Spring is scavenging season. Chives, basil, and parsley are just beginning to sprout in the garden and the fridge is still thick with all those meats and cheese you bought back when it was cold and you just wanted to be full and warm. What that means for home cooks is that they can either make a meal of the world’s smallest salad and strangest appetizer platter or figure out a way to incorporate all these disparate elements into one dense, savory treat. The Italians – no strangers to meat, cheese, or fresh vegetables – solve this problem with pizza rustica, an Easter and spring staple that builds a savory torte out of, well, whatever’s within reach.
Pizza rustica is a peculiar dish because it makes up in density what it lacks in mandatory ingredients. The typical deep-dish pie has the heft of a cinder block thanks to the up to a dozen eggs and layers of cheese that serve as brick and mortar. Within the structure of that mix, which is spooned into the pastry crust, cooks are free to experiment or clean out their fridge. Traditionally, the meat in a pizza rustica is either prosciutto or pork sausage, but there are plenty of alternatives that work nicely, including Canadia bacon, pepperoni slices, honey-baked ham, and even bologna. As long as you’re adding garlic and mixing cheese types (for more predictable results go heavy on the mozzarella) you’re good to go. In Italy, the dish is made using “Basket Cheese,” which is extremely mild. Given that, pizza rustica may not be the best way to present your secret stock of gruyere.
As for greens, hit the garden as well as the fresher. Because pizza rustica relies on basic staples like spinach, chives, kale, basil, and asparagus more for texture than taste, it presents an opportunity to declare open season on your garden and salvage whatever in your fridge is still on the emerald side of black. A little bit of seasoning (think: nutmeg) can more than make up for some wilt when it is surrounded by all that delicious cheese.
And don’t skimp on the cheese. For every four eggs expect to add roughly three quarters of a pound of cheese – more if you you aren’t using much in the way of meat or cheese. The mixture of eggs, meats, cheeses, and greens can be poured into a pre-made pie crust, topped with a pre-made pie topping, and baked at medium heat for as long as it takes. Sound haphazard? That’s because it is. Still, having a pizza rustica is like having an American-style cold pizza. It may sit around for a while, but it will definitely get eaten.