Photos by 
Jessicarobyn Keyser
Jessicarobyn Keyser

That Time We Ate Almost Nothing But Torta Pasqualina and it Was Completely Worth it

by 
Francesca Bruzzese
March 26, 2021

At this time just over a year ago, my adopted country of Italy was among the first to be hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic. The bel paese took a stricter stance than most, and for 70 days, leaving the house was allowed for supermarket or pharmacy runs only. Lockdown life swiftly took shape, peppered with at-home workouts, smart working, and Zoom calls. Seasons 1 and 2 of Peaky Blinders kept me company, as did the Arctic Monkeys on repeat and the cheeky family of crows building a nest outside my window. In this new, surreal version of the world, I — like many others — also found solace in my kitchen. 

After all, cooking was one of the few constants that lingered from pre-pandemic life, and offered some normalcy and comfort. I whipped up everything from tricky hand-rolled trofie to homemade ricotta, followed by English muffins, pizza, and doughnuts, among other things. As Italy’s lockdown stretched on into the spring, Easter approached; enter this Torta Pasqualina.

Torta Pasqualina is a savory pie made with spinach, ricotta, and eggs, a classic Easter dish here in Italy (Torta Pasqualina translates to something along the lines of Easter cake in Italian). In the midst of last year’s lockdown, I found myself down what I can only describe as a Torta Pasqualina rabbit hole. You see: the more I read about this dish, the more I realized that there was no one way to prepare it. There were recipes that included the addition of springy artichokes or vibrant beets, and ones that swapped spinach for chard; there were lavish, three-tiered torte, torte with sturdy, no-nonsense dough and still others with a richer, more flavorful pastry, and I wanted to try them all.

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During the course of my Torta studies, I also experimented with a not-so-traditional pie with prosciutto, and yet another with spicy salame. As I tested and trial-ed and error-ed, my sister began to ask me if we'd "ever eat anything again for dinner other than Torta Pasqualina? (No reason, just wondering!)" Torta Pasqualina became more than a recipe; it was a distraction, a project, a purpose, even. It was a dish that stubbornly strove to be perfect in a year that was turning out to be less than, savored on what would be a peculiar and bittersweet Easter holiday.

So! My extensive Torta research led me to this recipe: a rich spinach and ricotta filling mixed with both sharp Parmesan and punchy Pecorino cheese, with four whole eggs baked right into the top of the pie – a ring of miniature golden suns — encased in buttery, flaky, golden brown pastry. As versatile as it is delicious, it also makes a great starter or brunch dish, and gracefully steps into the role of hearty vegetarian alternative to lamb on the Easter table. 

The Lazio region of Italy has just been designated a zona rossa — red zone — meaning tight restrictions and a semi-lockdown throughout this year’s Easter, too. The difference this time around, though? I have a bit more hope, and a bit more optimism. After all, we know so much more than we did 12 months ago; we have a vaccine; there is a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. This Easter will again call for a Torta Pasqualina for two, but I am hopeful that by next year, I’ll be enjoying this dish in the company of friends and family, with surgical masks, excessive hand sanitizer, and elbow-handshakes a thing of the past. I may even have to bake more than one.

Torta Pasqualina for Easter or Any Other Day

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Serves 6

Ingredients

For the pastry:

1 1/2 cups (195 grams) all-purpose flour

1 tsp salt

10 tbsp (140 grams) cold unsalted butter, diced

4 tbsp (60 grams) plain full-fat yogurt

2 tsp (10ml) white wine vinegar or lemon juice

3 tbsp (45 ml) very cold water

1 medium egg, beaten (for egg wash)

 

For the filling:

1 pound (450 grams) Fifth Season baby spinach

1 cup (250 grams) ricotta cheese

A scant 1/2 cup (35 grams) Pecorino cheese

A scant 1/2 cup (45 grams) Parmesan cheese

4 medium eggs

1/2 teaspoon (3 grams) salt

Pepper to taste

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Serves 6

Ingredients

For the pastry:

1 1/2 cups (195 grams) all-purpose flour

1 tsp salt

10 tbsp (140 grams) cold unsalted butter, diced

4 tbsp (60 grams) plain full-fat yogurt

2 tsp (10ml) white wine vinegar or lemon juice

3 tbsp (45 ml) very cold water

1 medium egg, beaten (for egg wash)

 

For the filling:

1 pound (450 grams) Fifth Season baby spinach

1 cup (250 grams) ricotta cheese

A scant 1/2 cup (35 grams) Pecorino cheese

A scant 1/2 cup (45 grams) Parmesan cheese

4 medium eggs

1/2 teaspoon (3 grams) salt

Pepper to taste

Ingredients

For the pastry:

1 1/2 cups (195 grams) all-purpose flour

1 tsp salt

10 tbsp (140 grams) cold unsalted butter, diced

4 tbsp (60 grams) plain full-fat yogurt

2 tsp (10ml) white wine vinegar or lemon juice

3 tbsp (45 ml) very cold water

1 medium egg, beaten (for egg wash)

 

For the filling:

1 pound (450 grams) Fifth Season baby spinach

1 cup (250 grams) ricotta cheese

A scant 1/2 cup (35 grams) Pecorino cheese

A scant 1/2 cup (45 grams) Parmesan cheese

4 medium eggs

1/2 teaspoon (3 grams) salt

Pepper to taste

Directions

1. In a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt, vinegar or lemon juice, and water, and set aside.

2. In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt. Add the butter and, using a pastry blender or your fingertips, cut them up and into the flour mixture until it resembles small pebbles. Add the yogurt mixture to the butter and flour mixture, and stir everything together with a wooden spoon until a dough starts to form. (You may also choose to throw all these ingredients into a food processor and pulse for about 45 seconds, saving yourself about 5-8 minutes of cook time. No judgement whatsoever.)

3. Bring the dough together with a few kneads in the bowl, and then turn it out on to a clean, lightly floured work surface. Pat the dough into a disc, wrap it in plastic wrap, and chill it in the fridge for at least 1 hour and up to 48 hours. 

4. On to your filling! Heat some olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the baby spinach to the pan a little at a time (it may seem like a lot but it will cook down in no time) and continue until all of your spinach is wilted and cooked. Set the spinach aside to cool.

5. While your spinach is cooling, whisk together in a large bowl the ricotta, one egg, the Parmesan, the Pecorino, the salt, and pepper to taste.

6. Once cool enough to handle, dry your spinach very, very well – water in the spinach will lead to a watery filling, so this is an important step.  I usually use my (very clean) hands to squeeze it dry along with the aid of paper towels, but a clean tea towel will also do the trick. Once you think your spinach is completely dry, give it a few more squeezes, just in case. (If you’re nervous, mix in a tablespoon of flour to the filling for extra drying power. This is optional.) You will end up with what looks like a small portion of spinach – this is fine! Add it to the ricotta mixture and stir very well.

7. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (170 degrees Celsius). Grease a 9-inch springform pan with butter and set aside. Take your chilled dough out of the fridge and divide it into two pieces, one slightly larger than the other.

Note: A fancy top is entirely optional! If you’re up for it, go for it, and if not, no worries. Here’s all you actually have to do:

 8. On a clean, lightly floured work surface using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out the smaller piece of dough and place your springform pan on top of it. Using a sharp knife, cut around the pan to get a piece of dough of the same size, and set aside. Next roll out the larger piece of dough into a circle large enough to fit into the bottom of your springform pan with some overhang.

 9. Transport your larger piece of dough to the springform pan, being sure that it goes all the way up and over the pan’s sides. Fill the crust with the ricotta and spinach mixture.

 10. Using a spoon, make 4 indentations in the filling. Carefully crack each of the remaining eggs into each indentation. Next, place the smaller piece of dough over the filling, being careful not to move around the eggs too much. Close the edges of the larger piece of dough over the smaller piece. Trim the extra dough off the sides.

 11. Brush the top of the pastry with a beaten egg, which will make it nice and shiny. Cut 3 or so slits in the top of the pie to let any steam escape. Bake the Torta Pasqualina in your preheated oven for 40-60 minutes, or until the crust is a light golden brown and the internal temperature is 165 degrees Fahrenheit or 74 degrees Celcius. Let the Torta cool completely before cutting and serving.

About the Author

Francesca Bruzzese

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