John Bensalhia samples five of the most popular traditional Italian savoury pies...
While Italy is well known for its pizza and its freshly baked bread, it's also a great source of savoury pies. Using a broad spectrum of filling ingredients, the Italian way of creating pies follows a standard recipe, but it can be made in any way you wish with whatever ingredients you choose. Flexible, affordable, and also tasty in the extreme, the Italian savoury pie continues to be a regular presence at the dinner table.
Here then, are five fine examples to tuck into.
From humble beginnings to great acclaim, Emilia-Romagna's Erbazzone Reggiano uses easily accessible ingredients to create a pie of taste.
The early appeal of Erbazzone Reggiano was that it could be made on a modest budget. If a family was facing poverty, preparing this dish wasn't an expensive bank-buster, since many of the ingredients could be used from farms or gardens. With pie dough ingredients comprising flour, water, salt and lard, the filling of Erbazzone Reggiano is an eclectic mix of vegetables, dairy and meat products. The greens are normally chards, which along with local herbs, provide a signature element of the pie. Mix in the likes of onions, shallots, garlic, spinach and parsley, and it's an ideal pie to eat if you enjoy a spot of gardening. Whatever you grow in your allotment, farm or back garden, you can use with a sprinkle of creativity in your version of Erbazzone Reggiano.
Parmigiano Reggiano cheese adds to the flavour, with other filling ingredients including bacon or – depending on the variety – rice or ricotta cheese. The world's your oyster with this versatile pie. It can be made on a reasonable budget, making it a perfect meal if there's not so much money in the kitty. It can be used as a breakfast snack or as a lunchtime filler – the link in this Italy Magazine recipe guide recommends an accompaniment of Lambrusco sparkling wine, also from the region of Emilia-Romagna.
Pizza di scarola
Not so much your average pizza, more a delicious pie traditionally enjoyed on Christmas Eve. However, its popularity is enough to make it a pie served on any day of the calendar year.
Originating from Naples, this is another choice of savoury pie that uses home-grown produce as a virtue. The Neapolitan trend for using greens and vegetables in dishes was put to good use for the likes of Pizza di scarola, which revolves around the endive, a leaf vegetable that is augmented by a range of sautéed ingredients. Anchovies, olives, capers, garlic, pine nuts, raisins... the list goes on. The filling comes together to form a wealth of taste. It's sandwiched between two layers of dough, which, depending on your taste, can either be traditional bread-style dough or puff pastry.
While I'm on the subject of Christmas, let's move on to Catania, which is famous for Scacciata Catanese.
Scacciata Catanese runs along the same lines as the best traditional Italian pies in that you can be as creative and flexible as you like with the filling. It's also another dish that grew from original humble beginnings. The late 17thcentury saw the dish make its first appearance. Peasant food would take whatever it could get in this era, but over time, the simple combination of bread, vegetables, meats and potatoes would prove to be an inspired method of using up leftover ingredients and turning them into a tasty recipe. The Sicilian pie is now a favourite at Christmas, which has been handed down over the generations.
This pie is markedly different in that it's a flat pie (hence the name, which takes its roots from schiacciata – or flattened). It's a thin pastry crust, but still a tasty one, made from semola flour, and using a great spread of ingredients that can cater to vegetarians (with vegetables, greens and tomatoes as the filling ingredients) or meat eaters (sausages and potatoes can also be used).
Tiella di Gaeta
There's something fishy about Tiella di Gaeta – literally, with its introduction by local fishermen who were looking for a way to preserve a cooked dish for a number of days.
Today, it's a pie that is eaten with gusto by fans of fish. Typical fillings include cod, sardines, anchovies, and even octopus! The fish filling is placed between two round pieces of soft dough – again, along the lines of pizza, but in pie format.
Tiella di Gaeta comes from the Lazio harbour town, and in recognition of its heritage, is protected by a Denominazione Comunale d’Origine (DCO) designation.
While fish is the common ingredient of Tiella di Gaeta, it can also be made with other ingredients such as vegetables for a vegetarian-friendly munch.
[Photo credit: Letizia Palmisano via Wikimedia Commons]
I've talked about Christmas-related pies, but it's also worth mentioning the Easter season. One pie – Torta pasqualina from Liguria – is especially well known and is used as a favourite food choice on an Easter Monday picnic.
If you cut the pie in half, it resembles one of those large meat pies with an egg at the centre. In this case, however, Torta pasqualina is a meat-free dish. It's made with ingredients such as greens like chard or spinach, or other choices such as artichokes or peas. The vegetables are combined with ricotta cheese and also the whole baked egg. The pie can be made with yeast-free dough or filo pastry, resulting in a light but tasty must-have for that Easter picnic basket.