This Easter will be very different from any Easter we have known. Celebrations will be small, within groups of people living in the same home and maybe connected with other friends and family via video connections. So the celebratory food I usually prepare will be smaller in quantity, as there will only be two of us, but there will be multiple courses. An Easter feast for two.
Growing up we would often have filled pasta in mamma’s rich chicken broth for a first course, and then her stuffed deboned chicken with lots of vegetable side dishes for our Easter lunch. I tend to make a lighter meal, mostly vegetarian, and this year our main course will be a savoury Easter pie. This is based on a northwestern Italian dish, from the region of Liguria, so it is not something that I grew up eating, but it combines all the things I love – leafy greens and cheese wrapped in pastry. The traditional Torta Pasqualina is made with many layers of super thin pastry, much like strudel pastry, each layer brushed with olive oil. The pie is traditionally round and in addition to layer of greens (silverbeet or spinach), there is a layer of fresh cheese called quagliata, which is like a cross between ricotta and yoghurt. The pie was made to feed a rather large family, so it generally has between 6 to 9 whole eggs placed in the filling.
I will make a much smaller version, perfect for the two of us to have this Easter Sunday. I like using an olive oil dough that is yeasted, a bit like bread, however I have seen others make this Easter pie with shortcrust pastry (home made or store bought). The dough I use is one of my favourites; it is mixed and kneaded by hand. Though I could suggest that you use a dough hook, most of us are in isolation or quarantine so probably have a bit more time on our hands. And making it by hand is very satisfying as the dough has a lovely feel and is very easy to roll out. I used a combination of spelt and plain white flour for the pie you see in the photos but generally make it with only white flour. The trickiest part of the making of the pie, is lowering in the whole raw eggs into the filling, so that when the pie bakes, the yolks look like a bright yellow circle when the pie is sliced. I urge you to use fresh spinach, if you can find it, as frozen spinach tends to be chopped into very small pieces, and I like the larger stems being in the pie. If you do use the frozen version, follow the instructions on the packet to thaw it, before tossing it in with the peas and olive oil. And you may need a packet and a half.
I have started making cooking videos and uploading them on IGTV, which is the video site associated with Instagram. With a lot more time at home these days, and a lot less paid work, it makes sense to upskill and what could be better than showing you how to make a recipe rather than just writing about it. The link to my IGTV page is here. I cannot promise a video for all of my future recipes, but definitely for some of them. You do not need to have an Instagram account to see the videos.
Buona Pasqua a tutti. If you cannot be with your loved ones at Easter, I hope you can call them or video in to their celebrations. Unfortunately I will not be able to see mamma, but will connect with her by phone. Stay safe
275g plain flour (can have up to 75g spelt)
1/2 teaspoon instant dried yeast
100ml tepid water (plus a bit extra if needed)
50ml extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1 bunch English spinach, washed, blanched, drained and chopped
1/2 generous cup frozen peas
3/4 tsp dried oregano
150g firm well-drained ricotta
75g thick Greek yoghurt
50g parmesan, grated
To make the pastry, place the flour and yeast in a bowl. Stir in the water, oil and lastly the salt. Mix with a spoon and then by hand in the bowl until the dough comes together. Tip out on your work surface and knead for 10 minutes until smooth. Place in a clean large bowl, cover and place in a warm spot in your kitchen for 2 hours until almost doubled in size.
While the dough is resting, make the filling. To make the cheese filling, place the drained ricotta, yoghurt, and half the parmesan in a bowl and stir until well combined. Add salt to taste and set aside. To make the spinach filling, add the blanched, roughly chopped and well drained spinach in a frypan with a splash of olive oil and the peas. Cook for 3 or 4 minutes until the vegetables are well coated with oil, the excess water evaporates and the peas have softened. Place in a bowl to cool, adding the oregano and salt and pepper to taste. Divide one of your eggs into a yolk and the albumen. reserve half the yolk for brushing on the pie later. Place the rest of the yolk, the albumen and the rest of the parmesan in the bowl with the greens and stir until well combined. The mixture should be quite dry. Add a bit more parmesan or place in a sieve to drain any excess liquid.
Preheat the oven to 170C. Grease and line the base and sides of a loaf tin (mine measured 23cm x 12.5 cm). I like to leave an excess of parchment on the sides of the tin so I can easily lift out the pie once it has baked.
After two hours, cut the dough into two pieces: 1/3 and 2/3. Roll out the larger portion so that you are able to line the base and sides of the loaf tin. You will need to allow some of the pastry to drape over the edges. Spread the spinach mixture on the pastry, then evenly spread the ricotta. Make two wells in the filling with a spoon. The wells should be large enough to fit an egg each, and be evenly spaced along the length of the pie. Break open an egg at a time and and carefully place an egg in each well.
Roll out the rest of the pastry and place your lid on the pie. Trim off any excess (that you can use to cut out shapes with which to decorate the pie if you like) and roll the outer edge over the pie lid fairly loosely (and the pie expand quite a bit as it bakes). Mix the remaining egg yolk with a splash of milk and paint this over the lid of the pie.
Bake for 60 – 65 minutes, checking occasionally to see that it is not darkening too quickly. If it is, cover it loosely with foil and continue baking. Carefully remove the pie from the tin and wait until it has cooled almost completely before slicing.