Sunday, April 22, 2007

torta di spinaci for your inner il Popeye

This week I decided to cook something that I haven't made in years, torta di spinaci, more commonly known as erbazzone which, loosely translated means something like "big herb pie."
If you Google erbazzone you will find that it is a specialty of Emilia Romagna and, like all Italian regional dishes, it is made in a multiplicity of ways. Some recipes call for spinach and swiss chard, others include beet greens or nettles. Really the only “right” way to make it is the way your family makes it. But variations on ingredients aside, there are some things that all authentic recipes for erbazzone have in common: all are vegetable-filled double-crust pies that contain some type of pork fat.

The torta that I made* is from a recipe I deduced from the work of my father’s stepmother who, like everyone in my father's family, was from the village of Borgo Val di Taro a few miles south-west of Parma in Emilia Romagna. I had to deduce the recipe because my grandmother never wrote it down or bothered to tell anyone how she made it. So in 1982 I recreated it based on how I remembered her torta tasted and from a recipe from an early edition of Italian Regional Cooking by the great Ada Boni.

Mario Batali has a fine looking recipe for erbazzone on the Food Network site. If you don't like mine, give his a try. He specifies a metal pizza pan and wants you to brown some of the ingredients -not a bad thing to do it's just not the way my family does it. He also serves it warm, which we never do, preferring to let it sit overnight to let it set up and mellow a bit. It's a family tradition that goes back to the days when my ancestors were contadini and took their torta out into the fields to eat for lunch.

The Crust
2 cups AP Flour
2 Tbs lard, cold
8 Tbs cold water
1/2 tsp salt

2 lbs spinach, stems removed
3/4 lb green onions
4 oz pancetta, cut into 1/4 inch square pieces
1 Tbsp lard
2 cloves garlic, sliced
2 eggs
1 Cup Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
Salt and Pepper

For finishing
1 Tbsp melted lard or olive oil to brush the top
1 tsp oil to grease an 11”X7”X1.5” baking pan

Before you begin, please recognize that for this recipe the only thing that should brown is the crust. All of the other ingredients are merely sautéed/sweated. Also, this is not a refined dish so you don't need to cut things very carefully and it's okay if it looks a little funky after it's baked. If you want to fuss over it a bit you can blanch and shock the spinach before mixing it with the cooked onions and pancetta for a brighter color in the finished torta.

Combine the flour and salt and cut the lard into the flour with a pastry cutter or in a stand mixer with the flat paddle. Add the water and mix until the dough begins to cling together. If it seems too dry add more water. Turn the dough out, gather it up into a ball, cut it half and wrap each half with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.

Heat a big casserole and drop in 1 Tbsp lard. Sauté the pancetta until it is well-rendered, add the onions and garlic and cook until wilted. Raise the heat, add the spinach and cover the pot until the spinach wilts, stir it around, turn off the heat and let the mixture cool down.

Put an oven rack on the lowest shelf of your oven and preheat the oven to 400⁰F

Roll out the dough into two rectangular and thin (<1/8th)>

1 comment:

Gina said...

Aren't families and spinach (dishes) funny? I've been trying for years to get this one particular Quijada recipe but the version I got was missing something...when I get it right I'll offer it up as the finest in Sephardic food. The "blue haired" ladies who made the boyos (also with Spinach)and rolled the dough as long as the room would allow are almost gone; each one costs $6 because they are so labor intensive. I've tried and failed miserably as these women have kept their secrets with them rather than pass them on. The shame!