Monday, April 6, 2015

Torta Pasqualina: Traditional Italian Easter Pie

Torta Pasqualina, or Italian Easter Pie, is a traditional Ligurian recipe made each year to celebrate the Easter holiday. It was traditionally made with 33 layers of dough — ten on the bottom and 23 on the top — to symbolize the 33 years of Christ's life. Light yet quite filling, this savoury dish is filled with spinach, dandelion or Swiss chard, and mixed with eggs, cheese and herbs. Consumed since ancient times, eggs are one of the foods most commonly associated with the Christian Easter tradition, having always been known as a symbol of life and the resurrection. In the Middle Ages during the period of Lent, eggs were boiled, decorated during the Holy Week and consumed on Easter Day, after having been blessed in church the day before. Over time, another tradition was born, that of donating excess eggs to the poor and children — a tradition which still exists today in the form of giving chocolate eggs to children. 

Torta Pasqualina
Serves 6
Recipe courtesy Gennaro Contaldo

For the torta:
1 oz butter, for greasing
2 tbsp plain flour, for dusting
5 large eggs, plus 1 beaten for brushing
7 oz spinach
4 oz dandelion leaves 
1 tbsp chopped fresh marjoram
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 lb ricotta cheese
2 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
4 oz provolone cheese, cut into small cubes
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lb ready-made puff pastry

For the salad:
10 oz fresh or frozen broad beans, as shelled weight
5 small celery stalks, finely chopped into matchsticks 1-inch long
1 large handful arugula
12 mint leaves, roughly torn
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 small lemon, juice only
4 oz pecorino cheese, shaved

Preheat oven to 400°F. Grease a 11-inch round deep pie dish with butter and dust with flour. For the torta, place five of the eggs into a pan of boiling water and boil for 10 minutes, then drain and place into cold water. Once cool, remove the shells and cut the eggs in half lengthways.

Wash the spinach and dandelion leaves and shake to remove the excess water.
Heat a large pan with a lid until hot, and add the spinach and dandelion leaves and cover, cooking for 4-5 minutes, until steamed and wilted down. Drain the spinach and dandelions, and once cool enough to handle, squeeze out any excess liquid. Roughly chop the leafy mixture and place into a bowl. Heat a frying pan over a medium heat and add the olive oil and onion, frying gently for a few minutes until softened, then set aside and allow to cool. Add the cooked onion to the spinach and dandelion and mix well. Then add the ricotta and parmesan, mixing well to combine. Finally, add the provolone cheese, dill, marjoram, and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper and mix well.

Roll out half of the puff pastry to 1/4-inch thick and use to line the prepared pie dish. Fill the pie case with half of the spinach and cheese mixture. Add the boiled egg halves, yolks down, evenly spaced, then top with the remaining spinach mixture. Brush the edge of the pastry with a little beaten egg, then roll out the remaining puff pastry to the same thickness as the first sheet, and place over the pie filling, pressing down the edges well. Trim away any excess pastry and crimp the edges with your fingers, so that the pie is well sealed.

Make a small incision the shape of a cross into the centre of the pastry top to allow steam to escape during baking. Brush the top of the pastry with beaten egg, then transfer to the oven to bake for 35-40 minutes, or until risen and golden-brown all over. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

For the salad, boil the broad beans for one minute, then drain and refresh in cold water. In a large clean bowl, place the celery, rocket and mint. Add the cooled broad beans and mix well. Place the olive oil and lemon juice into a small clean bowl and whisk until it starts to thicken. Pour the dressing over the salad and mix well. To serve, place a slice of the torta onto each plate and spoon some of the salad alongside. Drizzle everything with a little extra virgin olive oil and top with shavings of pecorino cheese.