La bella memoria di mio papa

By Patrizia Cucca

It’s that time of year again; December will be upon us before we know it and with it all the joys of Christmas. The gifts under the tree, the lights in the windows, the cards in the mail, dinner with family and friends, stockings hanging in the living room, shouts of Merry Christmas and Buon Natale to those who pass us in the streets. One of the most important ways I learned to celebrate Christmas was the Nativity Crib Scene. Dad would spend hours on building ours and we all had a part. I remember rolls of brown paper that my sister and I had the joy of crumpling up. The more crumpled the better. The paper would eventually be spray painted with greens and brown paint and left out to dry for a few days. Our presepe would usually be put out around the 8th of December but the figure of the baby Jesus wasn’t put into the crib until the night of December 24th! Dad use to make and display our Nativity scene in the shape of a pyramid which was meters tall, resembling a mountain and made with the colored paper we had crumpled up. The mountain was made of several tiers of shelves and was decorated with small lights. He even had a running waterfall. There was always a star hanging which would lead all to the small town of Bethlehem. What I thought was so special about dads Nativity scene was that it always displayed not only characters and figures from the Christmas Story, but also ‘every day’ people, the butcher, the baker, the shoesmith, the sheppard and his flock  of sheep. I remember the woman washing clothes on her wash board and objects such as houses, waterfalls, food and animals like camels. Dad made houses out of cardboard. He’d cut out windows, line them with colored sulofane and light them up throughout the mountain side. This is one of many remarkable memories I have of my dad which can never be forgotten and will always be held near and dear in my heart. I am not talented enough or patient enough to recreate the presebe as my dad had shared with us year after year but I would like to introduce you to something you may have never come across. Pizza di Scarole one of dads favorites! This is a very traditional pie, however very few people have encountered it, unless they have been to Naples. Pizza di scarola or escarole pie is a bit like mandarins. You know Christmas is in the air any time they are served. In fact, it is the pizza that many Neapolitan families make for lunch on Christmas Eve. Quite simply, this pie is a nice batch of scarola, aglio e olio, with ‘the works’-olives, capers, anchovies, pine nuts and raisins, laid between two layers of pizza dough and baked in a hot oven for about 30-45 minutes, or until golden brown. The combination of ingredients is just magical with flavors that work wonderfully together and taste great! My mom is the master of this pizza. I will try my best to do a good job but the flavors of mom’s pizza are unique. Mom was incredibly fond and in love with my father. She would do everything she could to see him happy. One of dads all-time favorites and loved by everyone. It is so good you’ll want to have it all year ’round.
For the filling:
1 batch pizza dough, either store-bought or home-made, 2 heads of well crushed escarole, Olive oil, 2-3 cloves of slightly crushed garlic, salt and pepper, a handful of rinsed and squeezed capers, a handful of black olives, 4 anchovy fillets, a handful of pinoli nuts, a handful of raisins, soaked until soft and drained, Extra-virgin olive oil to line the tin and brush the top of the pizza Black pepper.
Take half of the pizza dough and lay it out as flat as you can in a well-greased pie plate, making sure to cover the entire bottom and (if you can) the sides as well. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Salt and add the escarole, which you will have cut at the root to separate the leaves. Let the escarole boil for 5 minutes. Move the escarole to a colander and drain it well. Set aside. In a large frying pan add generous amounts of olive oil, the garlic, the olives, the capers, the anchovies and the raisins. Sauté the ingredients and stir well. Cook for a few minutes on medium heat until the garlic becomes golden. Add the escarole and a pinch of salt; stir the escarole so it is well coated with the oil, and season with salt and pepper. (Go easy on the salt because the anchovy are quite salty) Cover the pan and let it simmer for 5 minutes. In a smaller frying pan add a teaspoon of oil and the pine nuts. Cook gently on low heat for a few minutes until they are golden. Preheat your oven to 375 degree.
Spoon the escarole into the pie plate and spread it out evenly. Add the toasted pine nuts and distribute evenly across the surface. Place the second half of the dough and, using the same technique, flatten it into a roughly round disc. Move it to on top of the escarole. With your fingers, attach the edges of the bottom and top rounds of dough, squeezing and twisting the dough to seal it well. Sprinkle some more extra-virgin olive oil on top of the pizza and distribute it evenly with a spoon or your hands. Sprinkle some freshly ground pepper and prick the surface with a sharp knife to make some small air holes. Place the pan in the oven and cook for at least 40-45 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. When ready, take the pan out, cover and wrap it with a large, clean tea towel and let it cool a little before serving. Eat it while it is still slightly warm. It is great at room temperature, too. You can make it the day before and serve it the next day.


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