Chef de Cuisine Frederick Carl (Fritz) Blank Jr
Easter, April 2010
For the first time in about almost 16 years, this spring I have not made “Easter Pitz” (as my Sicilian mentor “Old Man Tony Amato” back in the late-1950’s/early-1960’s called these wonderful seasonal Italian culinary hallmarks). The recipe I use today (when I do make them) is the same one that he taught me way back then. I have never forgotten his instructions and techniques, and it stands as one of the very best renditions I’ve ever sampled (of course I am prejudiced).
Mr. Amato and his wife, Carmella, operated a Pizza/Spaghetti restaurant on East Marlton Pike near Rt 130 in Pennsauken NJ when I was just barely a teenager. I worked next door to “Amato’s” in a drug store as a part time “Soda Jerk” and Tony soon saw in me an inborn spark regarding my interest and ability to cook… so on Saturday evenings and all day and night on Sundays he let me ‘help’ “cook-a inna da kitsch”. He paid me whatever he happened to find in his pocket at the end of the day — usually a $5 or rarely $10 bill. In retrospect, even at the early age of 12 through 16, I learned much about the madness of running a restaurant… and although the venue was basically considered a “Pizza Joint” Mrs. Amato was a consummate Italian Home cook and was raised on a peach farm in Hammonton, NJ. What wonders came from her kitchen. Although these were reserved for the family and rarely appeared on the restaurant’s menu, these recipes (culinary methodologies) remain embedded and re-callable in my memory. I suspect I should restore them while my memory is still intact, record them, and maybe even publish them, since I am now retired here in sunny funny Thailand – in between beach-bumming, that is.
– Fritz Blank
Fritz was so many things: a scientist, an intellectual, a great chef, a wonderful mentor to so many, and a man with a great sense of humor. He regularly visited us at Fante’s and, between his funny offbeat jokes, he would talk about different dishes he was going to try and the cooking implements he “might need”. I think he had more gadgets and “always-shiny” copper pots than we had in the store, but he never tired of expanding his collection and experimenting with new techniques and dishes.
Chef Fritz’s Torta Pasqualina was the perfect blend of delicious, more so than any other we tasted, and we are happy that he shared his recipe with us, so we can share it with you.
– Torta Pasqualina –
Which is an elaborate Easter variation of Italian “Peasant’s Pie” sometimes known as “Pizza Rustica”.
A modern and liberal translation of the Italian word pizza is “pie”. The most familiar form of pizza is, of course, “Neopolitan Marguerit” which is flat, single-crusted, prepared from yeast bread dough and dressed with tomatoes, cheese, and fresh basil leaves. It is perhaps surprising to learn that there are a great variety of Italian pies – both single and double crusted. Single crusted renditions, including Focaccia, probably arose in order to use up small amounts of left-over bread dough.
Most double crusts are associated with Easter or other holidays. Specific fillings and toppings vary from town to town and family to family.
For sweet pies, rice, ricotta cheese, and cooked macaroni are used along with candied fruits, pistachio and pine nuts. Chocolate too is sometimes found as an embellishment.
On the other hand, for various unsweetened renditions of “Torta or Pizza Rustica” the stuffing can be quite varied depending on what is at hand. for example: 1 lb sauteed spinach, 9 oz filletto del pomma d’oro, 6 oz cooked ham beaten eggs and milk. Artichoke bottoms are often used.
These savory renditions are usually layered or mixed with several kinds of cheeses and cured pork charcuterie products, such as salamis, hams, and dried sausages – with the entire structure being held together with a custard of beaten eggs.
The dough I use for my rendition of “Easter Pizza” is a standard pâte brisée, bound with a mixture of eggs and egg yolks rather than water.
The following recipe makes four 8-inch diameter x 2-1/2-inch deep pies.
I. For the dough:
Note : Dough should be prepared at least one day in advance – a 24 hour rest is recommended.
3 lbs all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons salt
1-1/2 lbs ice cold butter cut into one-inch cubes
9 whole eggs (USDA grade “large”)
8 egg yolks
1. Mix the flour and salt together in a large bowl (Hobart 20 quart mixer).
2. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and yolks together.
3. Add the butter cubes to the flour and using your hands, crush together until the butter is incorporated and is the size of uncooked oatmeal.
4. Add the beaten eggs and yolks and quickly toss into the dry mixture. Knead just until a dough ball is formed. Divide the dough into four equal brick-shaped pieces; wrap in plastic film and refrigerate overnight.
II. For the filling:
24 whole eggs – USDA grade “large”
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon freshly cracked black peppercorns
1/4 lb aged provolone cheese cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 lb formaggio de tabola de Roma cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 lb mozzarella cheese cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3/4 cup grated Locatelli picorino sheep’s milk cheese
1 cup shredded Gruyère or other Swiss-type cheese such as Jarlsberg
1/4 lb cooked country ham (Groff’s® preferred) cut into 3/4-inch x 1/2-inch batons
1/4 lb Coutigeeno salami cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 lb dried Sicilian fennel scented sausage cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1/4 lb Genoa salami cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1/4 lb Suppressata salami cut into 1/2-inch x 1/4-inch sticks
2 oz pepperoni ground coarsely
III. Rich egg wash:
1 whole egg
2 egg yolks
1 ounce sour cream
IV. Final Assembly and baking:
8-inch diameter x 2.5-inch deep round Baking-pans
1. Preheat oven to 350° F
2. Remove dough from the refrigerator and rest at room temperature until malleable. Roll dough into two 12-inch rounds (bottoms + sides) and two 9-inch rounds (lids).
3. Carefully fit the 12-inch pastry rounds into a 8-inch diameter by 2-1/2-inch deep springform cake pan.
4. Prepare the rich egg wash (IV. above) and set aside.
5. Beat the 24 eggs, heavy cream and, salt and cracked black pepper together Add and mix the prepared assorted cheeses, charcuterie.
6. Divide the custard mixture evenly into the two lined cake pans. Place the 9-inch pastry lid over the top of the pie and pinch the side and top edges together. Cut vents into the top, and use scraps of dough to decorate.
7. Place the pans onto a cookie sheet or bun pan and bake at 350°F for 1-1/2 hours. Brush the top with egg wash and bake for an additional 15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool to room temperature before serving.
About Chef Frederick Carl (Fritz) Blank Jr
More Traditional Recipes:
Pizza Rustica alla Carmella Ciervo
By Pat DeCarlo
2 cups flour
1-1/2 tbsp shortenng
1 tsp cold water
1. Sift flour in a mound or pastry board, make a well in the center, and add eggs, shortening and water.
2. With fingers of one hand, mix into a ball, and add more water if too dry.
3. Divide the dough in half, pat into a ball, then roll out thin on a lightly floured board.
4. Place in a shallow 1-1/2″ straight-sided 10″ cake pan or deep pie plate.
5. Roll out dough for the top, and set aside.
1/2 lb pepperoni, cubed
1/2 lb ham, cubed
1 lb ricotta cheese
1/2 lb mozzarella cheese
3 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup Romano cheese
Black pepper to taste
6. Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl.
7. Pour the mixture into the prepared pie crust.
8. Place the reserved dough on top, crimp the edges, and cut off excess.
9. Cut four air holes in the top.
1 tbsp olive oil
1 egg yolk, beaten
10. To make the crust shiny, mix the oil and egg, and brush the top of the pie.
11. Bake at 375°F for one hour.
by Yole DeSantis, Campania Region
1-1/2 cups flour
1/8 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick butter or lard
3 egg yolks, beaten
3 to 5 tbsp ice water
1-1/4 lbs ricotta cheese
4 whole eggs
6 oz mozzarella cheese
1/4 lb prosciutto, chopped
1-1/2 tbsp Romano cheese
1/2 tsp coarse pepper
1. Mix flour, sugar, salt, and cut in lard until you get coarse crumbs.
2. With a fork, stir in egg yolks and 3 tbsp water.
3. Form a ball and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
4. Drain the ricotta.
5. Beat the whole eggs, then beat in the ricotta and stir in the remaining ingredients.
6. Cut off 1/3 of the dough ball and reserve for the topping.
7. Roll out the remaining 2/3 of dough into a 12″ circle, and put in a pie plate.
8. Spoon in the ricotta filling.
9. Roll out the reserved dough into a 10″ circle, place over the pie, and pinch together.
10. Bake at 350°F for 1 hour, until top is lightly browned.
This is a treasured family recipe from the region of Campania. The custom of combining sweet and savory was carried through the Renaissance and it has survived to this day.
From La Grande Tradizione Della Cucina Italiana
Compiled by the Culinary Arts Committee of the Columbus ’92 Commission
The following is translated from www.gingerandtomato.com
The real Torta Pasqualina, the story and the recipe
By Camilla Salaorni – 3 March 2008
We continue our review of Easter cakes with this cake with very ancient origins (attested to the fifteenth century), it is a famous Genoese specialty, named Pasqualina because it was used (and is still used) to prepare and eat especially at Easter.
This pie is also prepared with artichokes, but the traditional Torta Pasqualina is made only with beets, as in the Easter period the artichokes were not cheap, while the humble beets in the fields were in full bud and everyone could afford to buy in quantities. Tradition has it that the pasta sheets that make up the Pasqualina cake are exactly 33, in memory of the years of Jesus, but for practical purposes one can well be satisfied with less. Also: as often occurs in the typical dishes of ancient origin, the ingredients of the Torta Pasqualina, eggs and cheese, were prized foods that were eaten only on special occasions.
In Liguria, in place of ricotta they use prescinseua, a sort of very light milk curds, available in some Italian delis.
The secret of the success of the recipe that I present is in the preparation of the dough, which must be made without eggs and must be rolled really thin. The Torta Pasqualina is good both hot and cold. Now let’s see now how to prepare it!
For the dough:
flour 200 gr. (7 oz. by weight)
oil, 1 tablespoon
For the filling:
ricotta, 300 gr. (10.5 oz. by weight)
flour, 2 tablespoons
cream, 1/2 cup
beets, 2 bunches
grated cheese, 2 tablespoons
salt and pepper
Mix the flour with a little of water, salt and a spoonful of oil. Knead the dough until it is very soft; divide it into four pieces, cover with a damp cloth and let stand for about ten minutes.
For the filling, boil the leaves of beets, after being cut into strips, and drain them.
Drain the ricotta, add to it the cream and a few tablespoons of flour, and do not forget a pinch of salt; add this mixture to the beets, season with a little marjoram, and adjust for salt.
Return the dough and roll the first two layers, which have to be paper thin. With one sheet, line the bottom and walls of a not too high baking dish greased with oil, and also oil the dough surface, then gently place the second unoiled sheet, also paper thin, over the first.
Put over the pasta the mixture of chard-ricotta, spreading it evenly. Form three small depressions, sized for the eggs. Apply some small pads of butter, break an egg into each depression, sprinkle some grated cheese, very little pepper, and a pinch of salt.
Very thinly roll the other two layers, which will be used to cover the Torta. Place the first over the mixture, lightly grease it with oil, and blow between the two sheets before closing the layers. Finally, with the dough that spills over the edge, form a cord all around, inside the pan. Grease the surface with a little oil, then prick it.
Bake in a pre-heated oven and leave to cook over medium heat (350°F/180°C) for an hour.