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Italy’s best traditional regional pies and stuffed breads

Italy’s best traditional regional pies and stuffed breads

by Luciana Squadrilli 17 April 2018

Luciana Squadrilli sheds light on Italy’s love affair with the pie, ranging from the pumpkin-topped farinata of Liguria in the north to the stuffed doughs of Puglia in the south.

You might think the closest thing Italy gets to a pie is pizza, but in fact there are a whole host of different regional varieties. The glorious ensemble of crust (which can be bread, pastry or dough) with sauce and cheese (and any other possible combination of ingredients) comes in many different guises. Whilst the word ‘pie’ tends to refer to a savoury filling encased in pastry in places like the UK, in Italy it also covers many of the country’s stuffed or topped breads.

In Italy you’ll find many other delicious foods under the broad classification of pizza rustica – sometimes also called torta rustica – which includes almost every kind of dough-based recipe, including savoury pies. Different kinds of pastry or dough are often stuffed or topped with flavourful vegetables or cheeses, yet there is a huge array of possible fillings and ingredients ranging from rice to fish. Often created as a way to make humble ingredients as filling as possible, today these pies are real gastronomic treats. Usually eaten as part of a rich antipasti platter on special occasions and festivities, savoury pies are also favourites for a quick lunch or substantial snack. Here are some of the country’s most famous and beloved.

Pissalandrea (Imperia, Liguria)

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A savoury pie from the northern region of Liguriawhich borders France, where a similar recipe is called pissaladière. In this case, the leavened and thick dough – just like a traditional focaccia – is topped with a tasty tomato and onion sauce, salted anchovies, oregano and the exquisite local back olives.

Torta pasqualina (Genoa, Liguria)

A rich Easter treat, this lavish pie is filled with ricotta cheese (or priscinseua, the local fresh cheese), eggs and greens – usually chard, spinach and sometimes artichokes and fresh peas –flavoured with fresh marjoram leaves.It’s then covered with a second layer of unleavened dough and baked. The result is a tall, crumbly and filling pie, which is a staple for the traditional Easter Monday picnic.

Torta di riso (Genoa, Liguria)

What about filling the crust with more carbs? This is not something unusual in Italy, and rice-stuffed pies are common in both the North and South. The Ligurian version includes a thin, unleavened crust filled with a mix of rice, beaten eggs, grated cheese, extra virgin olive oil, nutmeg and prescinseua cheese, although some other versions have no crust at all and are more like a cake.

Erbazzone (Reggio Emilia, Emilia-Romagna)

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Also called scarpazzone in local dialect, the name refers to the herbs and wild greens (usually chards growing from June to October) that are foraged in local fields. Boiled and mixed with eggs, shallots, onions, garlic and a generous amount of grated Parmigiano Reggiano, the greens fill a double layer of thin crust made of flour, water and butter, which is then topped with bacon or lard. A version found in more mountainous areas also includes rice in the filling, while other variations include ricotta.

Tiella di Gaeta (Gaeta, Lazio)

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Two round layers of soft, tasty crust baked in a round copper tray contain various kinds of filling – usually fish such as octopus, sardines, anchovies, salt cod but sometimes onions and greens. This speciality is found in several southern Italian regions (particularly Puglia), yet in Gaeta – the historic harbour town not far from Rome, also famous for its olives – tiella is a real symbol of local gastronomy and it’s also protected by a Denominazione Comunale d’Origine (DCO) designation.

Farinata di zucca (Genoa, Liguria)

Only eaten and prepared in some neighbourhoods of Genoa, Liguria’s main city (Sestri Ponente, Pegli, Pra’ and Voltri to be exact), this peculiar pie is made of a thin crust of wheat and corn flour topped with a mixture of raw grated pumpkin, polenta, cheese, extra virgin olive oil and oregano. Light and tasty, it’s still sold in local shops called fainotti. Despite the name, it has nothing to do with farinata, the traditional unleavened pancake of chickpeas flour also common in Liguria and Tuscany.

Pizza di scarola (Naples, Campania)

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Before becoming famous for pasta and pizza, Neapolitans were called ‘mangiafoglie’ (leaf-eaters) due to their love for cheap and humble vegetables and leafy greens that they were able to transform into delicious recipes. Usually eaten around Christmas, pizza di scarole (endive pie) is amongst the most famous. The winter leaves are sautéed with extra virgin olive oil, garlic, black olives, salted anchovies and capers, sometimes with pine nuts and sultanas. The tasty filling is surrounded by two layers of dough, which can be either crumbly puff pastry or a soft bready dough made of flour, water and yeast.

Casatiello (Naples, Campania)

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Another rich Easter recipe, casatiello (also called tortano in the version without the whole eggs) is an opulent round pie with a pastry made from flour, water, salt, yeast, pepper and lard. Chunks of cheese and salami can be added to the dough while kneading or used to fill the rolled dough. Whole boiled eggs still in their shell are then placed on top before baking to represent abundance and prosperity.

Scarcedda (Tramutola, Basilicata)

In Puglia scarcedda is a sweet Easter cake, but in nearby Basilicata it’s a traditional savoury pie baked on the same occasion. The filling is made up of ricotta made from sheep or cow milk, boiled eggs and the intense local sausages preserved in lard. It’s then encased in a double-layered rich and thick dough made with flour, eggs, butter and sugar.

Calzone di cipolla (Bari, Puglia)

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Calzone is a stuffed, crescent-shaped baked pizza, which is basically made by folding and sealing a round pizza-dough. The fillings can vary, yet in this awesome Puglian version it’s made of sponsali (a local, elongated variety of onion similar to leeks) stewed with peeled tomatoes, capers, olives and salted anchovies. Traditionally a Christmas treat, it is now baked year-round.

Focaccia barese (Bari, Puglia)

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Focaccia barese is as quintessential to Bari’s cuisine as Neapolitan pizza is to Naples. A deep and round dough – quite soft due to the addition of potatoes, yet with a crispy upper crust – is topped with extra virgin olive oil, cherry tomatoes and pitted olives. It’s usually sold in local bakeries by the slice.

Scacciata Catanese (Catania, Sicily)

Literally meaning ‘flattened’ (schiacciata), this traditional flat pie usually made at Christmas has a thin, crispy crust made of semola flour (like semolina but more finely ground), filled with many possible ingredients, mainly tomatoes and seasonal greens or the local tuma cheese and anchovies. A more filling version is made with sausages and potatoes.

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