Torta Pasqualina or Easter Monday pie is a very popular dish to have today that has its origins in Liguria. Easter Monday is traditionally a day for picnics and this is often one of the things taken along. This is a slightly simplified version as it uses pre prepared puff pastry. It’s good to know that doctors no longer say eating cholesterol is bad for you as it includes at least 10 eggs. Serves at least 6.
500g puff pastry
500g swiss chard or spinach, stalks removed
1 small onion, finely chopped
80g of parmesan or pecorino romano (or a mixture of both)
1 tbsp chopped fresh marjoram or parsley
300g ricotta, passed through a sieve to remove lumps
1 tbsp of single cream
Torta pasqualina ingredients
Put the swiss chard, the onion and 2 tbsp of oil into a saucepan. Season with salt and people and cook over a medium heat until the chard is completely wilted. Allow to cool and squeeze out as much liquid as possible.
Torta pasqualina wilting chard
Chop finely and transfer to a bowl. Add an egg, 50g of cheese and the marjoram or parsley and mix well.
Torta pasqualina filling
In another bowl mix together the ricotta, the cream, 2 eggs and 30g of cheese.
Torta pasqualina assembling pie
Roll out 2/3 of the pastry and use it to line an oiled cake tin. Make a layer with the chard. Cover with the ricotta. Crack 6 eggs, regularly spaced onto the surface.
Torta pasqualina ready for the oven
Roll out the remaining 1/3 of the pastry and use it to close the pie. Trim off the excess pastry and fold over and crimp the edges to seal. Brush with olive oil and bake at 180 °c for 45 minutes.
Cozze ripiene gratinate. This is quite an unusual mussel recipe. Mussels baked on the half shell are a very common antipasto here, but this recipe treats them a bit like the French scallop dish coquilles saint-jacques. They are baked with white sauce, cheese and wine. Serves 4 as a main course, many more as part of an antipasto.
Clean the mussels well. Place them in a pan along with half the clove of garlic, a sprig of parsley and the wine. Open the mussels by placing the pan over a high heat. Drain the mussels and filter and reserve the cooking liquid. Remove them from their shells.
Baked mussels opened with cooking liquid
Mix the mussel meat with 2 tbsp of olive oil, a chopped sprig of parsley, the rest of the garlic, chopped and a tbsp of the cooking liquid. Season with pepper.
Baked mussels removed from their shells
Place each mussel on a half shell.
Baked mussels on the half shell
Mix together the white sauce, the egg yolk and a couple of tablespoons of the cooking liquid. Top each shell with some of the mixture.
Baked mussels with white sauce
Sprinkle breadcrumbs on the top and bake at 190°c for 15 minutes.
Spaghetti al cacio e pepe. From Rome. This is another recipe that I cook a lot, but have never got around to posting. Spaghetti (vermicelli is a synonym for spaghetti) with pecorino and black pepper sauce. Anyone who has ever been to Rome will know it. It seems like almost every trattoria there has it on the menu. It is very simple, just three ingredients, but one of my favourite ways to eat pasta. It is always worth spending a little more to get really good quality ingredients, but it is especially important to use good cheese with this dish. Use a good Pecorino Romano DOC (PDO). Serves 4.
Roughly crack the pepper corns. You can use a pestle and mortar, or as I do a coffee grinder. How much you add is a matter of taste, but it’s very important that it should be freshly ground. Don’t grind it too finely.
Cook the pasta until it is al dente and drain, reserving some of the cooking water.
Spaghetti al cacio e pepe mixing the pasta
Mix the pasta together with some of the cooking water and most of the cheese. You should obtain a creamy sauce that coats the spaghetti well. If the sauce is too wet, add some more cheese. Likewise, if the sauce is too dry, add some more cooking water. Add the pepper and mix again. Serve topped with the rest of the cheese.
Panzerotti. From Bari. These are one of the most famous and popular dishes from Bari. They are deep fried pockets of dough stuffed with a variety of fillings. Two of the most common are mozzarella, cherry tomatoes and oregano and ricotta forte (also called skuanda), cherry tomatoes, onion and anchovies. Ricotta forte is a bit of a “Marmite” ingredient. By that I mean it is very strongly flavoured and you either love it or hate it. I am in the first camp, lovely stuff. Rather than cherry tomatoes, “appesi” are more traditional. These are small tomatoes which are picked when still not completely ripe and hung up for later consumption. As these are hard to find, you can use any type. I went to a party here and a lady was employed just to make panzerotti all evening. The last round was filled with Nutella! The size of the panzerotti varies, but I made 12 with this recipe.
For the pastry
500 g 00 flour
100 ml tepid milk
1 cube of fresh yeast
2 tablespoons of olive oil
10 g salt
Dissolve the yeast in the milk. Add the milk to the flour, oil and salt along with enough tepid water to make a smooth dough.
Oil the dough, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for up to 2 hours.
Separate the dough into 12 portions and roll into small balls. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for a further half an hour.
Panzerotti balls of dough
Take one ball of dough and roll it into a large disc. Place a large tablespoon of filling in the middle of each one. Fold the dough over to form a half moon shape. Press down well and try to exclude as much air as possible. Either fold over and crimp the edges or cut off the excess pastry with a pasty wheel and seal the edges with a fork.
Panzerotti ready to cook
Deep fry the panzerotti until they are lightly golden. Some people use extra virgin olive oil and some people use regular vegetable oil. You can also bake them in an oven at 200 °C for 15 minutes, but the result is quite different.
Panzerotti finished dish
200 g mozzarella
300 g cherry tomatoes
Chop and drain the tomatoes. Cube the mozzarella. Mix together with a generous amount of mozzarella.
Polpettone pugliese. This is another recipe that I cook a lot. Other recipes cook the meatloaf in a tomato sauce, but this one roasts it dry. It uses minced veal, but if you can’t find it then minced beef will be fine. Italians don’t use the crated “white” variety anyway, so the veal is very pink. This is often served with roast potatoes. Serves 6.
Basil is very much in season here at the moment, so I bought a couple of bunches at the market and decided to make pesto.I dug out the official recipe from Consorzio Pesto Genovese. It’s very specific about exactly where the ingredients should come from. I’m providing the original recipe, but feel free to substitute ingredients from another region. eg. Basil not from Genoa :-) The recipe also calls for a pestle and mortar. This is undoubtably the best way, but you can get very acceptable results using a blender. Just put all the ingredients in a blender and blitz until almost smooth. Serves 6
2 Tbsp Pecorino (romano, toscano, sardo or siciliano)
2 cloves of garlic (can be omitted)
1 Tbsp pine kernels (from the Mediterranean area)
1 tbsp chopped walnuts can be substituted for the pine kernels (must be European from the species “Juglans regia”)
Coarse sea salt
The traditional method uses a wooden pestle(where the dish gets its name from in a round about way) and a marble mortar. Start by pounding the garlic and salt until you get a smooth paste.
Add the basil, a handful at a time, and keep grinding using a circular motion until each batch of the leaves is incorporated. To preserve the essential oils in the basil, you shouldn’t be too rough with it.
Add the pine kernel and grind some more.
Add the cheese and mix well.
Add the oil, little by little, until the pesto has the right consistency – a matter of taste.
Serve with pasta or added to minestrone. The recommended pastas are troffie, trofiette or trenette, but it goes with just about any pasta. I usually serve it with spaghetti or linguine.