Every year at Pasqua, my late Aunt Mary would make her Easter Pie. This rustic pie was amazing to me not because it was filled with dozens of ingredients, but because it was so satisfying yet so simple. She called it a "pizza," but Americans would probably recognize it as closer to a white calzone.
My aunt would fill her rustic Easter pie with ricotta; diced ham; fresh parsley (always fresh!); strong, grated Italian cheese; and raw eggs for binding. She'd mix up a delicious, slightly sweet dough using just her hands on a big bread board. Then she'd roll our the dough, mound in the filling, fold over the dough, seal it, and bake it. After it was baked and chilled (yes, chilled!), we would cut thin slices and eat it at all hours -- for breakfast, lunch, snacks, as an appetizer before dinner, or a savory dessert after.
Italian Easter Pies are a famous tradition, but the recipe can differ from house to house. In our neighborhood that was quite literal. The family next door made a much more elaborate pie with sausage, whole boiled eggs, and a bread-like yeast crust. Other families make theirs in a pie tin with spinach as an ingredient.
My Aunt Mary Capaccio
I greatly miss my Aunt Mary. She came to the USA from Italy (with my mother), lived with us during my childhood, and (in so many ways) was like a second mother to me and my sister. Aunt Mary passed away almost exactly ten years ago, and I still yearn for all the wonderful foods she made for our family. Although I do try to duplicate her recipes, it's the cooking from her heart that I miss the most.
That's why I am dedicating my post to her today with the tastes of her Easter Pie folded into a palmier. The French palmier (a cookie made of sugar-dusted puff pastry) is actually named after a palm leaf, but the shape reminds me more of a heart and that seemed just perfect for my memory of Aunt Mary and her Easter Pie. I can also testify that a bite of this palmier (after it is baked and chilled) will give you an almost identical taste to what my aunt made every Easter.
Serve as an appetizer or snack; taste can be compared to a quiche.
For a printable, sendable, saveable (pdf) version of this recipe, click here
1 cup ricotta cheese (whole milk) 2 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1/2 cup flat leaf Italian parsley (fresh!), finely chopped
1 sheet of Pepperidge Farm puff pastry (or 10 x 10-inch homemade)
1 egg, lightly beaten
5 thin slices of good quality ham or prosciutto
Step 1: Mix the filling - In a small bowl, mix the ricotta, grated Romano, and finely chopped fresh parsley. (I just use a good handful, which is about 1/2 cup. When you chop it finely, the volume measure goes down to 1/4 cup.) This filling should be very well mixed--be sure to work in all of the grated cheese and parsley. Set aside in the fridge to keep it cold.
Step 2: Prepare the pastry - Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. The paper is mandatory. Not only will it help prevent your palmiers from scorching on your pan's hot spots, it will help you fold the puff pastry when the time comes. Lay the puff pastry out on the parchment paper. Use your favorite recipe or go with the Pepperidge Farm frozen puff pastry sheets. If you've never used these before, see the photo below...
Two folded sheets of puff pastry come in one package. Take out one sheet and allow it to thaw about 30 minutes (or you can cheat and microwave it on low for no more than 10 seconds to thaw it slightly). Now unfold the dough. If there are any cracks, wet your finger and press the dough together to mend it. TIP: Handle the dough as little as possible and keep it cold during the assembly process by returning it to the fridge to re-chill.
Step 3: Brush and layer - Lightly beat the egg and brush it over the entire sheet of puff pastry. Then mound the ricotta cheese mixture onto the egg-washed pastry. Use a rubber spatula or the back of a spoon to smooth the filling into an even layer. Now lay your thin slices of ham (or prosciutto) over the top layer of ricotta and fold.
Step 4: Fold - You want to fold this 10 x 10-inch sheet like a letter, into thirds and then a final time so that the two folded layers are stacked. I like to use the parchment paper to lift and fold, which prevents my hands from warming the puff pastry.
Step 5: Chill and slice - Chill the dough for at least 20 minutes and then cut into 1-inch slices. The chilling is necessary for the best result. If the dough is warm, it will begin to give and bend as you cut it, and you're palmiers will not hold their pretty shapes. Set the slices on their sides, leaving room between each to allow space for expansion while baking.
Step 6 - Bake and cool - Bake 15 to 20 minutes in an oven that is well pre-heated to 400 degrees F. The Easter Pie Palmiers are done when the pastry has puffed and turned golden brown. Remove the pan from the oven and allow the palmiers to cool a bit before carefully transferring to a rack. Allow these savory goodies to cool to room temperature before eating. If you want to experience the true taste of a traditional Italian Easter Pie, then chill these a bit in the fridge, take them out, and...
Eat with joy! ~ Cleo Coyle
New York Times bestselling author of The Coffeehouse Mysteries
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