Torta Pasqualina is a wonderful and absolutely delicious spinach or chard and ricotta pie that is traditionally served for Easter. It's made with a mix of sautéed greens and ricotta cheese with whole eggs baked into it and a wonderfully layered pastry. If you're looking for a delicious Easter centrepiece, this is a pushy recipe Dear Reader! And best of all this is best made the day before!
Torta Pasqualina is a vegetarian pie that originates from Genoa, the capital of Liguria in the North West of Italy. It can be traced back to at least the 1500s where it was referenced by Renaissance cook and food writer Bartolomeo Scappi (who is said to have produced the first known illustrated cookbook in history). "Pasqua" means Easter and this is a traditional pie served at Easter on Easter Sunday or Easter Monday (Pasquetta). Because this is served at Easter after the fasting of Lent, the richness of the eggs, cheese and pastry was used to celebrate Easter as a special occasion.
Torta Pasqualina is a very photogenic pie with a golden pastry, dark green layer and eggs peeking through each slice. The whole eggs are cracked inside the pie before it is covered with pastry and baked. Eggs signify spring and rebirth. I made a top layer with ricotta and eggs too just for some contrast.
The pastry for Torta Pasqualina is supposed to be a layered pastry with 33 layers. The 33 is said to represent the years of Christ's life. There are many pastries you can use with Torta Pasqualina. Shortcrust works well as a base, others use puff pastry while others use a simple olive oil pastry. I used a home made shortcrust on the bottom and a commercial butter puff pastry on top.
The filling for Torta Pasqualina is usually chard, spinach or artichokes. Since Easter falls during Springtime in Italy other spring time greens are also used. You can also use frozen spinach that has been thawed. I also added some fresh peas which gave this pie such a wonderful texture. Other vegetables you can use are borage, pumpkin, leek and mushrooms. Traditionally the cheese used is prescinseua (a soft, tangy creamy soft cheese) although this is difficult to obtain outside of Liguria. Nowadays most people use ricotta.
Tips for making Torta Pasqualina:
1 - Make sure that the ingredients are not wet or you risk the pastry becoming soggy. That means straining the ricotta the night before and pressing down or weighting down the blanched greens before cooking off any extra liquid.
2 - Please don't be tempted to add hard boiled eggs as they tend to overcook in the pie.
3 - Make this Torta Pasqualina a day or two before serving it. This allows the filling time to set as it is served cold at Easter Sunday or Monday. You can also make it on the day and serve it at room temperature (Torta Pasqualina is never served piping hot).
What are you plans for Easter Dear Reader? We were lucky enough to be invited to Valentina's farm for the Easter long weekend. They are amazing hosts and as Valentina is an artist she designed a gorgeous one page itinerary flyer for everyone (all my friends are extra, that's why I love them!). We just adore hanging out with Valentina and her family. They're the loveliest, warmest people and make us feel like we're part of the family.
We were at their house one night recently for a games night. Valentina made her wonderful Romanoff dip (recipe is here under Demogorgon dip), a stuffed marrow and spinach and feta spiral pie. We brought lobster rolls and lardo and bread and Katie made some jalapeno poppers and dessert. We wanted to make sure that we got some games in so we played a game between each course.
We started with a game of Uno flip. This was my first time playing Uno but I loved it. Uno is where you have to put down a card of the same colour or number. And there is one card where you can change the colour of the cards for the next person. Valentina decided to change the colours to "Blue".
Everyone groaned - clearly nobody else had a blue and then we all picked up a card in the next round. Then it came back around to Valentina and she picked up a card. "Don't you have a blue card?" asked Katie.
"No, I just like the colour blue!" said Valentina. We laughed because that's so Valentina. She's an artist so she loves colours and she doesn't have a cunning bone in her body!
So tell me Dear Reader, what are you up to this upcoming long weekend? Have you ever made a Torta Pasqualina?
Torta Pasqualina (Easter Spinach & Ricotta Pie)
An Original Recipe by Lorraine Elliott
Preparation time: 30 minutes plus 1.5 hours resting/cooling time
Cooking time: 1 hour 40 minutes
- 200g/7ozs. flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 125g/4ozs. butter
- 1 egg
- 1-2 tablespoons cream or oil
- 1kg/2.2lbs spinach or chard, chopped, blanched and drained (can use thawed out from frozen spinach)
- Oil for frying
- 3 large onions (around 600g/21ozs) finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic, finely diced
- 1/2-1 teaspoon sugar
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon marjoram
- 1 cup/125g/4ozs. peas
- 1 cup/125g/4ozs grated parmesan cheese
- 3 eggs, beaten
- 500g/1.1lbs ricotta, divided in half, drained
- 5-6 eggs
- 1 sheet butter puff pastry, thawed in the fridge
- Beaten egg to glaze
Tip: drain the ricotta cheese the night before you make this so that the filling is not wet.
Step 1 - Spray a round 20cm/8inch springform tin with oil and line the base with parchment. In a food processor add the flour, salt, butter and egg and pulse until you get fine breadcrumbs. Then add the cream or oil (add 1 tablespoon at first) until it starts to come together. Knead to form a dough.
Step 2 - Sprinkle flour on a surface and roll out between two sheets of parchment so that it is large enough to fit into the tin and up the sides. Place into the tin-I find the easiest way is to flour the surface of the pastry and fold it in half and then gently place it in the tin and then press down. You should get just about the right amount for a 20cm/8inch tin with some overhang. Cover with cling film and refrigerate while you make and cool the filling. You need the pastry in the fridge for at least 1 hour resting.
Step 3 - If you are using fresh chard or spinach, remove the hard spine and roughly chop the leaves and blanch them in water for 20 seconds. Then press it down with weights over a sieve to squeeze out all the water. The end weight you want is 1kg or 2.2lbs well drained greens. Finely chop the wilted leaves.
Step 4 - Heat oil in a large frying pan and add the onions and sweat these on low to medium heat until soft and fragrant (around 10 minutes) adding more oil if you need it. Add the garlic and sauté for a few more minutes. Then add the drained spinach or chard and cook for a few minutes until there is no more water left. Then add the sugar, lemon, nutmeg, pepper, marjoram, peas and parmesan. Taste this mixture for flavour and season if needed. This should be delicious as it is, otherwise add some more salt, sugar or parmesan. Allow this mixture to cool completely.
Step 5 - Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Mix half of the ricotta cheese and the beaten eggs with the greens. Spoon into the unbaked pastry in the tin and smooth over with an angled spatula. Spread the remaining ricotta on top. Using a spoon make deep holes in the ricotta spinach mixture and crack the eggs in the depressions.
Step 6 - Cut out a circle of puff pastry to fit over the top of the pie. Trim the edge of the base pastry and seal the two pastries together with a little egg wash. I pinched the edges together too using my knuckles. Brush the top with egg wash. Place in the fridge for 30 minutes and then bake for 1 hour 15 minutes. Cool and serve at room temperature or serve the next day after storing in the fridge.