This is a traditional Easter dish, but since one year is entirely too long to wait for this wonderful treat, I make it several times each year--usually for a special occasion. We celebrated my birthday on June 5th and our Son-in-law's birthday on the 9th with a Sunday dinner in between the two special dates with a delicious 'Mpanata. All Americans enjoy and preserve their ethnic customs and food traditions, and many of us have established some of our own rituals.
On Easter Sunday morning, for instance, I get up quite early to prepare the showpiece of our festive dinner which is the 'Mpanata di Agnello Ragusana, the typical lamb pie which is made in my hometown of Ragusa in Sicily. I prepare the dough the night before, and I marinate the meat overnight in the refrigerator. The 'mpanata goes into the oven at 9:00 AM, it bakes for one hour, and it is then covered with a blanket or a terry cloth towel and allowed to rest and to cool very slowly so that the meat continues to steam and the bread crust absorbs the flavorful juices. We allow the 'mpanata this rest period well covered in the back seat of our car as we drive to our daughter and son-in-law's vacation house in Roscoe, New York from our home in New Jersey.
While we drive we listen to Cavalleria Rusticana by Pietro Mascagni, which is the only opera that takes place in Sicily on Easter Sunday. By the time we arrive at the scenic Catskill mountains which surround Roscoe, the 'mpanata is perfect and ready to eat. In an example of a break with tradition, I will make this delicious lamb pie for special celebrations throughout the year.
Mpanata Agnello Ragusana (Easter Lamb Pie of Ragusa)
(as featured in Sicilian Feasts, see page 95)
Author's Note: The 'mpanata is traditionally made with the bones. I ask my butcher to cube a leg of lamb with the bones as if to make a stew because when baked with the bones the meat is more succulent, but it's fine to use boned meat which makes it somewhat easier to cut and serve. Lard makes the dough tender and very flavorful, but shortening will also give a good result.
Dough for 'Mpanata
4 cups flour 1/4 cup lard or shortening
1 tbsp yeast
1 tsp salt
1 cup warm water
1. Mix the ingredients by hand, in an electric mixer with a dough hook for 10 minutes or in a food processor until the dough forms a mass.
2. Knead a few turns, shape into a ball, coat with a film of olive oil, place in a large bowl, cover and let rise. After the first rise it can be refrigerated, but bring to room temperature before using it.
2 lbs of lamb with bones or boneless
2 cloves garlic
small bunch Italian parsley
salt and pepper to taste
1. Mix the lamb with the chopped garlic and parsley, and add salt and pepper.
2. Marinate in the refrigerator overnight and until ready to assemble.
Assembly of 'Mpanata
1 egg, beaten
1.Take the dough, divide it into a larger and smaller portion.
2. Roll the larger piece into a circle and line a large pie plate. Fill with the marinated lamb.
3. Roll out the second piece into a circle, brush the edge of the bottom crust with beaten egg, place the top crust on top of the lamb, press with the tines of a fork all around the edge to adhere both crusts. Make a decorative edge if you wish.
3. Brush the top with beaten egg, prick with a fork and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 1 hour.
4. Remove from the oven, cover with a towel and let stand for 2 hours before serving.
Try more of Giovanna's delicious recipes!
Giovanna Bellia La Marca was born in Ragusa, Sicily and came to the United States at the age of 10. Now a retired art and Italian teacher, she can be seen leading culinary tours of Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, and teaching at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City.
Questions? Problems with a recipe? Visit Giovanna at giovannalamarca.com.