Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Model Torta Rustica

Torta: cake or pie
Rustica: from rustico meaning folksy, rustic

When you spend as much time in the kitchen as I have, the stuff that billows up from the memory well often has something to do with food. Such was the case last week as I was trying to figure out what to do with a surplus of pie dough. I could have frozen the dough, but doing that would have required that I remove all of the stuff that was piled on top of the chest freezer which, on Friday, included 5 gallons of stock, my tool box, 50 pounds of turkey, ten pounds of chicken, my camera bag and well, you get the idea. So anyway, I'm staring at the pie dough and then I look over at the big bag of potatoes in the corner of the room and I start thinking about Richard Avedon and then something along the lines of "Damn, I have not made Dorian's torta rustica in over twenty years."

My father's family has been cooking and eating torta rustica, a very simple double crust pie made from lard dough filled with rice or potato or spinach for generations. But the rusitca that I was thinking of was a much fancier version that I was taught to make by Dorian Leigh , (who had posed for Richard Avedon, hence the connection) at her home in Ridgefield, Ct in the early 1980's.

Dorian's torta rusitca was a magnificently complicated and delicious construction made from brioche dough and layers of spinach, Gruyere cheese and black forest ham, all baked in a spring form, allowed to cool and then pressed overnight. On the basis of the combination of ingredients alone I would have loved this dish, but what killed me was how it combined techniques from the sophisticated charcuterie I was trying to learn (layering of internal ingredients, pressing under weights to compress air pockets) and by how much the final product reminded me of a geologic stratigraphic section when it was cut. It also did not escape my attention that she had done something that well-heeled chefs have been doing forever: turned a peasant dish into haute cuisine and rendered it's name oxymoronic.

(What can I say? I'm easily amused.)

So with all this stuff scudding around in my head, I decided to make two torta rustica based on Dorian's model. Both were filled mostly with potatoes, leeks and Trent's (Hendricks Farms and Dairy) Gruyere cheese, but one I added a ring of Chicken sausage that I developed for the farm only two weeks ago (It's seasoned with lemon, thyme and a suspicion of garlic).

Er, ah, I did not write a recipe for this, but if anyone would like a walk-through, just email me and I'll throw something together.


Tags said...

It's weird how I was just driving home and had a yearning for rice pie, then come home and read this.

A very good friend of mine's mother used to make rice pies (especially around Easter) with a butter crust. Both he and his mother are gone now, but the memories of eating that amazing pie with them linger on.

Looks like I'll be making a rice pie soon.

Kevin said...

This sounds perfect for me. Walk me through it and I'll work up a proper recipe -- with appropriate credits.