A classic Easter preparation – as its name announces, since Pasqua means Easter in Italian – this dish knows a variety of interpretations and regional changes. The most common version is linked to Liguria, the narrow region on the Thyrrenian Sea neighboring France, made with leafy green vegetables easy to grow in the vegetable gardens in the spring.
The idea is to have a stuffed bread in the shape of a pie; the stuffing is left to the creativity of the cook – or much more simply, to what was available in nature.
One of the ingredients readily available were wild herbs, harvested in the countryside, that would require several washes to get the soil out before being steamed. I personally would not be able to distinguish with complete certitude which wild herbs are edible, and which ones are not. In Italy you can go to some local farmers’ market and buy them – if you are lucky, as this is a skill that is disappearing rapidly.
The most common version nowadays is the Torta Pasqualina with spinach, which is readily available and sometimes even already washed. Which takes away a lot of the work of preparing this dish! In the past, it was common to use “erbette” or a mix of spring greens, tender and flavorful, part of the chard family.
Another must have in the Torta Pasqualina are the whole eggs: symbolizing the birth, and thus the spring. They must stay whole, perfectly visible when cutting the pie, and make a striking color contrast with the green herbs.
One thing is certain: the dough for the Torta Pasqualina is never made with butter, but only with flour, olive oil and water. In this it differs from many other stuffed pie recipes from around the world. You won’t find anything simpler, nor tastier than this!
500 gr all-purpose flour
250 grams water, lukewarm
1 teaspoon of salt
3 tablespoons EVOO
1 kg fresh Spinach
300 grams ricotta cheese
2 small shallots
4 tablespoons or more of grated parmigiano
A bunch of fresh Marjoram
Salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste
1. Put all the ingredients for the dough in the bowl of the stand mixer, mix with the leaf attachment first and then with the hook until you have a smooth ball of dough. Sprinkle with more flour if too sticky. Do not overwork. Can be done by hand as well!
2. Remove the dough ball and divide in 2, wrap it in saran and let it rest for 30 minutes.
3. In the meantime, chop the shallots and let them fry gently in oil. Add the fresh spinach a little at the time, mix, adjust with salt and pepper, cover with a lid, and let them steam in their own juice until wilted.
4. Remove the spinach and let them cool down; let the juice evaporate almost completely.
5. Add the ricotta and 2 beaten eggs to the spinach. Add the reduced cooking juice. Add the chopped marjoram. Mix, adjust with salt and pepper, add the grated parmigiano cheese. Set aside.
6. Roll the first half of the dough until very, very thin. Cut 3 large circles – a couple of inches larger than the diameter of the springform.
7. Cover the form with parchment paper. Put the first circle of dough, letting some hang outside the springform; brush generously with EV olive oil.
8. Add the second circle and do the same.
9. After you have put 3 layers of dough, fill with the spinach mix, leaving at least 3/4 inch to the border. Make 4 small holes in the spinach with the help of the back of a spoon. Break the 4 eggs one at the time and gently pour each one of them in each hole. Cover gently with some spinach mixture.
10. Roll out the second ball of dough and proceed in the same way.
11. When finished, trim the excess dough along the border with a pair of scissors so that you have the same amount of dough along the perimeter of the form. Then pinch it together giving it the shape of a wave.
12. Brush the top with olive oil. Poke holes with a fork in a few places for venting.
13. Cook in the preheated oven at 365F for 45 minutes to one hour. It must look very well browned, otherwise the eggs inside will not be hard.
14. Let it cool down before gently removing from the springform.
15. Serve warm or at room temperature.
A Few Notes:
- If you want to use chards or other green leaves vegetables, you need to steam them first. Be careful to squeeze out all the water, or your pie dough will become soggy.
- If you have the feeling that the vegetables are too wet, add some breadcrumbs to the mixture.
- It can be prepared in advance. In this case remove the pie from the springform or it will become soggy. You can reheat in the oven in a baking tray.
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.