Fun, Festive Christmas Lunch

Yesterday was Larry’s birthday. Thank you all for wishing him good birthday wishes and good cheer. My friend Kathy came over for a fun festive Christmas lunch and helped us celebrate as best as we could, given the circumstances and these crazy times.

I made a delicious torta rustica or an Italian layered picnic pie and a Christmas salad for lunch. I pulled out the Christmas plates, since after all, ’tis the season and made everything fun and festive. Even though it was just a lunch for the three of us, we still needed to celebrate the season, and it is much more fun when everything is decorated for the season. We finished lunch with some of Larry’s caramel apple cake for dessert. Caramel Apple Cake

A torta rustica is an Italian layered picnic pie, that is usually popular around Easter, but obviously, you can make it any time of year. This Italian Easter pizza comes from Naples and can trace it’s history back to the 17th century. In and around Naples, the dish is known as pizza rustica, pizza ripiena, or pizza chiena. The different spellings and names come from the different dialects in Italian but they all mean the same thing: “stuffed pizza“. Just like it’s close cousin, pizza, you can make it with anything you like. A torta rustica is part pastry, part quiche, part pie, and part pizza all at the same time. It is completely encased in pizza dough and what you fill the insides up with is completely up to you. I usually load it up with all kinds of salami and ham, roasted peppers, spinach and cheese. You can serve it either at room temperature or hot. I have eaten it and enjoyed it both ways, although I prefer it hot because I do not care for, nor can I really eat, cold cheeses.

Torta Rustica

The dough is my thick pizza dough.

5 1/2 tsp dry active yeast

3 tsp sugar, divided

1/2 cup warm water, divided

1/2 cup milk

1 egg

2 TBSP olive oil, plus more to rub the bowl and the dough

3 1/2 cups flour

2 tsp salt

Mix the yeast, 1/4 cup of water and 1/2 tsp of sugar together and let set for about 10 minutes, or until it becomes frothy.

Mix the egg, milk and olive oil together.

Mix the flour, salt and remaining sugar together.

Combine the yeast mixture with the egg mixture then add to the flour and add the remaining water and combine well. You can mix it in a mixer or by hand. For some reason, I actually prefer to do it the old fashioned way and mix it all by hand. I LOVE working the dough with my hands. Knead the dough for about 8-10 minutes or until the dough forms into a smooth and elastic ball. Coat a large bowl with olive oil and coat the dough with olive oil as well. Cover and let rest and rise for about 1-1 1/2 hours or until the dough doubles in size. You can also freeze the dough and keep it for up to 6 months.

When you are ready to use the dough, roll it out on a lightly floured surface to your desired shape and thickness. This is a yeast dough, and it will naturally be a pretty thick dough.

Preheat the oven to 400* F or 200* C.

Spray an 8″ springform cake pan with cooking spray and line the bottom with parchment paper.

Roll the dough out so it covers the bottom and the sides of the pan. Then roll out some more dough to make the top.

As I mentioned above, you can fill your torta rustica with anything you like. For this particular rustica, I used a variety of thinly sliced deli meats and mozzarella cheese, along with some roasted peppers and spinach with garlic and onions. I used 3 kinds of salami, ham and turkey.

I started with a layer of cheese then added the spinach mixture.

Next came the layers of meats and peppers.

In between my last layer of meat and my last layer of cheese, I added more of my spinach mixture.

Once the pan is full and all the layers have been added, top it with the dough topping. Score the top of the dough and brush with an egg wash.

Place the torta in the oven and bake uncovered for about 30 or so minutes or until the dough is golden brown. Then cover with aluminum foil and continue to bake for about another 30-40 minutes, or until the center reaches an internal temperature of about 120* F. If you are serving it hot, allow it to cool for about 5 minutes or so before cutting. If you want to eat it at room temperature, let it cool for about 1 hour, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Remove it from the refrigerator about an hour before serving.

Buon Natalie e Mangia!

Happy Holidays. Stay safe and stay well Everyone. ‘Til next time.

Author: ajeanneinthekitchen

I have worked in the restaurant and catering industry for over 35 years. I attended 2 culinary schools in Southern California, and have a degree in culinary arts from the Southern California School of Culinary Arts, as well as a few other degrees in other areas. I love to cook and I love to feed people.

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