i couldn’t get the idea out of my head. a stuffed pizza, baked between sheets of pie crust instead of pizza dough. what a bizarre thought, right? it would be impossible. i’d never pull it off.
and then i met nigella. there i was, innocently sitting in a secluded corner of the smallest cafeteria in my office building, gobbling up page after page of nigella lawson’s how to eat. right there, in her basics section, she had several pages of material about savory and sweet pie crusts, and how making them used to drive her insane, until she took a deep breath, practiced, and figured it out. her technique seemed foolproof. simple ingredients, not too time-consuming. surely i’d have a few failures but it seemed well worth trying. i became determined to make the pizza rustica.
of course, life interfered. i usually save a lot of time on the weekends for cooking experiments, but due to a fluke in the calendar i’m scheduled to be out of town for practically the next month. to add further insult to injury, if i wanted to participate in WTSIM...#2, i’d have to find the time before february 26. which meant cooking the pizza on a weeknight.
i’m a big fan of weeknight cooking, really i am. it’s a great way to unwind after a horrible day at the office, and then have something yummy and warm and filling to show for it. but i usually like to keep it simple during the week. stir-fries are a big favorite. the occasional batch of cupcakes, if there is something special going on. i’m long over the days where i’d stay up till 1 baking during the week. on top of everything else, this particular week was one of refrigerator intimidation and a lot of useless stress in the office.
i took a deep breath. i planned carefully. i made a supplementary trip to the supermarket after work on tuesday. i laid out all of the ingredients for a stir-fry, put some rice in the cooker, and made my move on the pie dough. it seemed to be working, much like my pate sucre from the weekend had. i became optimistic--until i had to roll it out. it was ornery stuff. i had to beat it into submission. i made a huge mess on my kitchen table. i had piles of pie crumbs surrounding me and flour all over my hair and clothes (because foolish me, i had doubled the recipe in order to get two crusts--it worked, but it was not a pretty sight). and then, at long last, i had pressed into the pie dish a layer of crust, a sheet of waxed paper, and another layer of crust, all wrapped up and ready for use on wednesday.
driven by this early success i came home today like a girl on a mission. i preheated the oven. i attacked the fridge, looking for anything that might make an intriguing layer in my pizza. i pulled out a tub of ricotta, a bag of mozzarella, some parma-style virginia ham, two fresh sausage links, some cremini mushrooms. i browned these with a vengeance (and a lot of garlic) in the leftover sausage grease. with baited breath, i pulled out the pie crusts (nigella had suggested that they could be stored for a day, but i was less certain of my cooking than of hers). aside from a few minor cracks along the edges of the dough, they seemed in good condition. i didn’t have to blind bake, so i started layering the flavors. mushrooms on the bottom. a layer of mozzarella. some ham. another layer of mozzarella. the sausage. topped it all with a ricotta-egg mixture and, for good measure, another sprinkling of mozzarella. i clumsily arranged the top crust over the dish, pinching the sides unevenly and haphazardly until i was sure it was sealed.
it was then that i realized i had put the pie in the wrong kind of dish (the recipe i was working from recommended a springform). but it was too late to turn back, and i vowed that keep a vigilant eye on the pastry so as to save it from my ineptitude (and keep it from burning). half an hour into the baking, it looked golden brown. surely it wasn’t done already? i decided to trust my instincts. i tented a sheet of foil over the crust and put it back in for another half an hour.
the result was the closest thing i’ve found to a culinary masterpiece (at least so far as my own kitchen efforts go). the layers melded together in a delightful dance of flavors--earthy, salty, spicy, and tangy. the crust, into which i’d thrown a spoonful of ricotta during the mixing stage, was buttery and light without being overpowering.
i had, in short, something yummy and filling and warm to show for all of my weeknight effort.
(inspired by dorie greenspan’s baking with julia and adapted from two versions of giada delaurentis’ recipe, culled from the food network website and giada’s family dinners)
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 ounces mild Italian turkey sausage, casings removed
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 (15-ounce) container whole milk ricotta
12 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
4 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced and browned in grease and garlic
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan
4 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, coarsely chopped
4 large egg yolks, beaten to blend
2 pieces of pastry dough, rolled out to fit a 9" pie plate
1 large egg, beaten to blend
Position the rack on the bottom of the oven, and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a heavy large frying pan over medium heat. Add the sausages and saute until golden brown, breaking the sausage into pieces, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Transfer the mixture to a small bowl and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of oil in the same frying pan over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and sautee until light brown and starting to give off liquid, about 5 minutes.
Into a large bowl, add egg yolks and beat lightly. Stir in the ricotta, mozzarella, and 1/3 cup of Parmesan cheese. Add the sausage, the mushrooms and prosciutto to the mixture and stir to combine.
Set up the dough in a 9-inch pie plate by placing the bottom crust in the plate. Trim the dough overhang to 1 inch. Spoon the ricotta mixture into the dough-lined pan. Roll out the remaining piece of dough into a 12-inch round. Place the dough over the filling. Pinch the edges of the doughs together to seal, then crimp the dough edges decoratively. Brush the beaten 1 large egg over the entire pastry top. Sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons Parmesan over the top. Bake on the bottom shelf until the crust is golden brown, about 1 hour.
Let stand 15 minutes. Release the pan sides and transfer the pizza to a platter. Cut into wedges and serve.