I'm at my desk, working. A package arrives. It's from N.Y.C. I don't even need to look at the address, due to the way it's packed, I know it's from Gran Fran. Her typical packing-box style requires a recycled box from Amazon, or some other online retailer, and a piece of 81/2 x 11 printer paper with my name and address written on it in large black Sharpie. The final touch, which is the real reason I know it's a Gran-Fran delivery, is the copious amounts of packing tape she uses. I think she believes someone will tamper with her precious cargo, whether it's books, food or toys. The tape is layered on so thick and tight you can't get into the box without a very heavy duty box cutter. No scissors can make a dent in her packaging.
What is in the box this time is well worth protecting, with as much packing tape as one has available. Gran-Fran has sendt her yearly Easter package complete with bread baskets with Easter eggs nestled inside, chocolates for Iz and little trinkets. Oh, but the best food in the package are the Italian pies.
Gran-Fran's Pizza Rustica and Pizza Grana are like nothing I've ever tasted. And, I can re-create them (see the recipes below), but it is oh-so-special to receive these in the mail every year. It's like a little gift just for me, since Iz does not like either of the pies.
The Pizza Rustica is a savory pie, which most will refer to as a heart-attack-on-a-plate when they hear what's in it, but well worth throwing caution to the wind to experience the salty goodness. It involves not one, not two, but FOUR kinds of meat, three kinds of cheese, ricotta and six eggs. Not good for those of us with high cholesterol (me) or high blood pressure (salt-tastic), but again it only happens once a year, so I make sure to eat light when I know the box is on its way.
The Pizza Grana is a sweeter pie, but not cloyingly sweet. It uses orange flower water, ricotta and barley in a lovely crust. This pie has a much lighter taste than it's cousin, the Pizza Rustica, but it is oh so satisfying.
Okay, back to the present day. Once the package arrives, and I spend hours removing the packing tape, I reach in and smell the goodness. Each pie is wrapped in its own wrapper. Again, in true Gran-Fran fashion, the pies are placed in waxed paper (2 layers, thank you very much) then wrapped in aluminum foil, then snuggled into plastic bags. She then scotch-tapes them closed with a small scrap of white paper identifying which pie is which. Again, the unwrapping begins, and once I have made it to the actual pie, I am in heaven.
To be clear, Gran-Fran is the reigning queen of freezing fresh goods and sending them across country. She once made several hundred cupcakes for a party here in SF, froze them, wrapped them in the above fashion and shipped them out. They got lost in the mail, arrived about a week later, and were still frozen. So, there is no need to fear the freshness factor of her shipped pies, since they are likely to still be slightly frozen, if not very cold, upon arrival.
I am back at my desk, with the box open, the pies unwrapped and a napkin on my lap. Even though they taste better heated up, I don't bother. I just eat them out of the box, Homer Simpson-style right there and then. So good! And, no sharing, either. I can make these pies last for two to three weeks, even though it's usually just a quarter of each pie.
So, a big thank you to Gran Fran for fulfilling my Easter wish of meat, eggs, cheese and deliciousness.
PIZZA RUSTICA (also known as Pizza Chiena) Crust: Preheat oven to 375 degrees
* 4 1/2 cups unbleached flour * 3/4 teaspoon salt * 3 sticks ice-cold unsalted butter, diced * 1/2 to 2/3 cup ice water
1. Combine flour and salt. Use a pastry blender or an electric mixer at low speed to work butter into flour mixture, and form coarse crumbs. 2. Gradually add enough water to form a dough that just sticks together. Wrap dough in waxed paper and refrigerate while preparing filling.
PIZZA RUSTICA FILLING
(All meats and cheeses should be thickly sliced and diced into 1/2 inch cubes.)
* 1/4 pound prosciutto * 1/4 pound Genoa salami * 1/2 pound soppresatta salami * 1/4 pound Sicilian salami * 1/2 pound conventional mozzarella, or scamorza * 1/4 pound fontina cheese * 1/4 pound asiago cheese * 2 cups whole-milk ricotta, drained well * 6 eggs * Freshly ground pepper to taste
* 1 egg yolk, beaten with 1 tablespoon milk
1. In a large bowl, combine all meats and hard cheeses; set aside. In another bowl, beat together ricotta, eggs, and black pepper; set aside. 2. Divide dough in two, with one piece slightly larger than the other. On a lightly floured board, roll out larger piece of dough, and gently fit it into a 9 x 12 (approximately) nonreactive casserole dish; leave an overhang of an inch or two of dough. Roll out second piece of dough to fit over top; set aside. 3. Pour combined meats and cheeses into pastry-lined dish; pour ricotta-egg mixture over the filling. 4. Moisten the edge of the bottom crust with water. Add top crust. Roll edges of top and bottom crust together; flute edges. 5. Brush top crust with egg/milk glaze. Cut a circle in top crust to allow steam to escape. 6. Place casserole on baking sheet. Bake for 75 minutes or until the tip of a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. 7. Place on cooling rack; allow to come to room temperature before slicing. Serve at room temperature or cold. Refrigerate any leftovers.
Pizza Grana Crust 1 1/2 cups flour (Heckers or other all purpose, unbleached) 1 stick ice-old unsalted butter Pinch of salt Ice water 4 tablespoons or as much as you need
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F
1. Mix salt and flour. Cut butter into flour until mixture resembles coarse corn meal. Add enough water to make a rollable dough. Wrap in waxed paper; refrigerate 20 minutes or so.
Filling 1/3 cup pearl barley Pinch of salt Cook barley, according to package directions, until tender. Drain barley well if any liquid remains. Return barley to pan Add: 1/3 cup warm milk ¼ cup sugar Rind of a whole navel orange 2. Simmer mixture over medium heat until milk is absorbed. Allow mixture to cool.
To cooled mixture: Add 1/2 cup sugar 3 cups whole milk ricotta 2 tablespoons orange flower water 1 teaspoon vanilla Grated rind of 1 lemon Pinch of salt 2 eggs Stir mixture together. Assembly: 3. Line a 9 or 10 inch Pyrex or ceramic pie plate with dough. Save 1/4 of dough to cut into strips. Pour filling into pie pan. 4. Cut strips and lay in a lattice pattern over the filling. 5. Place filled pie pan on a rimmed cookie sheet. 6. Bake for 15 minutes. Reduce oven heat to 375. Cook 30 to 40 minutes or until filling is puffed and golden brown. Cool pie on rack. Refrigerate for storage when cool or serve as soon as cooled.