The cavolo nero that I planted in autumn at mamma’s place has been feeding us through winter but alas, now that we are in spring (and a very hot one at that), it has started to go to seed. After Sunday lunch at mamma’s place, I collect as much produce as I can: sage that is now in bloom and is covered in tiny purple flowers; banksias from the trees on the nature strip that have started to flower; tiny bunches of parsley and large bunches of cavolo nero (also called Tuscan cabbage). A Spring bounty.
I often find myself eating vegetarian on a Monday night. I am not quite sure why or how (and yes I know it fits into the whole “meatless Monday” thing) but it seems to be the groove I have fallen into. As there is usually a partially eaten tub of ricotta in the fridge, I generally use that as the filling for a savoury pie, adding spinach, silver beet or any other leafy green I happen to have in the fridge. Lately it has been the cavolo nero which I clean as soon as I get home from my mother’s on a Sunday afternoon. I wash it, remove the thicker central spine from each leaf and then blanch before squeezing out all the excess water and storing it in the fridge for meals during the week (a great way to have greens for your meals through the week – if you don’t make a pie with it, try it as a base for an omelette or as a base for a risotto). Apart from ricotta and greens, I love adding dried mint to the filling as well as some lemon zest, which gives it a bit of a lift and freshness.
I have been making a similar pie for years, sometimes using ready made short-crust pastry or fillo pastry (especially in the days when I spent Mondays in the office). Now that I am working from home on Mondays, I have a bit more time and generally make the pastry. The other week I made it using spelt flour, which I have been using quite a bit of lately (I bought a 5kg bag of it from local organic store Wild Things Food and it has kept me going since June). So I keep trying new recipes with it, especially sweet things ( I recently blogged about an apple crostata and a sweet ricotta pie both made with spelt) – I just love the flavour and I feel that it is better for me than heavily processed white flour. The other week I used it to make a Monday night vegetarian pie, using the cavolo nero I had collected from my mother’s on the Sunday. It was a touch more crumbly to work with when I was rolling it out, but not enough to put me off using it again.The pastry was decidedly darker than usual but it had a lovely nutty taste. If you don’t have any spelt four, use unbleached plain white flour or a combination of 50% of each – it won’t be quite the same colour or flavour, but will be a perfectly lovely Monday night dinner just the same. We often have pie leftovers for several days afterwards (it keeps really well in the fridge) – makes a great vegetarian Tuesday or Wednesday lunch.
cavolo nero and ricotta pie
150g cold unsalted butter, chopped into smallish dice
350g spelt (or plain) flour
big pinch salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 – 2 tablespoons cold water
(extra milk to brush on your pastry lattice)
bunch cavolo nero (or silverbeet), stems removed
400g firm ricotta
2 eggs, lightly beaten
50g grated parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon dried mint
1 small lemon, zest only
salt and pepper to taste
Combine the flour, salt and butter in a large bowl and quickly work the butter with your fingertips so that it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the egg and the water and gently mix to bring it together and form a ball dough. Divide the dough into two (about 2/3 and 1/3) and flatten each one to a disc and wrap then separately in cling film. Place in the fridge for at least an hour.
To make the filling, blanch the cavolo nero in salted boiling water and drain. When cool enough to handle, squeeze out all the excess water with your hands and then chop in finely. Place the cavolo nero in a large bowl with the ricotta, eggs, parmesan, mint, lemon zest and mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Preheat the oven to 180C. Now it is time to prepare your pie shell. Take the larger disc of pastry out of the fridge and gently roll out to the pastry to about 5mm thick and to a size where it will fill the base and come up the sides of a 22cm pie tin (you can either lightly flour your work surface to do this or else do as I do and roll the dough between two sheets of cling film or of baking paper) . Line the tin with the pastry, leaving a little bit hanging over the edge and put back in the fridge whilst you prepare your lattice. With the second smaller disc of pastry, roll it out to 5 mm thick and cut strips with a fluted pastry cutter to make the lattice.
To assemble your pie, remove the pastry shell from the fridge and place the filling in it, smoothing it down with the back of a spoon. Arrange the strips to form a lattice and fold the edges of the pie in towards the centre. Brush the lattice with milk or beaten egg to give it a bit of a sheen.
Bake for 50 minutes or until the filling is set, and the pastry is golden and cooked through. Serve warm or at room temperature with a green salad.