Cacioni are small, half-moon shaped pies which, in San Marino, are filled with greens, very often a combination of Swiss chard and spinach (cacioni con bietole e spinaci). In other parts of Italy, however, cacioni are filled with a variety of cheeses and, in one case, even beans are used. And then there’s Liguria where they make a torta pasqualina at Easter which is filled with greens — but the torte are much larger than cacioni and the filling also includes ricotta and grated cheese. Of all the recipes I’ve come across, however, only the Bartolini cacioni are deep-fried. In fact, Zia went to lunch with some Sammarinese friends a few years ago and one of the ladies brought baked cacioni for everyone. The idea of baking cacioni is a game changer for Zia and me. Up until now, we rarely made them because there was no way to store them. You fried and ate what you made and that was that. As such, it just wasn’t practical to make them if you lived alone. Now that baking is an option, however, we can make a dozen, reserve 2 for dinner, and freeze the rest. Suddenly, cacioni are back in our diets, but, what does this mean for you?
Well, I’m going to give you both options for preparing cacioni. The first will be deep-fried; the second will be baked using pastry dough. To that end, in a recent episode of Mad Hungry, Lucinda Scala Quinn prepared a pie crust that she used with her pocket pies. (If you’re not familiar with her blog, you should be.) Her recipe is perfect for cacioni and it really is fool-proof. No matter which cooking option you may choose, the filling will remain the same and we’ll start there.
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(Swiss Chard & Spinach Filling)
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 small yellow onion, chopped
- 1 bunch fresh Swiss chard, trimmed, leaves chopped after removal from stalks, stalks chopped and reserved
- 1/2 pkg frozen chopped spinach, thawed — use more or less, if you like
- salt & pepper to taste
- Heat oil and garlic in a frying pan over medium heat until garlic begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Do not allow garlic to burn.
- Remove garlic, increase heat to med-high, add onion and as much of the chopped chard stalks as you prefer. Season with salt & pepper and sauté until translucent, about 8 to 10 minutes.
- Add chopped spinach to pan and continue sautéing until heated through, about 4 minutes.
- Add chard leaves, season with salt & pepper, and sauté until leaves are wilted and cooked to your preference.
- Place cooked greens in a colander or strainer, place a dish on top of the cooked vegetables, and place a heavy can or similar weight on top of the dish. This will help to drain as much liquid from the greens as possible before filling the cacioni.
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yield: 12 – 15 pies.
- Swiss chard with spinach, sautéed and well-drained (recipe above)
- 1/2 batch Mom’s pasta dough, rested for 30 minutes after preparation
- Oil for frying — NOT olive oil
- Separate dough into quarters and wrap 3 quarters in plastic wrap.
- Using the remaining dough quarter, run it repeatedly through the pasta machine rollers until thin. If no. 1 is the widest setting, continue rolling the dough up to, and including, the no. 6 position.
- Spread the dough sheet on a flat surface. Using a bowl, saucer, or wide-mouthed mug/jar as a template, cut circles as large as you can on the dough sheet. Trim and reserve the excess dough for later use.
- Depending upon the size of the dough circle, place 2 to 4 tbsp of the chard filling in a line across the center of each one. Using a pastry brush or your finger tips, moisten the edge of each circle with water. Fold the pastry in half upon itself, creating a half-moon. Use a fork to press and seal the edges of the dough. Use the fork to prick each pie to let steam to escape during frying. Set aside.
- Continue until all the filling has been used. The left-over dough may be used to make the pasta of your choosing.
- Using a large frying pan, add enough vegetable/peanut oil to create a depth of 1 to 1 1/2 inches. To avoid boiling over, do not fill the pan over halfway full. (This is more a “shallow-fry” than deep-fry. Of course, if you prefer deep-frying, go for it.)
- Bring oil to 350*. Depending upon the pan size, fry 2, 3, or 4 cacioni at a time. Do not overcrowd. Fry until golden brown before turning each one over.
- Place a wire rack atop a baking sheet and place both into a warm oven. When each batch of cacioni are finished frying, place them on the rack in the oven to keep warm. Sprinkle with coarse kosher or sea salt.
- Repeat the process until all are fried. Serve immediately.
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Note: This will require enough pastry dough as would be used to make a double-crusted, 9 inch pie. Use your own pastry dough recipe, try Lucinda’s cream cheese pastry dough, or buy it ready-made at your grocery store. Puff pastry, however, is not recommended.
yield: 10 – 12 pies.
- Swiss chard with spinach, sautéed and very well-drained (recipe above)
- pastry dough (see note above)
- 1 egg yolk mixed with a tbsp of water to make a wash
- Separate dough into halves, wrap one half with plastic wrap and place in the fridge. Roll the remaining half as you would for a pie crust.
- Using a bowl, saucer, or wide-mouthed mug/jar as a template, cut circles as large as you can on the dough sheet. Trim and reserve the excess dough for later use.
- Depending upon the size of the dough circle, place 2 to 4 tbsp of the chard filling in a line across the center of each one. Using a pastry brush or your finger tips, moisten the edge of each circle with water. Fold the pastry in half upon itself, creating a half-moon. Use a fork to press and seal the edges of the dough. Use the fork to prick each pie to let steam to escape during baking. Set aside on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
- Continue until no more dough remains and then place the baking sheet into the fridge while you work with the second half of the pastry dough. Repeat the process until there is no more filling or dough.
- TO COOK IMMEDIATELY
- Pre-heat oven to 375*
- Meanwhile, chill the cacioni for a few minutes before proceeding.
- Using a pastry brush, carefully coat the exposed surface of each pie with the egg wash. Sprinkle with salt.
- Place baking sheet into pre-heated oven and bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes.
- Serve immediately.
- TO FREEZE & COOK
- Place newly prepared cacioni on a lined baking sheet and then into the freezer.
- After a couple of hours, place the cacioni into more permanent freezer containers.
- When ready to cook, DO NOT THAW. Pre-heat oven to 350*.
- Remove the cacioni from the freezer, place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and, using a pastry brush, coat the exposed surface of each pie with egg wash. Sprinkle with coarse kosher or sea salt.
- Place the baking sheet into a pre-heated oven and bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes.
- Serve immediately.
Although my family has only used a combination of chard and spinach to fill our cacioni, there’s no reason other vegetables can’t be used. In fact, Zia and I are considering rapini (broccoli raab) as filling for some future cacioni — if I can ever remember to buy some and bring it with me when I visit.
Working on this recipe resulted in my making a couple dozen cacioni, both fried and baked. At one point, I had some left-overs that had been baked and were made with Lucinda’s pastry dough. Rather than refrigerate them, I placed them with some raw cacioni on one of the baking sheets in my freezer. Lucinda freezes her cooked pocket pies and re-heats them in the microwave, so, why not do the same with cacioni? Well, I’m happy to report that those frozen, fully baked cacioni were successfully re-heated in the microwave. They tasted great and I’ll definitely be doing this again. Special thanks to Lucinda and her Mad Hungry Blog. She’s the best!
So, there’s no longer a reason for us single folk not to enjoy cacioni on a regular basis. You can make a batch, bake what you need, and freeze the rest for future baking, or, if you prefer, you can bake them all, freeze the left-overs, and re-heat them in the microwave at some later date. Either way, you won’t be disappointed.
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