It's delicious pizza, just not as we (mostly) know it. Say hello to this endlessly variable but always tasty Italian pie.
By
Kylie Walker

11 Feb 2020 - 11:46 AM  UPDATED 9 Mar 2020 - 4:16 PM

“In Naples, a pizza is what we generally think of as a pizza, a round bread, baked in a hot oven with one or more toppings. But in a few other Italian regions, the term pizza can mean something different," says Melbourne author and cookery teacher Paola Bacchia.  

Pizza rustica (literally 'rustic pizza') can be tall and festive, or flat and flaky; it can have a lid, or a lattice topping, or none; and the filling, well, there are endless variations there, too: ricotta, spinach, sliced meats, sausage…

“In Naples, a pizza is what we generally think of as a pizza, a round bread, baked in a hot oven with one or more toppings. But in a few other Italian regions, the term pizza can mean something different,"

“Like so many Italian recipes, pizza rustica varies from region to region and cook to cook,” says Silvia Colloca, host of Cook Like an Italian.

Bacchia says it's almost impossible to define a pizza rustica as one thing. "It is a savoury bread or pie, with or without a rising agent, with olive oil or butter as an ingredient in the dough, and filled with something deliciously savoury, with or without a lid, sometimes with a lattice and sometimes none. It is whatever you want it to be!” 

But the one thing all versions of this savoury Italian pie have in common is deliciousness. And, usually, cheese!

Here’s what you need to know to make your own golden, glorious Italian pizza-pie.

Pick your pastry

Colloca’s version is made with an olive oil pastry that goes golden and flaky in the oven. “And if you are scared of making pastry, please rest assured this pastry is super easy to make and it’s also incredibly forgiving,” she says.

Italian home cook Anna Roumpanis agrees.

“I have memories growing up of my mum making pizza rustica, although her recipe was different. She made her pastry with flour, salt, lard and water, the traditional Neapolitan way.

“My version uses extra virgin olive oil in the pastry instead of lard - I love the texture oil gives to the pastry and the beautiful golden colour you achieve."

“My version uses extra virgin olive oil in the pastry instead of lard - I love the texture oil gives to the pastry and the beautiful golden colour you achieve."

Roumpanis shares her recipe along with other favourites from her kitchen on the website of the family’s Baulkham Hills painting company. Recipes on a painting website? It makes sense when you know Ramponis keeps not only her family well-fed, but also regularly delights staff and clients with homemade Italian dishes. “Our clients are always asking for recipes,” she explains.

Other Italians make their version of this golden savoury pie using a yeasted dough. And some do both.

“The dough can be made with yeast or without. It's a time thing. If you have less time to spare then no yeast is used, so no proving time is required,” says Roumpanis, though she always uses pastry, “simply because I love it”.

A final tip from Colloca for her pastry: Roll it “very, very, very thin”, she says, so it goes so crispy in the oven.

Silvia makes her pastry thin and crisp.

A deliciously savoury filling

“Pizza rustica is a traditional Neapolitan pie that is made around Easter time although we always had it year-round,” says Roumpanis. “It is basically made with whatever cold cuts and cheeses you had; ricotta is always the base filling. Sometimes sausages can be added in as well. … It’s all about experimenting, and also using what you have available in the fridge.”

Colloca says her filling might depend on what she has on hand, or what else she’s planning to cook. This could mean a filling as simple as spinach and ricotta.

PIZZA PIE
Italian pie (pizza rustica)

"A pie filled with a beautifully light, un-stodgy filling of classic Italian ingredients - prosciutto, spinach, ricotta, parmesan and mozzarella. Delicious eaten hot or cold and perfect for a picnic!" Poh Ling Yeow, Poh & Co. 2

Savoury tart with silverbeet (pizza rustica)

One of my favourite spring classics is pizza rustica, a savoury pie. It's made with ricotta, pecorino, eggs and silverbeet.

Round, square or rectangle?

Anything goes here. The version Colloca makes in Cook Like an Italian is a rectangle. In the pizza rustica with salami and silverbeet that she shared in her earlier series, Made in Italy, Colloca makes a round pie, beautifully decorated with a lattice of pastry strips.

Roumpanis, too, makes a round, lidded pizza rustica.

Or you could opt for this simple and delicious “fold over the edges” version by Paola Bacchia. The recipe, which she posted on Instagram, uses a yeasted dough that she also uses for a calzone recipe in her first book, Italian Street Food.

“The recipe for olive and onion calzone in my book is based on a Pugliese/Salentino calzone - which can also be called a pizza rustica and described as a type of pizza piena, although not THE pizza piena from Naples,” Bacchia tells us.  

Not to be confused with pizza piena

You may spot a recipe for something that sounds exactly like pizza rustica but is titled pizza piena or pizza chiena. Is there a difference?

“Pizza piena - or in some dialects, chiena, pronounced key-eh-nah - is a type of savoury Easter pie with a lid, with roots in Southern Italy," says Bacchia. It literally means ‘filled’ pizza but is bound by more defining features than pizza rustica.

And if you have leftovers…

Unlikely, we say, because it’s downright delicious whichever way you make it. But if you do, it’s perfect, Colloca says, for lunchboxes the next day. "This savoury pie is lovely hot, but my preference is to serve it warm or at room temperature, with a squeeze of lemon."

 

Find Silvia Colloca sharing family secrets from her very own kitchen in the brand-new series Cook Like an Italian, Wednesdays at 8:30pm on SBS Food from 8 January to 11 March 2020 and later on SBS On Demand. Head to the website for recipes, articles, tips and more. Follow the 'like an Italian' series here.

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