I came for the homemade mozzarella but left with a belly full of pizza gain.
Avellino's in East Hanover (there's another, newer location just north in Lake Hiawatha) is a local favorite for its homemade mozzarella, which stars in its Caprese salads, made-to-order subs, and panini sandwiches, as well as on its Margherita pizza. And I arrived with every intention of judging the pizzeria on its mozzarella merits. But it was the pizza rustica ($2.99)—also known as pizza gain, pizza chiena, or Italian Easter bread—that caught my eye at the front counter.
I'm not one to wait around for a specific holiday to eat the seasonal food I love; I've been known to make single servings of Thanksgiving stuffing in August and pull together a plate of grilled hot dogs and baked beans in January, no cookout necessary. So although this particular pie is most often associated with spring, I don't need to wait around for bunnies, chicks, and the appearance of Cadbury Creme Eggs in the supermarket to eat a slice of pizza gain.
For those of you who've never experienced this belly-filling Italian specialty, it's essentially a salty, meat- and cheese-filled quiche stuck between two thin pizza crusts. Avellino's version was a stellar example of the genre. Studded with a panoply of cured pork bits—I found prosciutto, ham, pepperoni, and soppressata in my slice—the pie was mortared with a deeply savory filling of Provolone, Parmesan, cheddar, ricotta, egg, and potatoes. A crispy crust no more than an eighth-inch thick enveloped the mass. Throw a little spinach in the mix and you'd have all the food groups in one heavy, hand-held package.
This thing was dense. It was salty. Did I say it was salty? And it was just what I needed on a below-freezing day. My friends in Minnesota, where the wind chill is bringing their temperature down to -37°F, probably need the soul-warming properties of pizza gain a lot more than I do right now. But I'm here with the hearty pie and they're not, so it'd be a shame to let it go to waste. Like I said, why wait?
Avellino's445 Ridgedale Ave., East Hanover NJ 07936 [map] 973-887-2821; avellinospizza.com
About the author: Casey Barber is the editor of Good. Food. Stories. and author of the forthcoming cookbook Classic Snacks Made from Scratch: 70 Homemade Versions of Your Favorite Brand-Name Treats. Find her on Twitter: @GoodFoodStories