Easter Ham Pie (Pizzagaina)
Ham pie, “Pizzagaina“, is one of my favorite Easter holiday pies, but for several years I never even tasted it. When I married into an Italian family – I became acquainted with many new foods and desserts – but they weren’t favorites right off the bat! It took a few years before I began even tasting this ham pie – my taste buds were changing. I must say though – I still get cravings for “my” pies!
I still remember my first Easter in an “Italian” family, surrounded by pies with unfamiliar names and ingredients… like rice, wheat, and ham. My first response was, “no thank you” – it took awhile for my taste buds to develop for them, and now I can’t imagine an Easter without them.
Before I wrote down actual recipes for the Easter pies – there were none! Every holiday my husband’s Grandma Minnie was called, usually by her daughters, to ask about ingredients and amounts. Grandma had no written recipes – they were all in her head! People from that generation never had written recipes, my mother laughs and tells me, “my mother probably never even knew what the name recipe meant, she just knew what ingredients went in and what it should look like or feel.”
Once I began baking these pies, I knew I needed to create a recipe; it was those recipes that led to me eventually creating two family cookbooks. I soon planted myself across from Grandma Minnie at her kitchen table – watching and measuring the ingredients. She cooked like all the older cooks, by eyesight and the feel to the hands. I happily left with scribbled notes to create a recipe.
The crust for the ham pie is a peppery crust – that was really strange to me in the beginning; now I wouldn’t want it any other way. The amount of pepper used in the crust is not written in stone – it’s to your taste. I like enough, but not overpowering.
Before starting – gather all utensils needed and recipes!
23-25 large eggs beaten (I always use an odd amount of eggs – why – because Grandma Minnie told me too!) This is for a 15 x 10 baking dish.
- 5 cups chopped ham (I use slightly heaping cups – can always add more)
- 1 1/2 cups Basket Cheese – cubed (a fresh Italian cheese found at Easter)
- 2 teaspoons black pepper (you will have to judge – you might want more or less)
- 1 1/2 cups Parmesan Cheese (we use the fresh grated now, but the can is ok)
The very first time Grandma Minnie began teaching me how to make this pie – she stressed to always use an “odd” amount of eggs. I have never dared to use anything other than odd amounts – I always hear her in the back of my head saying, “ohhhh”, you must use an odd amount! I think it’s an Italian “good luck” curse!
The filling is easy – and even easier if your sous chef has pre-cut the ham for you. Mine cuts each piece exactly the same size!
My “sous chef” cutting the ham with his supervisor keeping a close eye on that ham!
I use my 5-quart cooking pot to mix the ingredients in this pie. The eggs are counted, cracked and whisked together first. I usually crack the eggs into another dish – just to ensure I don’t have any missing eggshells; nothing worse than crunching on a little piece of eggshell! Whisk the eggs well, then add black pepper and Parmesan cheese – stir all together. Add the ham and basket cheese last – stir slowly with a wooden spoon – and you are done!. Check how it’s looking with pepper – if it needs more, add a little at a time, stir around and recheck. There have been times when I over-did it!
I prepare my ham mixture first and refrigerate – you don’t want your crust sitting out on the table waiting for you! Once the crust is rolled out, you want to quickly place it in the pan and pour in your ham mix; set aside while you roll the top crust.
On to the back-breaking part…. making and rolling out the crust!
Ham Pie Crust
- 3 cups all-purpose flour – slightly heaping
- 1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
- 4 eggs – large
- 3 tablespoons Crisco (heaping – I use an actual tablespoon)
- 1/4 water (cold)
- 2 tsp pepper (judge amount of pepper you want; don’t add all at once; remember you can always add, but you can’t subtract!
- 15 x 10 glass baking dish (For my crust and ham mix)
Over the years, I have come up with different ways I cook – one new thing I do when making crust is….I use a plastic tablecloth to work on. If I make all my crusts in one day – when I’m done, I roll up the crust with all the extra flour and throw it out. It makes for an easy cleanup! I don’t know about you, but by that time, my back is breaking from leaning over the rolling pin – Viola – my kitchen table is clean! And it always helps to have a sous chef in the kitchen – and that’s my husband!
Sprinkle the center of your table (rolling area) lightly with flour. In the middle, add the 3 cups of flour and baking powder together in one pile – can add your pepper here also. With a spoon, slightly stir those two together, then form a well for eggs and liquids. In the well I add eggs, Crisco and half of the water and begin lightly mixing together with a fork, mashing the Crisco down into the flour and eggs. Once I’ve mixed it lightly – it’s then time to get your hands in the dough – you need to be able to feel the texture of it. Check your dough as your working – don’t forget to add the rest of the water either – do you need or want more pepper – as now is the time; remember it’s all to your taste! I like just enough, but not overpowering.
I do love the feel of the dough in my hands as I incorporate it together. And if you get it just right, your dough will have a smooth soft feel – it shouldn’t be sticky – but soft and tender is good. If you add too much flour, you will end up with a tough, stiffer dough – and you will have a hard time rolling it out. If all goes well, and you have a soft, tender dough, and you have enough flour on the table when you roll it out – it will roll out smoothly and roll up on your rolling pin at the end – No Sticking!
Separate your dough into two parts; one smaller ball for the top crust. Wrap the smaller ball in saran wrap and set aside. Clean off the older flour from mixing the dough and re-flour the table generously! With floured rolling pin, roll dough out to match the size dish you are baking in. After I have the dough rolled out, I roll the dough up on my rolling pin and lay inside my “greased” baking dish. (Always grease your dishes before rolling)
Add “ham pie” mixture into crust – you’re almost done. Roll out a top crust, rolling it the same way as you did for the bottom. Once the top crust is on, I pinch off some of the crust all around, just leaving about two inches hanging over the edge of dish. I then fold those two crusts together and tuck under – afterward I pinch them together like any other crust you make. There is no right or wrong – it’s your decision!
Ready for the oven!
Preheat Oven 400 – bake 10 minutes then lower to 325 for about 1 hour or more. You will know when it’s done, the top will be lightly brown and usually, it will pull away at the side of the pan. It helps to use your stove timer – if you can remember!
In our house – the last few slices are always fought over!
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