Though traditionally associated with Easter, pizza chena can be enjoyed any time of the year. Given its versatility of ingredients and large size, it makes a great party dish that can be made ahead of time then served at room temperature. This recipe requires beginning at least a few hours in advance.
Makes 10 to 14 servings
For the Dough:
Makes approximately 2 pounds
2 cups of warm water
1 packet active dry yeast (1/4 ounce)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt
5 to 6 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
For the Filling:
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 pound fresh, hot Italian sausage (in casing)
1/2 pound capocollo (a cured Italian cold cut with spices), thinly sliced
1/3 pound Genoa salami, thinly sliced
1/3 pound pepperoni, thinly sliced
1 pound fresh basket cheese ***
1/2 pound mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
1 dozen eggs (8 will be beaten, 4 will be hard boiled)
1/3 cup minced fresh flat leaf parsley
15 to20 cranks freshly ground black pepper
1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water for egg wash
In a large bowl, dissolve in 2 cups of warm water, yeast, sugar and salt. Using a spoon, gently blend. Add 5 cups of all-purpose flour and 2 tablespoons of olive oil to start. Blend with a spoon just until the dough starts to form, then using your hands, transfer dough to a floured surface.
Knead well, adding flour if it's too sticky, until the dough becomes springy and smooth. It should take a good 5 to10 minutes of vigorous kneading. It will be soft and silky when done.
Place the dough ball in a large, clean bowl coated with olive oil and rub some olive oil on top of the dough. Cover with a clean, dry dishtowel and let rise in a warm, draft-free area until doubled in size (at least 2 hours).
Meanwhile, fill a large heavy-bottom saucepan halfway with water. Bring to a light, rolling boil, and place 4 room-temperature eggs in the water. Maintaining a light, rolling boil, cook them for 18 to 20 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the eggs, place in a colander, and run under cool water. Tap the eggs against the counter top to crack the shells. Remove the shells, and rinse the boiled eggs under cool water. Slice thinly and set aside.
Meanwhile, heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Remove the sausage from its casing and add to the pan. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes, or until browned and crispy. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.
Place oven rack in center of oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Brush the inside surface of a 10-inch-by-3-inch spring form pan with olive oil.
Once the dough is risen, punch it down to release air bubbles. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface, divide in half, and roll one half into a 12-inch round. Transfer the dough to the spring form pan. Using your hands, fit the dough snugly in the pan, gently stretching it to hang 1 inch over the edge.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the 8 eggs, parsley and black pepper.
Fill the inside of the dough with alternating layers of sliced meats, cheeses and sliced hard-boiled eggs. After 5 to6 layers, pour half of the egg mixture over the filling, allowing it to seep down. Continue layering the meats and cheeses, then pour the remainder of the egg mixture evenly over the top. You should have enough for 10 to12 layers.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the second half of the dough to a 12-inch round. Place the dough over the filling, and using a sharp knife, trim excess dough until it just meets the rim of the pan. Using your fingertips, pinch the edges of the dough together, and gently roll the bottom layer over the top layer, creating a seal. Then pinch the dough between your thumb and index finger creating a slightly fluted edge all around. Brush the top of pie with the egg wash.
Bake pie for 60 to 75 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool 20 to 25 minutes. Release the spring and transfer the pie to a serving plate. Cut into wedges and enjoy at room temperature.
Leftover pizza chena can be stored in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for 5 to 7 days. Individual slices also can be wrapped tightly in aluminum foil and placed in a heavy-duty freezer bag or plastic container and frozen for up to 2 months.
*** Fresh basket cheese is a semi-soft cheese that is used primarily for binding ingredients together. It can be found at Italian markets and cheese shops. If you can't find it, then substitute one (15-ounce) container of ricotta cheese (drained) and whisk it with 2 large eggs.