Exploring the Roots of Stuffed Pizza with an Easter Calzone from Scudiero's
Scudiero's Italian Bakery & Deli
2113 W. Lake Street, Melrose Park, IL 60160 (map); 708-343-2976
Getting There: Drive
Pizza Style: Normally thin-crust, but Easter calzones appear seasonally
Oven Type: Gas
The Skinny: This inspiration for stuffed pizza is good, but it shows that the original is not always best
Price: 8-inch-wide, 2-inch-tall Easter calzones are $18
Since I learned that first two purveyors of stuffed pizza, Nancy's (reviewed here) and Giordano's (reviewed here), both claim to have based their pizzas on family recipes for Easter pie, I have been on a quest to try an example of the dish that inspired them. But despite calls to numerous Italian bakeries and delis and inquiries to everyone I could think of who might know, I could not find a place that served the traditional holiday treat.
There are a variety of recipes for the original creation—somewhere between the number of distinct regions of Italy and the number of living Italian grandmothers. Making matters more complicated is that these things go by a long list of names, including pizza chena, Easter pie, Easter calzone, and scarciedda. What they typically have in common is they are double-crusted pies filled with a combination of cheese(s) and meat(s) and often hard-boiled eggs, and they do not include tomato sauce.
I had all but given up on finding one in Chicago when I saw a sign a few weeks ago in the window of Scudiero's Italian Bakery advertising Easter Calzones. I was interested in a pie, but I figured a calzone would work. Imagine my surprise when I learned that while the dish was called a calzone, it was actually pie-shaped. Unforunately for me, while Scudiero's had the sign up and were taking orders, the pies were not going to be available for another week or so. Last weekend, I made the trek back to Melrose Park to fulfill a dream.
Having no previous first-hand knowledge of Easter Pie, I approached the dish from the perspective of a curious fan of stuffed pizza. The first thing that jumped out at me was that the top crust is of an identical thickness as the bottom and both crusts were very dense. The second thing that hit me, which I knew in theory but was still a bit startled to realize when eating, was that there was no tomato sauce. Despite those significant differences from stuffed pizza, I could imagine the relationship between the foods.
When I cut the pie open and took a bite I began to have some doubts about the connection to stuffed pizza. They both have toppings embedded in the cheese, but that's where the similarities end. While stuffed pizza is filled with pounds of gooey mozzarella, the Easter Calzone's insides consist of ricotta that I think is mixed with eggs and cream. It's much lighter than the sea of mozzarella in a stuffed pizza, though it's not quiche-light. I was also surprised to see how small the pieces of sausage were; the less than full-flavored nuggets had no chance of standing out.
Overall, I liked the Easter Calzone but didn't love it. If the meat to cheese ratio had been higher, then I would have been a happier eater. I did appreciate that it was good cold, hot and at room temperature. I would be curious to try one with a tomato sauce as well, but I think for that to happen I'll have to cook one myself.
Had I not known the history of stuffed pizza, I'm not sure how well I would have ever guessed the connection to the Easter calzone at Scudiero's. But now having had my first Easter Pie, I'm anxious to try more. As far as I know, there's nobody else in Chicago selling them so for now I'll have to live vicariously through those of you in families where Easter Pies are/were an annual tradition and want to share descriptions in the comments.
Giordano's, a Stuffed Pizza Classic in Chicago
Chicago: Nancy's, the Creator of Stuffed Pizza, Still Putting Out Good Pies
Edwardo's Natural Pizza: No Longer Great, But Still Very Good
Stefano's: Another Giordano's Protege Makes Good on Chicago's Far North Side