Special emphasis on Sicilian recipes within Italian regional cuisine in an Australian context
‘MPANATA (A lamb pie, Easter treat)
Having relatives in Ragusa who celebrate Easter in a big way, I am very familiar with the ‘mpanata ri agnieddu – a focaccia typepie made withvery young lamb (unfortunately) complete with bones and enveloped with a bread dough crust. This is the traditional specialty for the Easter Sunday lunch in Ragusa and it is not the type of pie where you discard the pastry – the flavourful juices from the meat and herbs soak into the bottom crust and are appreciated as much as the filling. My relatives make large round pies, but as you can see in the photo above, individual sized pastries could be made as well, but these are not as traditional.
Sicilian food like Italian food is regional so ‘mpanata ri agnieddu may not be eaten in other parts of Sicily.
The word ‘mpanata (impanata in Italian) appears in a Sicilian lexicon in 1785 andis highly likely to have come from the Spanish word empanada, a derivative from the word empanar which means to wrap or coat with bread – the semi-circular stuffed pastries common in the Spanish speaking countries and in Spain.
Although it is commonly accepted that empanadas are a Spanish innovation it is possible that ‘mpanate may also have been adaptations of the breads of ancient civilizations in Sicily. The Greeks were renowned for their breads. The Romans continued this tradition and over time the breads in Sicily were enriched with flavours and fillings. There are many names for these, for example the ‘nfigghiulata, fuazza, pastizzu, ravazzata, scacciata, scacce and sfinciuni.
You will not believe just how simple the Easter ‘impanata is to make.
You will need 1.5- 2 kilos of cubed, lean lamb (from the shoulder or leg). The lamb the Ragusani use is very young and they include some of the bones, chopped into smallish pieces. As we all know bones add flavour, but I do not recommend you do this unless you tell your guests to be careful of the bones.
To the meat add, parsley, chopped garlic, salt and black pepper and a dash of extra virgin olive oil.
Leave this to steep overnight.
The bread dough
flour, plain (durum wheat), 900g
yeast, 50gr (fresh) or dried yeast, follow instructions on packet
warm water, ½ cup
extra virgin olive oil, ½ cup
salt to taste
Dissolve the yeast in a little warm water and add to the flour. Mix into a dough, adding a little water until you get a firm consistency.
Sprinkle with some flour and leave under a tea towel to rise for about 1 hour.
After the dough has risen, add a little olive oil and knead again until the oil is totally absorbed. Traditionally, the Ragusani add lard – you choose.
Heat the oven 200 C
Roll out the dough to 1.5 cm thick. There will be two discs of dough to cover the filling. Make one slightly larger than the other – the biggest one will go on the bottom. You can use a large pie plate or just place it into a well-oiled baking pan so that if any juices escape they will be contained.
Add the meat in one single layer in the centre of the dough.
Cover the filling with the smaller disk of dough, moisten around the edges with water and seal the crusts (first fold the dough around the border and then pinch together). Make a couple of slits on top.
Brush with a little olive oil or with a little beaten egg.
Bake for about 1½ hours until the crust is golden.
After about 40 minutes, cover the pie with foil to keep it from burning.
Let the pie rest for 1 hour before eating to allow the meat juices to be absorbed by the bread dough on the bottom layer. For some, this is supposed to be the most memorable part of the pie.
16 thoughts on “‘MPANATA (A lamb pie, Easter treat)”
Our family also made this but we added potatoes and onions to it and made it like a stew in the crust. We made it with lamb,beef or veal.
How interesting. And once again, how regional….all of these local variations!
Apparently ‘mpanata is mainly from the region of Ragusa. Is this where your ‘pie’ comes from? And what did you call it?
Thank you for that.
My grandparents, both from Santa Croce and Ragusa,Sicily, brought over this tradition in 1918. Although they are no longer with us, we continue to make this each Easter Eve as my grandmother did. My young adult children along with the many nieces and nephews all look forward to this Sicilian tradition! We also add scallions and potatoes to the meat.
My grandparents were from Santa Croce, Camerina, Sicily…my grandmother made this meat pie with veal, potatoes, italian seasoning and bread crumbs inside the lining of the pie crust. This was served every Saturday before Easter Sunday. She made enough to supply the neighborhood. What a lost art in making this pie…even when one tries to replicate it, its just doesn’t come like Grandma’s. The same with her spinach pies(amongst many other specialties) for the feast of St. Joseph.
Thank you for this information. There is probably someone in Santa Croce that still makes both types of pies. I have not heard of spinach pies for the feast of St Joseph. The spinach were probably the wild blede that are around at that time of year together with other varieties of wild greens that taste terrific.
My Aunt made this dish with a totally different stuffing. She used cooked spinach, squeezed dry, sauteed in garlic and oil, sausage, chopped walnuts, and rasins. Unable to duplicate the crust, it was generously, and deliciously wrapped in.
Sounds Fantastic, and so unusual. Thank you.
When visiting Ragua, I was thrilled to find slices of these pies for sale in a little shop on the way to il giadrno from the piazza in Ibla. My family makes the traditianal lamb, but also an eggplant filled one and one filled with leeks and ricotta. Another one we make is a layered tomato, parsley, and cheese we call scaccia. My dad was born in Ragusa Ibla and came here as a toddler.
Thanks George for all of this information, it seems that Scacce are fondly remembered.
Thank you George.
Carol, there is a scacce recipe on this blog:
My Mother made these every Easter which we enjoyed on the Saturday before Easter Sunday. She made them exactly this way and couldn’t imagine it any other way. The recipe comes from my Fathers side who are from Ragusa. I still make them today along with many others like the Eggplant one. For Christmas i always make the traditional tomato Scaccia Ragusana with the Caccicavalo imported from Ragusa.
The tradition will end with me since the kids want no part of it.
I have a niece (student) in Milan at the moment who is stuck there because of the Coronavirus and was unable to travel back to Ragusa for Easter. She said that what she would miss most would be the ‘Mpanata’ and the ‘Cassatedde’.
The ‘Scacce’ are also popular.
My grandfather was from Ragusa and my grandma from Palermo. They lived in a Brooklyn and then in CA where I live. I loved those lamb pies. And the spinach as pizza ones too.I would love to make one. I’ll have to give it a try.
Easter is coming up. These pastries/ scarce are very popular for Easter.