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X Italian Rice and Polenta Dishes
pizza con le foglie
Pizza con foglie (Corn pizza with Swiss Chard)
Originated from: Casacalenda, Molise, Italy
Occasion: Any time
Contributed by: Mary Melfi (her mother's recipe)

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For Pizza di Grandini or Pizza di Randinie (Corn Pizza)

1 1/2 cups coarse yellow cornmeal
1 1/2 cups fine yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons salt
2 to 3 cups boiling water

For Cooking Swiss Chard*

A large pot of water (for cooking Swiss chard)
1 tablespoon salt (added to pot of water)

For Seasoning Swiss Chard

1 pound Swiss chard
3 tablespoons olive oil
6 garlic cloves, whole, sliced or chopped
2 onions, sliced (optional)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper (optional)
1 teaspoon hot red chillies (optional)

* In North America a variety of chard greens are available. Swiss chard comes closest to what was grown in Molise in the 1930s.


To make Pizza di grandini

1. Boil water in a large pot on the stove burner. Add salt.

2. Turn down heat.

3. In a separate bowl mix the "coarse" cornmeal with the "fine" cornmeal.

4. Add the mixed cornmeal to the boiled water in the large pot on the stove burner and mix well for a few minutes on low heat (The mixture should be very thick as one will have to make a "pizza" out of it).

5. Remove the cooked cornmeal from the large pot and knead on a wooden board for a few minutes.

6. Shape into a dough-ball.

7. Place the dough-ball into a [9 inch] springform pan and flatten it out (The mixture should be about 1 inch thick). Alternatively, if one were to use the traditional method one would flatten the dough-ball on a baking sheet, making a nice round shape, but for this traditional cooking technique to be successful one requires a great deal of skill.

8. Place the springform pan in a preheated 375 degree F oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes.

9. Remove from the "pizza di grandini" from the oven and let it cool for a few minutes in the pan.

10. Remove the "pizza di grandini" and cut into individual slices or into chunks. In Southern Italy most cooks cut it up into chunks, but this is less visually appealing than slices. (P.S. The "pizza di grandini" hardens rather quickly, so if one plans to serve it with chard or beans, it's best to cut it up while it's still a bit warm.).

For Cooking Swiss Chard

1. Wash Swiss chard very well.

2. Discard any parts of the Swiss chard that are no good.

3. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add salt.

4. Add Swiss chard and cook until ready (about 10 minutes).

5. Drain, reserving about 2 cups of the water that the Swiss chard was cooked in.

For Seasoning the Swiss Chard

1a. Version I. Peel garlic and keep whole (Traditional Southern Italian style).


1b. Version II. Peel garlic and chop into small pieces (North American style).

2. Slice onions, if using.

3. Heat up oil and add garlic until golden (The oil has to be hot so that the garlic sizzles when added. Traditionally a small piece of bread was added to the oil, so that when it sizzled it meant the oil was at the right temperature).

4. Add onions (if using).

5. Add the cooked Swiss chard. Season.

6. Add 1 or 2 cups of the reserved water the Swiss chard was cooked in.

Serving the Pizza con le foglie

1a. Version I. Cut up the pizza di grandini in chunks. Place a few on a plate and add a portion of the seasoned Swiss chard. (Traditional method)

1b. Version II. Place a slice of the pizza di grandini on a plate and add a portion of the seasoned Swiss chard.

2. Serve warm.


It seems that prior to World War II "foglie" -- leaves -- referred to Swiss chard rather than to spinach in the Molise area. Apparently, spinach was difficult to grow in this region so most farmers planted "chard" or what North Americans have come to know as "Swiss chard." For this particular dish either Swiss chard was used or rapini. Both were prepared the same way. I believe (if I am to believe my mother) that of all the foods prepared in the Molisan countryside prior to World War II "pizza con le foglie" and/or any other type of corn pizza dish were the ones that had the least amount of appeal. In fact, corn-based pizza dishes were even lower on the Appeal Hierarchy than "pasta e fagiole" dishes which were already pretty low. I originally had thought "pasta e fagiole" dishes were the lowest on the Appeal Hierarchy, but I now find out I was wrong. Corn pizza dishes were really the lowest of the low! Corn-based dishes were perceived as being the foods that the poorest of the poor "had" to eat. It seems that prior to World War II corn was cheaper than wheat to produce, so any dish that used corn instead of wheat, was perceived as having less merit. Also, many people actually preferred the taste of wheat-based products (I know I do!) so obviously that contributed to the negative attitude that people had towards corn-based dishes. In any case, the poorest of the poor (That included my maternal grandmother's family) were stuck with eating "pizza di grandini" more often than they would have liked to. At my maternal grandmother's house corn-based dishes were often served 5 times a week, twice a day, while at my paternal grandmother's house (whose family was better off) corn-based dishes were served only two or three times a week. It seems from the information I could gather that in upper middle class homes in Southern Italy (prior to World War II) pasta was served about three or four times a week, but in lower class homes pasta was only served twice a week (if at that). Growing up in Montreal in the 1960s I often heard stories that poor people in Southern Italy didn't have much "meat" in their diet and how horrible that was etc., but now, in my middle age (Or is it old age?), I find out that poor people didn't even have enough pasta in their diet. This might explain why Italians who settled in North America took to serving pasta so frequently in their homes. Pasta was seen as the food of the rich, and foods like "pizza di grandini" were seen as the food of the poor. Nowadays, pasta is relatively cheap so it often thought of as the food of the poor. Who would have known (I didn't!) that at one time pasta was reserved for special occasions because it was what the rich people ate! How things change.... One more thing -- pizza con le foglie would not have been made in the middle of winter or early spring, as then the chard would not have been available locally. That said, vegetables could be had fresh up to mid-December. It seems, in the Molise area, the temperature was relatively moderate, so farmers didn't have to harvest all their vegetables in the fall. They kept many of their vegetables growing in the fields up to Christmas. When a cook wanted some Swiss chard or French green beans she simply went out to her fields and picked a bunch.... One more thing... prior to World War II "pizza di grandini" was cooked on the hearth in a special cooking utensil called a "fornicella" that came with a special lid called a "cop'". Many "fornicella" pans were round and made of copper; they came with over-sized lids that were made of iron. Unlike a frying pan or a cauldron, this "fornicella" with its over-sized "cop'" not only got heat from the burning embers from the bottom of the pan, but it also got heat from the top (Apparently, a fire had to burn for two hours prior to its embers being used for baking purposes). Basically, the "fornicella" with the "cop'" was totally surrounded in hot embers, giving out a slow and consistent heat. Like other foods that were baked in this cooking utensil the results were rather uneven. Sometimes the food came out quite well, other times it got burnt.... As previously noted, one could gauge the social status of a family by the amount of "pizza di grandini" they ate. The more "pizza di grandini" on the table, the less well off the family was.... Yet another food trivia. It seems that in Molise prior to World War II cooks generally used whole garlic cloves in their dishes, rather than chopped garlic cloves. Most cooks seemed to have used the garlic to flavor the olive oil (rather than the other ingredients in the dish). They also used the garlic cloves to check to see if the oil was hot enough. If it was hot enough the garlic would sizzle (A piece of bread was also used to find out if the temperature of the oil was right for cooking). In any case, using whole pieces of garlic cloves rather than using chopped garlic cloves decreases the flavor of the garlic, so it's hard to understand why cooks preferred to use the cloves whole, unless of course, they didn't want the garlic flavor to overwhelm the dish. In Northern Italy (I might be wrong on this!) it seems that garlic cloves were often chopped up and then used to flavor the dishes, in which case the garlic flavor was more prominent. Personally, I love garlic so I don't understand why Southern Italians downplayed its use, unless of course, as previously noted they didn't like the flavor or they simply didn't want to smell of garlic (Everyone knows that eating garlic can contribute to bad breath and ruin one's love life). On the other hand, maybe the reason Southern Italian cooks didn't use too much garlic in their dishes was because they didn't have enough of it to go round. Subsistence farmers couldn't use their land to grow garlic, herbs and other embellishments. They needed it to grow corn and wheat etc... So cooks had very little garlic to work with. They had to ration the amount of garlic they used. Prior to World War II, as everyone knows, garlic was braided (Actually, it still is!)and so by doing this the garlic was good for months. Onion, on the other hand, didn't keep as well as garlic, so in the middle of winter and early spring, there was not that much of it for use. Perhaps that's why many of the corn pizza dish recipes don't include onions. That's a pity as onions do improve the flavor somewhat, though I have to admit I don't like any of these traditional corn-based dishes. At least, not the ones I have tried so far. That's not to say great-tasting Southern Italian corn-based dishes don't exist, I simply am not aware of them. Not yet anyway. Photo: Mary Melfi.

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