Last Thursday I was drawing up the menu for Friday Saucepan&Suitcase secret supper and I lingered for quite some time over the recipe of this savoury tart - I was not sure whether my guests would have found it that appealing, after all it is simply a pastry case filled with ricotta and spinach and stuck in it a few hard boiled eggs that appear now and then.
But I am glad I went ahead with this idea. Easter was not such a long time ago and it is after all one of the most popular dishes we make in Italy for this kind of celebrations, particularly if the weather is good enough to let us have a picnic.
Torta Pasqualina, "Easter pie", is originally from Liguria, the horn shape region next to France, but can now be found anywhere in Italy. Almost every table features one of these simple pies which carry strong symbolic ingredients, like eggs, together with local springtime produce, like spinach and beets. It is perfect the day after and that is why it suits un "pranzo al sacco", lunch in a bag, i.e. picnic.
If you have time you can make your own pastry case which is a simple bread basis. Otherwise, puff pastry does an excellent job and can be a perfect substitute.
Serves between 8 and 16 people (depending on slice)
500g puff pastry
500g beet or chard (you can use only spinach if you cannot find beets or chard)
pinch of nutmeg
5 eggs + 6 eggs for decoration
50ml double cream
100g Parmesan cheese
2 sprigs of fresh marjoram (if you cannot find it you can replace it with fresh oregano)
Cook the vegetables in salty water for just a minute or two and then drain well to ensure all the water is gone. Cut in small pieces and saute'for a few minutes in a large pan with 2 tbsp of olive oil and half onion finely chopped.
Let the spinach mix cool down and then add 2 eggs, 50g of the grated Parmesan, the marjoram finely chopped, and season with salt and pepper. Combine well all these ingredients and set aside.
In another bowl mix the ricotta with 3 eggs, the remaining 50g of Parmesan cheese, a pinch of nutmeg, salt and pepper.
Combine the ricotta mixture to the spinach.
Roll the puff pastry out and line a 18cm tin (previously well greased) in two parts - the bottom which needs to be large enough to come out of the ridges and the top. The pastry should be a cm thick. Fill the case with half of the the ricotta mixture and make with the help of the back of a tea spoon 6 hollows where you will plunge the egg yolks for decoration. Cover the eggs with the remaining ricotta mixture.
With the rest of the pastry make a disc big enough to cover most of the surface of the cake. Fold the rest of the "side/bottom" pastry arranging it nicely to give some design. Brush the pastry with the whites of those eggs you have used as a decoration.
Cook in the oven at 180C for approx 40 minutes until the pastry looks gold and feels firm to the touch.
Hopefully the weather will decide to improve this weekend and we might have the chance to organize a dry picnic, perhaps not on the hills overlooking Portofino but even simply in Grantchester would do...as long as it stays dry!