Pizza Rustica: Is it Pizza?

We have many names for those elongated sandwiches stuffed with meats, vegetables, and cheese — you know the ones.  

I believe the plural of hero — the sandwich hero, I mean — is heros.  No e.  I'd bet most refer to this sandwich as a sub, which is short for submarine.  The name derives from its shape.  

Are hoagies and grinders both from Philadelphia?  I believe a grinder is a cooked hoagie, but I assume the cheesesteak is Philly's best-known submersible.  

The contents of a po' boy may be strictly defined, but its shape also approximates that of a sub.  

Many Italian delis in NYC make a fried calamari hero but I've never had one.  More often than not, I order chick parm on a roll.  A hero is pretty big.  I once tried shrimp on a hero, but I'm not into the idea of drowning juicy seafood in a mini-loaf of bread.

Similar broadness exists for the word pizza in Italian.  We define pizza as a flat round dough with tomato sauce and cheese on top.  Put aside wood versus gas versus coal, thick versus thin, pan versus no pan, and plate-size-fancy versus large-size-sharable — and you have a word.

Pizza ripiene translates to "filled pizza."  It appears in many iterations across Italy — including in the format of a calzone.  In towns along the slopes of Mount Etna (such as Viagrande, where I visited Gran Caffè Urna), pizza siciliana is a fried calzone filled with tuma cheese (oozy and buttery, made from cow's milk, difficult to find in the US) and one or two anchovies (photo below shows the pizza siciliana at Urna).  

A panzerotti, by the way, is a little five-bite jobby of a pizza; and pizza farcita is like pizza ripiene but closed around the perimeter.

Schiacciata is a word I just learned.  It means "flat bread baked with non-tomato stuff on top" and can be synonymous with focaccia — or a pizza without tomato sauce.  Imagine if schiacciata had evolved as the primary word to describe pizza.  To what degree would Americans have embraced it?

Many Americans (or at least New Yorkers) refer to pizza as a "pie," but a pizza rustica — which translates to "rustic pizza" — resembles pie more than pizza.   Italians eat pizza rustica when they get together with family or friends (in other words, just about any time), while Italian bakeries and pastry shops in the US sell it only around Christmas and Easter.

Home cooks make their pizze rustiche in countless ways, but the crust should be pastry, not bread.  My friend Laura grew up in Bologna eating her grandmother's homemade rendition (it had no meat, only cheese and vegetables).  The crust was so good, she told me, she rushed through the filling just to get to it.

In New York, pizza rustica is usually filled with salami or sopressata and a blend of cheeses.  The bakers at F. Monteleone, on Court Street in Brooklyn, fill a pastry-lined pie tin with a blend of Italian fontina, fresh mozzarella, auricchio, and ricotta (actually, two types of ricotta: standard fresh ricotta and pastry ricotta), chunks of sweet and spicy sopressatas, and eggs.  The end result is buttery, salty, and fluffy, with a tug of meat-chew in every bite — a nice break from dough, sauce, and cheese!


Here's a list of pastry shops in New York that offer pizza rustica around Easter and Christmas times:

F. Monteleone - 355 Court Street - Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn - (718) 852-5600 - map
Mona Lisa - 7717 13th Avenue - Dyker Heights, Brooklyn - (718) 256-7706 - map
Fortunato Brothers - 289 Manhattan Avenue - Williamsburg, Brooklyn - (718) 387-2281 - map
Elegante - 165 Avenue U - Gravesend, Brooklyn - (718) 373-7008 - map
Ferrara - 195 Grand Street - Little Italy, Manhattan - (212) 226-6150 - map
Veniero's  - 342 East 11th Street - East Village, Manhattan - (212) 674-7070 - map
Terrizzi - -35-14 30th Avenue - Astoria, Queens - (718) 726-9698 - map

F. Monteleone, the shop from which I sampled pizza rustica this season, offers it in three sizes: 10" ($25), 8" ($20), and mini ($2.50).