diced
  • A scant 2 ounces (50 g) live yeast, dissolved in a little warm water
  • A heaping tablespoon of salt
  • A heaping teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper.

Prepare it following the instructions above, and bake it in a well-oiled 10-inch (25 cm) round pan that's at least 6 inches (15 cm) high; the end result should resemble a panettone in form, though the taste will be very different.

Rodante suggests it be baked at a temperature of 400-440 F (200-220 C) for 45-55 minutes.

He also discusses the history of the dish, saying that he got it from his mother, who was a baker, and she in turn got it from her mother and on down. "You've got to remember," he says, "that in those days cheeses were used sparingly [by most people], and oil not at all -- just lard." So this would have been, for the average person, an extraordinary treat, a delight that filled the house with wonderful aromas and was perfect with a good salami.

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