Pasqua con i tuoi, Pasquetta con chi vuoi.
Easter, the saying goes, should be spent with family. Traditions abound at Easter time in Italy, and of course many of them revolve around food. Easter breakfast at Stefano’s house is always pizza dolce with hard-boiled eggs and salami. Abbacchio, young suckling lamb, is a Roman classic that is never missing at Easter lunch, and someone will likely bring a homemade Neopolitan Easter tart, pastiera. The meal ends with a slice of dove-shaped Easter cake called a Colomba and a few pieces of Uova di Pasqua, a giant chocolate Easter egg.
Easter Monday though, according to the saying, can be spent with friends. It is a public holiday, and tradition calls for a picnic in the countryside. In many parts of Italy, torte salate are common picnic fare, and torta pasqualina has become a quintessential Easter time shepherd’s pie. Originally from Liguria, torta pasqualina is now made all over Italy. It is characterized by its multiple layers of crust, swiss chard or spinach and ricotta filling, and by the eggs which are cooked whole inside the pie. Recipes vary, and some traditionalists mourn the loss of authenticity that the dish’s popularity has brought.
It was our first time trying torta pasqualina, and it will definitely make a return to our Easter Monday picnic basket.
For the crust
600 grams (4 and 3/4 cups) all purpose flour
350 ml (1 and 1/2 cups warm water
1/2 teaspoon salt
35 g (1/4 cup) olive oil
For the filling
1 kilo (2 and 1/4 pounds) fresh spinach or swiss chard
500 grams (one 16 oz. tub will suffice) whole milk ricotta
150 grams (2 cups) grated Pecorino Romano cheese
You will bake your tart in a 25-30 cm, or 10-12 in. tart pan, such as this one.
Prepare the dough
Measure the flour and place it into a bowl. Dissolve the salt into the water, and add it to the flour. Add the olive oil, and stir with a wooden spoon until it the dough unites into a rough ball. Turn the dough onto a smooth, lightly floured surface and knead it for 5-7 minutes until it becomes smooth and elastic. Cut the dough into four pieces – two of them approximately 300 grams (10 and 1/2 oz.) each, and two of them approximately 180 grams (6 and 1/2 oz) each. Cover them with a cloth and set aside.
Prepare the filling
Wilt the spinach or swiss chard in a few tablespoons olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Only fill the pan with as much spinach or swiss chard as fits. When that is wilted, remove to a separate bowl and place more fresh spinach or swiss chard to the pan, adding more olive oil if needed. Set the wilted greens aside to cool.
In a separate bowl, mix the ricotta, 1/3 of the Pecorino Romano, 3 eggs, and a generous pinch of salt, a dash of pepper and another of nutmeg. Mix well and set aside.
Return to the greens, which by now should be cool. Place them in a strainer and press all of the liquid out of them. Turn them over onto a cutting board, and chop them coarsely. Return them to the bowl and add half of the remaining Pecorino Romano, 2 eggs, salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 180° C, 350° F, and return to your dough. Take one of the two larger pieces, and roll it out so that it is quite thin and larger than the tart pan. Brush the bottom and sides of the tart dish with olive oil, and place the dough in it, pressing it tight to the edges of the tart dish. You want the dough to wrap over the sides of the dish. Brush this layer of dough with olive oil. Roll out the second large piece of dough, and place it on top of the first piece.
Return to the spinach or swiss chard. If it has released more liquid, drain that off and then spoon the spinach into the tart dish, pressing it down and toward the edges. Add the ricotta mixture on top of the greens.
Using a soup spoon, make 7 deep indentations into the filling – one in the center, and three on each side to form a circle. Crack each of the remaining 7 eggs, one at a time, separating the whites from the yolk. Preserve the whites, and carefully drop each yolk into an indentation in the filling. Carefully spoon some of the egg whites on top of the ricotta mixture.
Roll out each of the remaining small pieces of dough and place them one after another on top of the tart, brushing the first piece of dough with olive oil before adding the second. Carefully lift the excess bottom dough up around the top of the tart, pressing the bottom and top pieces together. Brush the remaining egg yolk over the dough, with particular attention to sealing the edges.
Bake for 45-60 minutes, until the crust is golden brown. Allow to cool to room temperature before cutting into it.