Torta pasqualina is an Easter specialty from Liguria, although not necessarily confined to that area. It’s a vegetable tart made with a very simple dough. The filling is usually made with ricotta cheese and spinach or artichokes, but its ingredients can be varied according to whatever vegetables are in season.
The original version is one of the most ancient Ligurian recipes, where the dough is rolled into 33 separate layers, symbolizing the age of Christ at the time of his death. The number of layers has now been reduced to 12-18–less symbolic but more practical.
- 5 C. flour
- 1/4 C. OO
- about 1/2- 1 C. warm water
Sift the flour into a bowl and add a pinch of salt, the oil, and enough lukewarm water to form a soft dough. Knead until smooth, then divide into 14 equal pieces. Shape these pieces into small rolls and place on a floured cookie sheet. Lightly sprinkle the rolls with flour and cover with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rest for about 1 hour.
Meanwhile prepare the filling
- 1 lb. spinach or swiss chard
- 2- 3 leeks, washed well, green tops discarded, white stems cut into julienne
- 2 T. OO and 2 T. butter
- S & P
- 1 lb. ricotta, drained (*see note below)
- 1 egg
- S & P
- 1/3 C. heavy cream
- 1/3 C. grated Parmigiano
- 1/2 tsp fresh marjoram leaves
- 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 4 eggs
- 1/3 C. Parmigiano
- S & P
10 inch springform pan rubbed with OO
In a large sauté pan melt about 2 T. butter with 2 T. OO. Add the leeks and sauté until soft. Wash the greens, remove and discard the large stems from the spinach. If you are using swiss chard, cut the stems into 2 inch lengths. Dry the greens in a salad spinner and add them to the leeks. Cover the pan and cook on low heat until wilted. Remove the cover, turn the heat on high and quickly evaporate any remaining liquid in the pan. Remove the greens to a bowl to cool; reserve.
Place the ricotta in a large bowl, add the heavy cream, one egg, Parmigiano, marjoram and nutmeg; mix until smooth and well blended. Season with S & P to taste.
Prepare the dough:
Knead 2 rolls of dough together, flatten with your hand and roll out into a wafer-thin sheet large enough to completely cover the bottom and sides of the springform pan and hang over the sides. Place into the pan, carefully forming it into the bottom with your fingers, being careful not to press so hard as to create a hole. Brush the surface of the dough with OO. Roll out another 6 rolls individually into circles the same diameter as the bottom of the pan or a little larger, then put inside the pan, one on top of the other, brushing each with OO.
Spread the spinach mixture on top of the 6th layer of dough, then make 4 hollow wells in the filling, using the back of a spoon. Break 1 egg into each hollow, then sprinkle with S & P and the remaining Parmesan.
Flatten the remaining 6 rolls of dough, then place on top of the filling, one on top of the other, brushing with OO as before. Trim the overlapping pieces of dough to about 1 inch over the rim and fold the dough toward the center, pinching to seal. Prick the top layers in a couple of spots with the tiny tip of a knife, brush with OO.
Bake the torta in a preheated 400°F oven for 1 hour until golden in color. Cool on a rack, then remove the sides of the pan. Serve at room temperature.
*NB: Ricotta that is most widely available is too wet to use in most torta recipes. There are drier varieties available; these have been drained of most of their whey. Purity Cheese distributes this variety to some stores in the North End; Fresh Cheese, 20 Fleet Street, Boston, has both the wet and dry styles of ricotta. If you cannot find the drier style, place the ricotta in a cheesecloth-lined strainer over a bowl (to rest and drain) in the refrigerator overnight. Discard the drained whey.