You can’t say you haven’t thought about it these past few days. A few spots of drizzle and it’s pie o’clock.
One thing I didn’t expect to find myself making though was a vegetarian pie. It’s inspired by the Italian Easter pie, torta pasqualina and the filling is a deeply savoury mixture of roasted artichokes, crème fraiche, eggs, cheese and spinach. I just can’t get enough spinach into my body at the moment and it’s so darn cheap in Peckham; 3 or 4 huge bunches for just 1 of your shiny quids – that’s about 400g of spinach once you’ve trimmed the stalks and it’s ready to use. I cast my eye over the sorry looking shelves in Tesco Express yesterday for comparison – £1.40 for 260g of baby leaves in an inflated plastic bag. What a rip. It’s baby spinach yes, but I prefer the mature, ballsy stuff to be honest.
One thing that doesn’t come cheap however, is a decent egg. I used Clarence Court eggs for The Big Lunch and I’ve developed a bit of a habit; Cotswold Legbars are my favourite ‘old breed’ with their rough textured, pastel-blue shells and rich amber yolks. This recipe uses a lot: 6 in the filling mix, 4 on top. They set the filling as well as enrich it though, so you can cut a slice without everything oozing out. I wanted the mixture to be quite coarse but absent mindedly puréed the lot. It didn’t matter, the result was a pleasant light texture.
So it’s not a traditional torta, but it is a very tasty variation. Usually, the pie contains ricotta but I used crème fraiche and a bit of grated cheddar because well, that’s what I had. It’s amazing really, just how satisfying this pie is. I lay in bed one night and seriously considered getting up in the wee hours for a nibble.
The olive oil pastry is rolled out very thin and arranged in layers – traditionally 33, to represent the number of years that Christ supposedly lived. There was no way I was doing that many layers (coming from a woman who skins chickpeas) and anyway, I can’t imagine it being particularly pleasant to eat. I managed 5 or 6, and felt rather chuffed about it, particularly because they were clearly distinguishable in the cooked pie. My recipe uses 8 tablespoons of olive oil, which I’m not sure is much in the way of fat in pastry-land, and yet it’s very silky. A keeper.
We ate indecently large wedges with a simple tomato and onion salad; perfectly ripe fruits layered with red and spring onions, drizzled with good balsamic and olive oil, salted and peppered. I never thought it possible, but this pie was every bit as satisfying as a meaty version.
Torta Pasqualina (to make a more classic torta, substitute the crème fraiche and cheddar cheese with ricotta and some Parmesan if you have it).
This fills a 23cm spring form cake tin.
800g spinach (this is the equivalent of 6 large bunches bought in the mighty Peckham)
200g crème fraiche
A large handful of large cheddar cheese
1 massive onion, chopped fairly small
2 fat cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 large handful (about 30g) flat leaf parsley
250g roasted artichokes from a jar
For the pastry
660g plain (all purpose) flour
8 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 egg, for glazing
About 230ml cold water
First, make the pastry. Combine the flour, oil and salt in large bowl. Gradually add the water and mix to form a dough that is fairly stiff. Turn it out out onto lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 15 minutes then transfer to a bowl, cover and leave it for 30 minutes in the fridge.
Allow the spinach to wilt down in a dry pan then allow to cool and squeeze out as much water as you can. Soften the chopped onion gently in a tablespoon of olive oil for about 10 minutes, then add the finely chopped garlic and artichokes for a few minutes longer, stirring regularly. Combine this mixture with the parsley, creme fraiche, cheese and 6 of the eggs. You can do this in a blender but do remember to pulse not blend! Season heavily with salt and pepper.
Preheat the oven to 220C
Brush the tin with olive oil and divide the dough into 10 pieces. Roll each piece out very thinly on a lightly floured surface so that they are large enough to fit the pan. I used 6 layers on the bottom and 4 on top and brushed each layer with olive oil before adding the next. Add your filling, then make 4 indentations in the top and crack in the other 4 eggs. If you feel there is too much white you can get rid of some by letting some run off as if you were separating the egg.
Add your pastry layers to the top then crimp the sides and brush the whole pie with beaten egg. Bake the pie for 45 minutes to 1 hour. It should be golden brown all over.