Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Torta Pasqualina

Easter Egg Pie

Easter is all about celebrating spring and new life and the return of light and colour to the world after the bleakness and chill of a long dark winter. With four days off it's celebrated in a proper way, with time to make plans and do stuff and eat well. And eggs, of course. Easter is definitely about the eggs.

I had been vaguely thinking of roasting some lamb for the weekend, gently spiced perhaps with lots of roasted veg with plenty of meat leftover to add to butter bean mash and roasted peppers all the better to stuff wraps for easy eating. Not very eggy, tis true but definitely spring like. Then I read about this Italian Easter Pie and it stirred a vague memory of wanting to try it once and never getting round to it. I am a big fan of eggs whichever way you serve them and I was really taken with the idea of  the richish leafy cheese base studded with whole eggs before baking. I have signed up for a weekly veg box and this week there was spinach and spring onions amongst the treasure as well as radish and carrots for a crunchy salad. Perhaps the time had come.

In its original form it is a slightly complex construction with a lot of recipes assuming you will make the filo pastry. Seriously! They sell it ready made - rolled, boxed, frozen - in all good supermarkets and specialist food shops. For the true afficionado there should be 33 sheets of it, one for each year of Christ's life, plus a dozen eggs inserted, one for each of the apostles. I decided to simplify that bit of it too, but I definitely kept to the spirit of the pie and I'm glad to say it turned out beautifully.

In Italy it is made and served at the Easter Monday picnic - love the assumption that of course you will picnic on your day off. With all the eggs and greens and herby freshness this is a good dish for the whole of spring, I think, not just an Easter treat.

Torta Pasqualina

I used tarragon in the mix because I had some that needed using and it worked a treat though most recipes suggest marjoram and/or parsley,

25g dried mushrooms
1kg fresh spinach, big stalks discarded
50 butter
1 bunch spring onions, green and white parts chopped into small rings
1 tablespoon chopped tarragon - or marjoram or parsley
250g fresh ricotta
100g Parmesan, finely grated
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
8 eggs
Generous quantities of salt and pepper
250g packet filo pastry
2 tablespoons olive oil

Soak the dried mushrooms in boiling water for 20 minutes or so until they have softened. Drain and discard the soaking water.

Wash the spinach in plenty of cold water numerous times until all the dirt is gone. Melt half the butter in a large pan and add the still wet spinach, cover with a lid and turn the heat down. After a couple of minutes give it a stir to help it wilt and collapse then drain in a colander and allow to cool. Working with one small handful at a time, squeeze the excess liquid from the spinach then chop roughly. Put all the chopped spinach into a big bowl.

Melt the rest of the butter in the pan and add the mushrooms, frying for a few minutes till they take on the richness of the butter. Allow to cool a bit then chop the mushrooms finely and add them to the chopped spinach along with the spring onions, tarragon, ricotta, two thirds of the grated Parmesan, the nutmeg and 2 eggs and mix the lot into a rich green creamy slurry. Season generously.

Grease a 30cm spring form cake tin with a little olive oil then start to layer with a couple of sheets of filo, brushing each sheet with olive oil as you go. After 4 layers of pastry spoon in the spinach mixture then make six deep indentations with the back of a spoon. Carefully crack an egg and drop it into the first hole without breaking the yolk then do it five more times with the rest of the eggs till all the indentations are filled. Sprinkle the rest of the Parmesan over the yolks.

Gently cover the pie with the next sheet of filo, brush it with oil and continue till all the pastry is used, brushing the top with a good quantity of oil so that the pie will crisp up while it cooks.

Heat the oven to 180C and cook the pie for about an hour, till the filling is richly fragrant and the pastry is golden. Take it out of the oven and put it onto a wire rack, then carefully undo the catch on the spring form and take the outer circle off. Let the pie cool a bit - or completely - and serve with salad.

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