In Italian the expression "rustico" refers to a savory pastry and "rustici" are assorted savory pastries. The word also means rustic, and I guess the derivation stems from the fact that country-style baking was more likely to work with the ingredients available cured meats, cheeses, and vegetables rather than turning out sugar-laden cakes and pastries the way city pastry shops did.
The traditional crust for these turnovers is Pasta Frolla, the standard Italian sweet pastry dough. At first it may seem bizarre to use a sweet crust for a savory filling, but it has been done this way in southern Italy for hundreds of years. In fact, the pastry covering for the timballo or timpano of pasta, a large pastry formed in a bowl with a filling of seasoned and sauced pasta and meat, made famous in the 1996 film Big Night is really supposed to be pasta frolla. Southern Italians and Sicilians love sweet dough with salty fillings. The sweetness of the dough somewhat tempers the saltiness of the filling, and the combination is always successful. I have made these types of pastries in baking classes for years and initially skeptical students have always commented that the combination works very well after tasting the baked pastries.
At home we made these for Easter and they were often given to friends and relatives who deserved more than just a slice of our pizza rustica, but not a whole one! They are also much used in Italy for la Pasquetta—Easter Monday or "little Easter." Easter Monday signals the official beginning of the outdoor eating season, and many families pack picnic lunches with pastries like casatelli and set out to visit a nearby shrine or just for a walk or ride in the country to mark the occasion.
Six 6-inch semicircular turnovers
3 cups all-purpose flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold and cut into 12 pieces
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 pounds whole-milk ricotta
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 pound fresh mozzarella, cut into1/4-inch dice
1/4 pound prosciutto, thinly sliced and cut into 2-inch shreds, or peeled dried sausage, cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 large eggs
Egg wash: 1 egg well beaten with a pinch of salt
2 cookie sheets or jellyroll pans lined with parchment or foil
- Set racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.
- For the dough, combine all the dry ingredients in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse several times to mix. Add the butter and pulse again until the butter is finely mixed in, about 12 pulses. Add the eggs and pulse repeatedly until the dough forms a ball.
- Invert the dough to a floured surface and carefully remove the blade. Form the dough into a rough cylinder and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate the dough while preparing the filling.
- To prepare the filling, put the ricotta in a large mixing bowl and beat it smooth with a large rubber spatula. Beat in the salt, pepper, cheese, and parsley. Fold in the mozzarella and prosciutto. Taste the filling for seasoning. It probably won’t need more salt, but if it does, add a very little, mix it in, then taste again. Beat in the eggs. Set aside the filling.
- Remove the dough from the refrigerator and knead it briefly on a floured surface until it is smooth and malleable. Form the dough into a cylinder again. Use a bench scraper or a knife to cut it into 6 equal round slices. Place one piece of dough on a floured work surface and flatten it into an even disk with the palm of your hand. Roll the dough to an even 6-inch disk, using a small plate or a cardboard pattern as a guide. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough.
- To fill the turnovers, brush egg wash on the edge of each disk of dough and spoon about 1/6 of the filling on each one, below the diameter of the disk. Spread the filling on the bottom half of the dough with the back of a spoon, leaving a 1/2-inch margin at the edge. Fold the top half of the disk of dough over the filling to meet the other edge evenly. Press the layers of dough together firmly with your fingertips and arrange on one of the pans. Repeat with the remaining turnovers.
- Brush the outside of the turnovers with the egg wash and use the point of a knife to make 3 1-inch vent holes in the top of each one.
- Bake the casatelli until the dough is baked through and the filling is set, about 30 to 40 minutes. Don’t worry if a little filling leaks out. It won’t ruin the pastries.
- Cool the casatelli on the pan on a rack.
Serving: These are a perfect picnic food, as they were originally intended to be. When cut into narrow strips, they may also be served as an hors d'oeuvre.
Storage: Keep the casatelli at room temperature on the day they are baked. Wrap and refrigerate leftovers. Bring them to room temperature before serving again.