Every Tuesday, Italian expat Emiko Daviesis taking us on a grand tour of Italy, showing us how to make classic, fiercely regional dishes at home.
Today: One of Italy's favorite Easter traditions, this layered Ligurian chard and ricotta pie is worth the extra love needed to put it all together.
Easter in Italy is a special occasion, which oftentimes means certain dishes take days or at least a little extra patience to prepare. The original version of the pie featured here is said to have had 33 layers of dough to represent the 33 years of Christ. My recipe, however, calls for just 4 layers of almost-transparent dough, 2 on the bottom and 2 on top. In between the top and bottom layers is chard, creamy ricotta, and carefully placed eggs. It doesn't take days to make, but it does take some attention: It may look daunting -- the layers of dough, the layers of filling, the yolks on top -- but it's actually a rather simple preparation: When all the elements are prepared in advance, all that's needed is assembling before baking.
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While this dish is very traditional in Liguria -- next to pesto, possibly one of the most iconic dishes in the region -- there are many directions you could take it. While this recipe uses Parmesan and ricotta, the dish is traditionally made with Genovese prescinseua, a fresh, tangy curd with the consistency somewhere between thick yogurt and ricotta. It's rare to find it outside of Liguria, so some recipes suggest adding some thick natural yogurt to ricotta to obtain a similar flavor and consistency when you can't get prescinseua. To cut a few corners, you could skip the dough and use good quality, store bought puff pastry or filo pastry instead (Ottolenghi does his torta pasqualina with all-butter puff pastry). However, I do highly recommend trying out this dough and this technique -- the result is rather amazing, somewhere between puff pastry and filo pastry. You could also combine the ricotta and chard mixture together for one filling rather than separate layers. You could leave out the cracked yolks over the top, if you wish, or you could use whole eggs if you don't like separating. You could use spinach or any other greens instead of the chard.
This recipe supplies more than enough dough (it's easier to work with more than less), so when you trim it, you will have quite a lot leftover. Why not make a focaccia di recco with it? Or you can roll it out and make decorations for the top of the pie, if you want to get really festive!
4 cups (500 grams) bread flour 1 teaspoon salt 2 tablespoons olive oil (plus more for brushing dough) 1 1/4 cups (about 310 milliliters) water (or as needed)
For the filling:
2 pounds (1 kilogram) swiss chard (or other greens such as spinach) 1/2 medium brown onion, chopped finely 2 tablespoons olive oil Salt and pepper Handful of fresh marjoram leaves 8 eggs (more if you would like more yolks on the top) 1 cup (120 grams) grated Parmesan cheese 1 1/2 cups (about 350 grams) ricotta Pinch of ground nutmeg
The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.