How to Make Pizza Chiena: The Original Pizzagaina Italian Easter Pie Recipe
Pizza Chiena, the original Italian ancestor of the American dish “pizzagaina” or “pizzagain,” is a classic savory Easter pie that originated in Campania. This dish was traditionally made with a bread crust filled with cured meats, cheese, and eggs, making it a hearty and flavorful treat to celebrate the end of Lent.
It was a simple and frugal dish but, like so many “poor” recipes from Italy, it is astoundingly delicious. In this article, we’ll briefly explore the history of Pizza Chiena, the differences between it and pizzagaina, and share an authentic recipe so that you can make this delicious Easter pie at home.
The History of Pizza Chiena
Pizza Chiena, which is part of a broader category known as “pizza rustica” or rustic pizza, is a traditional Italian dish that originated in Avellino, Campania. The name means “stuffed pizza" in Neapolitan dialect. When Italian immigrants came to the United States, the pronunciation became blurred until the dish came to be called “pizzagaina.”
Pizza Chiena was typically eaten on the Saturday after Good Friday (Easter Vigil) to celebrate the end of Lent. The dish was originally created as a way to use up leftover ingredients after the fasting period of Lent. As a result, it was traditionally filled with whatever ingredients were on hand during the Easter season, including cured meats, cheese, and plenty of eggs.
Pizza Chiena vs. Pizzagaina
While the original Pizza Chiena and the modern pizzagaina share many similarities, there are several key differences between the two dishes.
Firstly, Pizza Chiena traditionally does not have a flaky pie crust, while Pizzagaina does. The crust of Pizza Chiena is made with a simple bread dough that includes lard, which makes it firmer and less likely to absorb too much liquid from the filling. Pizzagaina, on the other hand, is typically made with a pie crust that is similar to a quiche or a savory tart.
Another difference between the two dishes is the type of cheese used in the filling. Pizza Chiena typically includes a selection of firm cheeses, while Pizzagaina often includes ricotta as well.
What Can I Put Inside a Pizza Chiena?
Pizza Chiena was always intended to be a leftover “fridge cleaner,” so you can generally include whatever kinds of cured meats and cheeses you have on hand or prefer. Classic filling ingredients include salame, mortadella, prosciutto crudo, prosciutto cotto (ham), capicollo, cured pancetta, provolone, primo sale, smoked scamorza, Parmigiano Reggiano and pecorino romano.
The only real “rule” you should stick to is to avoid watery cheeses as they will destroy the pie. This is a time to stay away from fresh mozzarella!
Watch the Pasta Grammar video where we make Pizza Chiena here:
PIZZA CHIENA RECIPE
Makes: One 9-inch pie
Cook Time: 4-5 hours, largely unattended. Best made the day before serving.
For this recipe, you will need:
4 1/8 cup (500g) bread flour (even better if you can find a high-protein flour)
1 3/4 tsp (7g) yeast
5 tbsp (70g) lard
1 1/2 tbsp (20g) olive oil, plus extra for greasing the pan
~ 3/4 cup (200ml) water, adjusted as needed
2 tsp (10g) salt, plus a pinch extra for the eggs
~ 9 oz. (250g) mixed cured meat, chopped
~ 13 oz. (365g) mixed firm cheeses, chopped
8 large eggs
Fresh black pepper
~ 5 oz. (150g) grated Parmigiano Reggiano and/or Pecorino Romano cheese, or to taste
Semolina flour for dusting (optional, you can substitute bread flour if necessary)
9-inch springform pan, or similar (you should have enough dough to go a little larger)
Paring knife or kitchen shears
Mix the flour and yeast in a large mixing bowl. By hand, mix in the lard and olive oil until both are relatively evenly distributed into the flour. Add half of the water, and continue to mix until a rough, broken dough begins to form, then mix in the salt.
Continue to add a little bit of water at a time until a firm dough solidifies. Depending on the conditions, you may need more or less water than what we’ve listed, so adjust as necessary. Transfer the dough to a clean work surface and knead for 10-15 minutes. If it sticks, dust it with more flour as necessary.
Form the dough into a ball, cover it with the mixing bowl, and let it rest for 10-15 minutes so that the gluten can relax. Knead the dough just a little bit more—it should be much smoother now. Place the dough ball back into the mixing bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let it rise at room temperature for 2-3 hours, or until it doubles in size.
When the dough is almost ready, preheat an oven to 370 degrees F (190 C).
In a large bowl, mix together the chopped meat and chopped cheeses together. Separately, whisk the eggs with a pinch of salt and black pepper. Pour the eggs into the meat/cheese and mix all together with a spatula.
Next, add enough grated cheese to absorb and thicken the excess liquid from the eggs. You may need more or less than the amount listed above, so feel free to adjust. The final mixture should be quite thick and not too liquid.
Cut 1/3 of the finished dough off and set aside for later. Dust a work surface with semolina flour and roll the remainder out into a big circle with a rolling pin. If the dough sticks, dust it with flour as necessary. The dough sheet should be large enough to drape into a 9-inch springform pan with plenty of overhang. Do so, and gently press the dough into the pan to fill all the corners and cover the sides. With a fork, poke plenty of holes into the bottom.
Fill the pie with the meat, cheese and egg mixture. See some egg residue left in the bowl? Don’t throw it away! And don’t worry if the filling doesn’t completely fill the pan up to the rim. Use a spatula to evenly distribute the mix so that the top is flat.
Roll the 1/3 portion of the dough you set aside until it is large enough to cover the top. Drape it over the pie, and trim the edges so they line up with the rim of the pan. Likewise, trim the edges of the bottom crust so that they just slightly overhang. Roll the bottom crust edges inward to seal the top shut. If you like, you can press a fork into the crust around the rim to further close the pie.
Poke a few holes with your fork into the top of the pie. Now, remember the egg left over in your bowl? Use your hand to evenly spread that over the entire surface of the pie. This will help create a beautiful, golden crust.
Bake the pie for 50-60 minutes on the bottom rack of the oven, or until the crust is golden brown. Let the pie cool completely before removing the springform mold.
Pizza chiena is best served cold the following day. Traditionally it was kept for several days at room temperature, but feel free to refrigerate if that makes you more comfortable.
You might be interested in checking out our Torta Pasqualina recipe, another savory Easter pie. Looking for something sweet? In our opinion, Easter isn't Easter without a good Pastiera!