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31 Mar 2014

Torta Pasqualina - Italian Eastern Pie

Photograph Torta Pasqualina by Alessio Fangano on 500px


Another classic of the Italian Easter table must be the Torta Pasqualina (Easter pie). Done throughout Italy, this dish has in it all the ingredients that represent the coming of Spring: fresh herbs, ricotta cheese and eggs.
Tradition would want the cake to be made with wild herbs as well as spinach and Swiss chard.
What best than tender shoots of greens to represent the upcoming season right? But, unfortunately, the foraging lore of our grandmothers has almost gone lost into the mist of time.
To replace these herbs, tradition has brought up the use of Swiss chard as main vegetable component of the dish. Coupled sometimes with spinach, the vegetables are mixed with fresh milky white ricotta cheese and baked in a pastry casing. It is here that you can also express your creativity; bread dough, puff pastry or pie dough would all go well with this recipe.
In the version I propose you, I chose to use puff pastry since I really like its buttery crispiness in this dish.
So far I talked about the vegetable part of the dish but where are the eggs? Beside those going directly in the farce, other hard boiled eggs are snugly nested into the filling so to present their glorious golden yellow yolks when you cut into the pie (if you have the luck to cut into one naturally).
Double cooking eggs is somewhat risky to me though; the chances to end up with a rubbery white and sulfurous yolk are too many to ignore so in the recipe I propose you here, I use the other traditional technique of employing raw eggs cracked directly into hollows made in the pie filling. This has also the positive side effect of gluing the top crust of the pie to the filling itself.
As extra flavoring, here I propose you to use oregano in your sauteed Swiss chard and let me tell you, I adore its delicate aroma in this pie; naturally you can substitute or supplement it with other herbs of your choice.
An interesting alternative for the filling could include sturdy salad greens, like escarole for instance, provided they are quite dry when added to the ricotta mixture.

Torta Pasqualina

Ingredients (serve 6-8 people):

  • 500g Swiss chard
  • olive oil
  • 1.5 teaspoons oregano
  • salt


  • 300g ricotta
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 tablespoons grated Parmesan
  • nutmeg, to taste
  • black pepper
  • salt


  • 2 rectangular sheets of Puff pastry
  • 7 eggs



Method:

Place the swiss-chard leaves on top of each other in a pile and slice them along their length and then shred them finely along their width.
In a wide pan, place 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil with the oregano and let them heat up on medium heat. Transfer the shredded swiss-chard to the hot pan, sprinkle them with a little salt and black pepper and let them cook until soft stirring every now and then.
At this point, transfer the cooked vegetable to a plate and let cool down.

In a bowl mix together the ricotta cheese with the eggs, the Parmesan, the nutmeg, salt and pepper until well combined. When the swiss-chard is cold to the touch, fold it into the ricotta cream.

Pre-heat the oven to 180C/360F.
On a baking tray or baking dish place one layer of puff pastry (with its baking paper if it came with some). Place the swiss-chard-ricotta filling on it and spread it heavenly leaving 1-2cm of free puff-pastry all around. Using a spoon, create 6 holes on the surface of the filling and place in each of them one egg yolk. Place the 2 egg whites on a bowl and gently whisk them so to make them more fluid. Spoon a little of the egg-whites on top of the filling and cover with the second layer of puff pastry (without its baking paper this time).

Seal the lid with the little bit of free puff-pastry from bottom layer by pinching them together using your hands or a fork.
In a little bowl or glass, whisk the remaining egg with 1 tablespoon of water and spread some of it over the pie lid using a spoon, a pastry brush or your fingers.
Using a sharp knife or leftover puff pastry, make some decoration on the pie-lid and bake it in the pre-heated oven for 20-30 minutes.

Let the pie cool down a little before cutting it.

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