2019 A to Z: H… Ham Pie
Italian Famiglia Foods and Memories
I’m back for “Year 4” of the A to Z… April Challenge!
My first year of this challenge had me racking my brain for a writing topic… especially as I didn’t quite understand the process. But finally I came up with 2016: Southern Foods and Memories. They said write what you know… and being a girl born in the South… well this was what I knew. 2017: Conversations with Mama was a somewhat easy one for me as I’d journaled our conversations for years so I researched some of my favorite topics to write on. 2018: All About Nancy Drew has been my favorite topic so far, and I don’t know if I’ll ever come up with another to equal it. It literally had me researching every day for over six months… researching, reading and perfecting every post. I was totally consumed with Nancy Drew for months… and still am! I didn’t want to “not” participate this year, but I was drawing a blank. Finally, mid February, I came up with writing on my husband’s Italian family foods and memories. I did my Southern foods the first year, so it was time to finally give his family their due! I’m also participating in the yearly 52 Ancestors 52 Stories this year… I am really feeling over-extended this month. April is a tough month for me, as we usually are traveling to my mother’s and my son in Florida… but somehow I’ll manage!
I think I can safely say that before marrying into an Italian family, I had never eaten any of the foods I’m blogging on this month… such an underprivileged child I was! Growing up in the South where we ate fried chicken, okra, black-eyed peas, butter beans, mashed potatoes, creamed style corn and southern biscuits! Oh My…!
Easter Ham Pie (Pizzagaina)
My first Easter in my new Italian family was very strange to me…so many unusual foods with even stranger names. As I watched my mother in law prepare the pies… well, I can’t even remember what I was thinking, but every time I was asked to try, my answer was always “No Thank You.” I just couldn’t wrap my head around a pie made with ham… but what was I thinking… it’s really no more than a quiche!
Ham Pie today, is one of my favorites… and as Easter is on the 21st this year… this post is fitting in at just the right time!
Like clockwork… every Easter Grandma Minnie would be called to ask how many eggs, or how much flour do I need for the crust. My mother in law had no written recipe for this… and my question always to her was, “why don’t you write it down so you don’t have to call all the time… what happens when she isn’t here to call.” That was the beginning of me taking upon the task of writing a recipe for the Ham Pie and the pepper crust that must be used. I never thought of using pepper in a crust… and seems really strange, but believe me… it just doesn’t have the right taste without it!
Grandma Minnie had “no” written recipes… they were all in her head… and now it was my job to set them to paper. No more calling every Easter! Our grandmothers had very few, if any recipes written down… they just cooked! My own grandmother had no recipes… my mother told me. They knew how to cook from the feel and taste!
I knew that if I was going to bake Ham Pie, I needed to create a recipe… and it was those recipes I created that actually pushed me write two family cookbooks for the family.
On the day Grandma Minnie was going to make her pies… I sat myself across from her and watched… and measured her soup dishes that she scooped the flour with. I couldn’t measure everything, but after making it a few times myself, I devised the ingredient amounts. I believe she could make this pie blindfolded… as she’s made it for so many years. I wish I’d kept my first scribbled notes on that day… it would be funny to look back and read all I wrote.
As I mentioned, a pepper crust always goes hand in hand with the Ham Pie. Some people don’t even use a crust… and I have to admit, that if I happen to have extra mixture, I often bake it alone in a pie dish; nothing gets thrown out!
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. You can cut this down if you want to make a smaller dish… the ingredients are very forgiving.
- 5 cups chopped ham (I use slightly heaping cups – can always add more)
- 1 1/2 cups Basket Cheese – cubed ( 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)
When Grandma Minnie taught me how to make this pie – she stressed to always use an “odd” amount of eggs. I’ve never dared to use anything other than an odd amount… as I can still hear her in the back of my head saying, “ohhhh”, you must use an odd amount!” I think it’s an Italian “bad luck” curse… and I wasn’t going to test it out!
The filling is easy – and even easier if your sous chef has pre-cut the ham for you. Hubby cuts each piece exactly the same size!
While hubby cuts… Penelope kept a watchful eye on my ham!
You won’t have a bowl large enough to hold everything… well at least I don’t, so I always grab one of my 5-quart pots to mix the ingredients in. It’s so much easier to have a deep pan, especially when whisking eggs. After counting out all my “odd” amount of eggs, I crack them first in a separate bowl… unless you want to try and fish out an eggshell… or worse… miss a shell. Nothing worse than biting into a piece of eggshell!
Whisk the eggs very well… and save all the eggshells for your garden. Add pepper and parmesan cheese, stirring all together with wooden spoon. Last, fold in the ham and basket cheese… if you think it needs more, add a little at a time… stir around and if you’re happy with it… you are done with the mixture. It will look similar to a quiche. If you like pepper and think it needs more, this is your last chance!
Now the back-breaking part…. making and rolling out the crust!
Once my ham mixture is put together, it waits in the fridge… better for it to wait, than the crust. After rolling out my crust, it needs to be placed quickly in a waiting dish that has been well-greased with Crisco. It will now wait for you to quickly roll out the top crust.
My metal scooper/scraper is the best tool for pie rolling… if my dough sticks as I roll out, I use the scraper (floured) to help nudge it loose; it also helps to clean off the table when through.
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 (well greased with Crisco)
Over the years, I have come up with different ways I cook – one new thing when making my crust is I use a plastic tablecloth to work on. If I make all my crusts in one day – all I do when I’m done is roll up 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!
To make the dough: 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 – 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 feel the texture. Check your dough as your work – don’t forget to add the rest of the water either – do you need or want more pepper – now is the time; remember it’s all to your taste! I like just enough, but not overpowering.
Don’t overdo adding extra flour… if your dough is too stiff… you will have a heck of a time rolling it out… believe me!
I enjoy the feel of the dough and after you’ve made it a few times, you will know the smooth, somewhat soft feel of it. It shouldn’t feel sticky, but soft and tender is good. Too much flour will made a tough, stiffer dough, and you will pay dearly with your back in rolling it out.
When rolling out the dough, flour your rolling pin well and keep well floured; it helps to not stick and your dough to not rip.
Separate your dough into two parts; one smaller ball for the top crust, about one-third. 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… you don’t want the dough too thick, so roll it thin… but not super thin. After I’ve rolled it out, I back roll the dough up on my rolling pin (very lightly), and while the dough is wrapped around lightly on my rolling pin… I gently, and quickly, lay it inside my “greased” baking dish. (Always grease your dishes before rolling) It’s good to have a buddy in the kitchen when doing this… just in case you’ve forgotten to bring your baking dish close to you, and it’s greased… you don’t want to lay your rolling pin “down” with the dough wrapped gently around it… you need to move quickly so it doesn’t stick together.
Pour the “ham pie” mixture into the bottom crust before rolling out the top crust – you’re almost done. Roll out your top crust in the same way as you did for the bottom… rolling it up on your rolling pin also.
After your top crust is on, I cut off some of the crust all around if too long… just leaving about two inches hanging over the edge of dish. I then fold those two crusts together and tuck under… alongside the inside edge. I pinch the side sticking up together like any other crust you make. There is no right or wrong – it’s your decision! Make a few slits in top crust for steam to escape while baking.
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! Some egg will run up and crack the crust on top… it just happens.
After removing pan from oven, let sit for about 20 minutes. I prepare my large cutting board with two large layers of tin foil with paper towels on top… why… because you need to place that on top of your pie and flip onto it. If you don’t remove it from pan, the bottom crust becomes soggy. I then take another large baking pan and prepare the same way…. as once it cools again… you need to flip over until the pie has cooled down. I flip it a few more times in the cooling down process.
My earliest “ham pie” helper… can you tell this was before digital cameras… no do-overs when the picture came out blurry… but I’ll still take it. I sadly have very few photos of my children helping in the kitchen… as I often shooed them out! I’ve never been able to cook with another helper in the kitchen. If I wasn’t alone, I forgot items and the recipe never came out right. I wish now I had taken more time with those helpers… I would have loved to have had those photos instead of the recipe turning out right!
Hope you’ve enjoyed my family recipe!
Feel free to comment any questions you might have… be happy to help! Love to hear about your “ham pie” cooking.
Continue reading more of the A to Z… Cooking Famiglia Italian Foods and Memories
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