Spinach Pie Genoa Style
In Italy savory pies are love affairs: every region has its own secret recipe for a variation on Torta Rustica, with a multitude of filling, but always with a couple of omnipresent ingredients: flour dough, lots of vegetables, a couple of eggs and cheese.
As you see right away those are very filling and satisfying pies, that can be brought to work for a quick lunch, or as a snack during the Sunday hike or for the day at the beach. And as always inspired by the need of feeding the family without breaking the bank, often reusing some leftovers or some wild growing vegetables to be picked for free.
I discovered the method that we are going to use for this one from my dear friend Marica, from Genoa. To tell you the truth she made it for me with butternut squash filling, and I was flabbergasted. It could be a very welcome main dish for the vegetarians at your Holiday table!
In Liguria people mostly use different kinds of green leafy vegetables for the filling, some of them growing wild in the fields; to simplify a bit and no to put you off we will use spinach, readily available already washed in every grocery store. You could also use what is labeled as “power greens”, a mixture of young kale and spinach, or chard.
The secret of this delicious pie is in the dough: instead of using a store-bought puff pastry or a bread style dough, we are going to make something that, strangely enough, makes me think of the crispy baklava dough from our Arabic countries’ neighbors. Layers of thin, super thin dough, hand rolled, and brushed each time with the fantastic Extra Virgin Olive Oil preferably from Liguria as well. Strange? Not so much, just fusion ante litteram: Genoa was one of the most important Maritime Republics from the X century through all of the Middle Ages, flourished during the Crusades, became very rich supporting the Spanish Monarchy in the XVII century and stayed independent through the end of XVIII century when it was conquered by Napoleon. In all this time Genoa never stopped crossing the Mediterranean Sea with its fleet of merchant ships, and trading with all the people of the Mediterranean basin, thus the influence.
This dish can be made ahead and reheats beautifully. It can also be used as a side dish of course.
Useless to say, this is a super healthy way of stuffing yourself this Winter!
For 8 portions – 9” diameter pie mold:
For the Dough:
300 grams all purpose flour – 2 cups scant
150 grams of water approximately – 2/3 of a cup more or less
1 tablespoons EV Olive oil
Salt – a pinch
For the filling:
1 pound fresh organic spinach, triple washed
1-2 tablespoons of EV Olive Oil
Salt, pepper, Nutmeg
1 tablespoon of butter
3-4 tablespoons of grated parmigiano Reggiano
3 tablespoons of grated Pecorino Cheese (optional – can be substituted with more parmigiano or with some grinded fontina cheese)
¾ cup of ricotta cheese
Optional and seasonal: ½ cup to 2/3 cup of dried cranberries
Freshly grated orange zest
Optional: some pine nuts or slivered almonds
1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, put flour, water, salt and olive oil. Mix with the paddle attachment until combine.
2. Remove the paddle and put the hook attachment; work the dough for 5 minutes approximately, until smooth and elastic.
3. Stop the mixer briefly, disconnect from power, and mix the dough with your hands if you see that the hook is not mixing the dough properly.
4. When done, cover with plastic film and let it rest for half an hour at least. It will be very sticky and soft.
5. Preheat the oven at 360F on convection bake, if possible, if not simply bake
6. Put a very large skillet or large pot on high flame. Sprinkle the bottom with olive oil, pour the spinach and 1-2 tbsp of water, stir, cover, and let it come to a boil, stirring from time to time. Mix rapidly, season; spinach will be cooked in no time. Do not overcook otherwise they will start releasing too much water. Let the spinach drain if necessary. Add the cranberries, if desired, and the butter, stir. If you wish add pine nuts or slivered almonds. Grate some orange peel on the mixture. Let it cool down uncovered.
7. Cut a small ball of dough. Sprinkle the working surface (wood plank/ marble) generously with flour. Start rolling the dough with a floured pin.
8. The dough will be very soft. When you have a disc, stop using the rolling pin as it will stick to the dough, and keep stretching the dough with your fingers, using more flour as needed. The dough will become thin like a veil, and if you hold it against the light you will see through.
9. Oil a 9’ mold and spread the first layer of dough. The shape will be very approximative, but it does not matter as far as the dough is hanging out of the mold for one inch. With a brush, oil lightly the dough surface.
10. Repeat all the steps with another piece of dough, and don’t forget to oil each layer.
11. You should have at the end at least 4 or 5 layers of dough.
12. At this point, spread some semolina flour on the dough.
13. Add the beaten eggs and the cheeses to the cooled down spinach. Stir.
14. Then with a spoon spread gently the spinach mixture in the mold, flattening it.
15. When finished, fold the hanging dough inside the mold, galette style.
16. Put in the hot oven and cook for 30-35 minutes or more, until the dough starts getting golden in color and looking crisp.
17. Let it cool down before serving.
18. It can be reheated in a hot oven, never in a microwave! It would become too soggy.
Elisabetta Ciardullo is the founder of Think Italian! Events. As Personal Chef she is an ambassador of the Italian cuisine and culture, bringing it into the private homes of Americans, as well as to many corporate clients in Los Angeles.