Pizzagaina & Sweet Rice Pie

If you’re like me, you have a variety of recipes that fall into the labor of love category. Two of mine are pizzagaina, also known as Italian Easter pie, and Sweet Rice Pie.

This stuffed pizza’s roots can be traced to 17th century Naples. After fasting for 40 days from dairy and eggs during the Lenten season, this was the perfect dish to break the fast.

Southern Italian immigrants brought their recipes when coming to the United States. There are lots of variations so it’s easy to add and subtract what you like and remove what you don’t. Pizzagaina remains an Easter staple in many northeastern states.

In the Riverside section of Paterson, NJ, the women, yes, in those days it was pretty much exclusively women who made pizzagaina, gathered in the basement kitchens found in all churches and had production assembly lines.

They also made Easter pie (pastiera), which although found all over Italy, its origins are Neapolitan. This tender pastry pie is filled with fresh ricotta cheese and rice, sweetened with sugar. They were wrapped in clear cellophane and given away as Easter gifts.

I’d love to know what your labor of love dishes are. Wishing you joy in the kitchen,



1 tablespoon active dry yeast
2 ½ cups warm 110°-115° water
5-6 cups unbleached all-purpose flour + more for dusting
1 teaspoon sea salt
3 ½ teaspoons olive oil

¾ lb. fresh mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
½ lb. ham, thinly sliced
½ lb. provolone cheese, thinly sliced
½ lb. hard salami, thinly sliced
½ lb. Swiss cheese, thinly sliced
½ lb. capocollo, thinly sliced
Roasted red peppers, thinly sliced into strips
6 large eggs
½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
⅓ cup flat-leaf parsley, finely minced
Sea salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Egg Wash
1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water

1. In a large bowl, sprinkle yeast over 1 cup of warm water, stir well. Proof 5-10 minutes or until foamy. Add remaining 1 ½ cups of warm water and stir well.
2. In another large bowl, mix 5 cups flour with salt. Add to yeast mixture along with 1 teaspoon oil. Mix with hands, adding more flour if needed, until a soft and no longer sticky dough is formed.
3. Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic. Lightly grease a large bowl with 1 teaspoon oil, add dough, turning to coat. Cover tightly with plastic and rise in a warm place until doubled.
4. Preheat oven to 375° F. Brush a 10- x 3-inch springform pan with 1 ½ teaspoons oil.
5. Punch down dough and knead on floured surface 3-4 minutes. Divide in half.
6. On a floured surface, roll one piece of dough at least 2 inches larger than pan. Fit into pan, stretching up sides so it overhangs the rim.
7. Fill pan with alternating layers of sliced cheeses, meats and peppers.
8. Whisk together eggs, Parmesan cheese, parsley, salt and pepper. Pour evenly over cheeses and meats.
9. Roll second dough piece at least 1 inch larger than pan. Place dough over filling and seal edges by pinching together to close and rolling seam underneath itself.
10. Brush top with egg wash. Bake 35-40 minutes or until crust is nicely browned. Will keep up to one week in refrigerator. Serve at room temperature or slightly warm.

Sweet Rice PieSweet Rice Pie

The rice can also be cooked in 2 cups water instead of milk

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour + more for dusting
1 cup cake flour
1 ½ teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into bits + more for greasing pan
1 large egg, slightly beaten
5-6 tablespoons ice water
2 tablespoons turbinado or raw sugar

1 cup long-grain rice
2 cups whole milk
3-inch piece of vanilla bean, slit lengthwise
1 lb. ricotta cheese, well drained
3 large eggs
¼ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons grated orange zest
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon

Egg Wash
1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water

1. Butter a 10 ½- x 1-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Set aside.
2. To make dough, mix flours, salt and sugar in a food processor or bowl. Add the butter and pulse to blend if using a food processor or use a pastry blender or fork to blend ingredients by hand. Add egg and enough ice water to make a dough that’s soft and not dry. Don’t overmix or the dough will be tough. Gather dough into a ball and wrap tightly in plastic. Chill for 30 minutes.
3. To prepare filling, add rice and milk in a 1-quart saucepan, using a paring knife, scrape seeds from the vanilla bean into the saucepan, cover and bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium-low and continue cooking until all the milk is absorbed, about 10 minutes. Let cool.
4. In a large bowl, beat ricotta cheese, eggs, orange juice, zest and sugar until smooth. Stir in vanilla extract and cinnamon. Fold in cooled rice. Set aside.
5. Preheat oven to 375° F.
6. Divide dough in half. On a floured surface, roll each half into a 14-inch circle. Line the tart shell with one half and trim the edges even with the top sides of the pan.
7. Fill with ricotta and rice mixture. There will be a little left over. This can be baked separately in a small ovenproof dish or small ramekins.
8. Carefully roll the second dough sheet loosely over the rolling pin and unroll over the top of the filled tart. Trim off excess dough, making sure the edges are sealed. Use leftover dough to make a decorative pattern on top of the tart. You can use small cutters in shapes like rabbits, flowers, hearts, stars, etc.
9. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle turbinado or raw sugar evenly over the top.
10. Bake in the middle of the oven 40-50 minutes or until the top is golden brown and a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the center.
11. Cool on a rack, then carefully remove the sides of the pan and place tart on a decorative serving dish. Cut into wedges. Dust with confectioners’ sugar if desired.

Photo credits: Italian Sons & Daughters of America; Emiko Davies

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