Torta Pasqualina

Torta Pasqualina

Serves 8 to 10.
By Dennis W. Viau; modified from many cookbook recipes.

Torta Pasqualina is a savory pie that is traditionally served for the Easter holiday in Italy. There are many variations, but they all seem to be made with a flaky crust and contain artichokes and cheese. I chose my own variations. The tissue-thin layers of crust are rolled by hand, but I much prefer using phyllo dough for savory pies. This fancy pie would be appropriate at any special occasion.

Ingredients:

15 ounces (425g) ricotta cheese; well drained
Olive oil for frying
1 medium red onion; chopped
2 large garlic cloves; minced
2½ to 3 ounces (70-80g) fresh mushrooms; chopped (porcini, if you can find them; I used shiitake)
5 to 6 artichoke hearts; coarsely chopped
1 pound fresh spinach; well washed
½ cup (5 ounces/64g) grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
10 sprigs flat leaf (Italian) parsley; leaves only, finely chopped
About 1/8 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
6 large eggs
1 box (1 pound/454g) phyllo dough sheets
¼ cup (60ml) clarified butter; melted
¼ cup (60ml) extra virgin olive oil
Equipment needed
9 inch (24cm) springform pan

Directions:

Phyllo dough is usually purchased frozen. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight or for a couple days. I purchased artichoke hearts that were in a jar with oil, vinegar, and water. To remove most of the vinegar flavor I rinsed them well, filled the jar with fresh water, and stored them in the refrigerator overnight. To remove excess moisture from the Ricotta cheese, spread on several layers of paper towels, press more towels on top, and set aside for a while.

Sauté the chopped onion in olive oil until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook a minute longer. Remove from the skillet and set aside. Sauté the chopped mushrooms until tender, about 1 minute, adding more oil and/or butter to the pan as needed. Remove and set aside. Sauté the chopped artichoke hearts, mostly to remove the excess water, about 1 minute. Remove and set aside. Carefully add about ¼ cup water to the skillet and then the spinach. A large skillet should hold the entire pound. If your skillet is too small you can cook the spinach in two batches. Cook with the lid on the pan for 1 minute, then turn with tongs and cook an additional minute. Place in a colander in the sink to drain and cool.

Squeeze the cooled spinach, removing excess moisture (it can also be pressed between layers of paper towel or with a potato ricer) and then chop coarsely. Combine onion, garlic, mushrooms, artichokes, spinach, ricotta, Parmesan (or Romano), Ricotta, nutmeg, and parsley in a bowl. Adjust for salt and pepper, then add one egg and mix well. Cover with plastic and set aside until needed.

Mix the melted butter and olive oil in a small bowl. On a piece of waxed paper or parchment paper, place a sheet of the phyllo dough and oil very lightly with a pastry brush, only in a few places. Add a second sheet, bunching it up a little to allow some air between each sheet. Again, oil lightly. Continue until about a dozen of the phyllo sheets are used. With the outer ring of the springform pan in the closed position, press down upon the pastry to form a depression. Cover with plastic and set aside.

Similar to forming the top crust, layer phyllo dough sheets to form the bottom crust. You will need a bottom shell that is large enough to cover the bottom and sides of the pan. My 9-inch (23cm) springform pan requires a bottom shell that is at least 15 inches (38cm) in diameter. Each sheet won’t be wide enough; so arrange them at different angles to cover the entire area needed.

Carefully press the bottom pastry shell into the springform pan, arranging the excess around the sides evenly. Spoon the filling into the shell. Make 4 depressions, large enough to each contain an egg. Break an egg into each depression. Trim the top crust inside the depression made with the springform pan. Fit into the top of the pie.

Combine the remaining egg with a teaspoon or two of water to make an egg wash. Brush the egg wash around the inside edges of the pie, rolling and pressing the bottom excess around the edges to seal against the top crust. Lightly brush the top with egg wash.

Bake at 350°F (180°C) 60 to 70 minutes, to an internal temperature of 160°F (71°C) to cook the egg.

Allow to cool about 5 minutes, then transfer to a serving plate. Serve warm or at room temperature.