One of my fondest taste memories from my childhood was a bread we used to call “Anzogna bread” (the name, I am told, is a dialect word for lard). My grandparents would buy it at a local bakery in the Italian neighborhood they lived in. These days, sadly, it’s very hard to find. Italian bakeries prefer to sell “prosciutto bread”, which I guess they feel it fancier and more marketable. Too bad it is nowhere near as delicious. Later in life I realized that it was a relation, perhaps not so distant, of a Neapolitan bread made with lard and pork cracklings called tortano con i cicoli, and belonged to a family of lard-enriched donut-shaped breads common to Neapolitan cuisine.
Perhaps the most famous is casatiello, a Neapolitan Easter bread, which is distinguished from its ‘sisters’ by the eggs embedded on top and topped with crosses made from dough. Casatiello is stuffed with an assortment of cured pork and cheeses (the particular mix varies from recipe to recipe) and baked until golden brown in the oven. Served as an antipasto for Easter dinner, the leftovers taste ever better eaten the next day, as part of the traditional Easter Monday picnic.
Makes one large casatiello
For the dough:
500g (1 lb.) flour
100g (4 oz.) lard
1 tsp yeast
Salt and pepper
100g grated parmesan cheese (optional)
For the filling:
250-500g (1/2-1 lb.) mixed cured meats (salumi) and cheeses (see Notes)
For the topping:
5 whole eggs
In a mixer, mix together the dough ingredients with the paddle. Then drizzle in enough water to make a wet dough, usually about 1/2 as much as the flour by volume. Switch from paddle to dough hook and knead the dough on the lowest speed for about 5 minutes. (If not using a standing mixer, see Notes.)
Scoop the wet dough out of the mixing bowl onto a well-floured surface. Using well-floured hands, form the dough into a smooth ball and place it into a greased bowl. Cover the bowl with a towel and let the dough rise for at least two hours, until it doubles in size. (You can let it go longer if you like.)
While the dough is rising, cut up your meats and cheeses into small cubes and mix everything up in a bowl. Set aside until needed.
After the dough has risen, punch it down and scoop it out onto a well floured surface again. Take a handful and set aside for later use. Use your hands to flatten out the rest of the dough into a rectangular shape about 1 cm (1/4 inch) thick. (You can use a rolling pin if you like, but the dough is quite soft enough to just use your hands.)
Now take the filling and spread it out evenly all over the top of the dough.
Gently roll the rectangle up, as tightly as you can manage, into a long torpedo-like shape, curling it around like so:
Now take the dough and place it gently into a large ring mold, bring the ends around and pinching them together. Cover the mold with a towel and let the dough rise again for another two hours or so, until it has doubled again.
Now nestle the eggs into the top of the dough ring at even intervals. Take the dough you have set aside and form it into ten thin strips. Use these strips to make crosses on top of the eggs.
Preheat the oven to 180C/375F. When the oven is hot, place the mold into the oven and bake for about an hour, perhaps a bit more, until the top is nice and golden brown. (You can raise the temperature a bit, to 200C/400F, towards the end if you find it is not browning enough.
Take the mold out of the oven, unmold your casatiello and let it cool on a baking rack. Serve it lukewarm or at room temperature.
As mentioned, the filling mixture for this Easter bread varies from recipe to recipe and it is said that every family has its own favorite mix of salumi and cheeses, but Neapolitan salami features in every recipe I’ve seen, as does either provola or caciocavallo, very typical Neapolitan cheeses. The doyenne of Neapolitan cooking, Jeanne Caròla Francesconi, calls for ‘svizzero’ (Swiss cheese), provolone, smoke provola, salami and soft cheese wedges (!) You can use the cheeses you like most, but they should be semi-hard variety. Grated hard cheeses like pecorino can also be used. And besides salami, pancetta is a common component in the mix. Some folks like to add chopped hard-boiled egg, sometimes omitting the egg topping—in which case you have a tortano rather than a casatiello. For this Easter’s casatiello, I used Emmenthal, provolone, salami and pancetta.
As indicated in the recipe, the ratio of dough to filling also varies wildly from recipe to recipe, from about 2:1 to 1:1, measuring the weigh of the flour to the total weigh of the filling ingredients. (Don’t go further than 1:1, however, or the casatiello will fall apart.) I like to load my casatiello with lots of filling. (The amount of lard used to enrich the dough can also vary widely, from about 50g to the 100g given here.)
If you don’t have a standing mixer, you can make the dough the old-fashioned way: make a fountain with the flour on a clean surface (ie, a mound of flour with a well in the middle, looking a bit like a volcano or a fountain). Add the dry ingredients in the middle, then water bit by bit, stirring with a fork or your hands to incorporate the flour from the sides of the well until you have a nice ball of dough. Then knead the ball with well-floured hands for about 10 minutes.