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Torta Pasqualina & Torta di Cipolle, Onion Pie

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Torta Pasqualina & Torta di Cipolle, Onion Pie: Turning to recipes, a long while back Anna requested a Ligurian Torta Pasqualina. Pasqua means Easter, which means we're out of season, but the recipe does offer an excuse for an interesting digression: it calls for a dozen eggs. While this might strike a modern reader as reason to wonder about cholesterol levels...

Ingredients:

  • For the dough:
  • 8 1/3 cups (1 k) flour
  • 4 tablespoons extravirgin olive oil
  • Salt
  • Warm water
  • For the filling:
  • 3 pounds (1.5 k) beet greens (chard)
  • 1 3/4 cups freshly grated Parmigiano
  • 1 tablespoon fresh marjoram, minced
  • 1 1/8 pounds (500 g) prescinseua (a mild cheese; use well-drained ricotta if need be)
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 tablespoons extravirgin olive oil
  • For the preparation:
  • Oil, for greasing the pan and the sheets
  • 12 eggs
  • 2/3 cup unsalted butter
  • Salt & freshly ground pepper

Preparation:

..., if we think in terms of the past it is instead a hallmark of spring, because eggs, like most other things, were seasonal commodities. Wife Elisabetta's great uncle Dino managed farms for absentee landlords, and once told me that when he started out back before industrial improvements egg laying was almost all concentrated in the spring. Moreover, production was much lower; a hen in its prime produced only 80 eggs per year (not much compared with the 300 plus eggs produced by hens in modern hatcheries). So here is the recipe.

In introducing it Alessandro Molinari Pradelli observes it provides sad proof of the declining standards in food preparation: Tradition dictates that the puff pastry of the crust contain 33 very fine, almost transparent layers, one to mark each year of Christ's life. Modern cookbooks generally call for 8, and some reduce the number to 6. The traditional recipe also calls for prescinseua, a soft cheese made by gathering curds (I believe) and that modern cookbooks call for ricotta instead. Again, quite a difference.

In any case, the recipe can be traced back to the 1500s and calls for the ingredients above.

Make a mound of the flour on your work surface and scoop a well into it. Pour in the oil; add 2 pinches of salt, and enough warm water to obtain a soft smooth dough. Divide it into 33 balls and let them rest on a well-floured surface, covered by a damp cloth. Wash the beet greens well, strip away the tough ribs, slice them into thin strips, and blanch the leaves in lightly salted water. Drain them well and put them in a bowl. Stir in 1 1/2 cups of the grated cheese and the minced marjoram.

In the meantime, put the cheese in a finely woven muslin sack and hang it up to drain, or press it with a weight to remove the serum. When it has dried, mix into it the 2 tablespoons of oil and flour, the remaining Parmigiano, and check seasoning.

Next, take 13 of the dough balls and roll them out paper thin one at time. Grease a pie pan sufficient to contain the filling (I'd go with a 10-inch, or 25 cm round pan), and lay down the 13 sheets, brushing all except for the last one with a sprig of parsley dipped in oil. Spread the beet green mixture over the dough, drizzle it with a little oil, and then spread the cheese mixture over the beet greens. Use the back of a spoon to press out 12 depressions in the top of the cheese mixture and crack the 12 eggs into them, being careful not to break the yolks. Season them with salt and pepper and drizzle them with a tablespoon of unsalted butter.

Preheat your oven to 400 f (200 C).

Now take the remaining dough balls and roll them out as you did the first. Lay them down over the pie, greasing them lightly top and bottom, and try to keep them separate by blowing a little air between the layers with the help of a straw. Press the edges of the layers together so as to obtain a border for the pie. The thing should be built up like a dome by the time it's done.

Tradition dictates that, to honor the head of the household, his initials be pressed into crust at the rim. In any case, bake it for about 50 minutes. It's good warm but much better when it has cooled. Some use slivered artichoke hearts sautéed in oil with a minced onion rather than beet greens.

Torta di Cipolle: An Oniony Variation

As a variation on torta pasqualina, you can also make a torta di cipolle; in this case the filling will be:
  • 2 1/4 pounds (1 k) sweet red onions (if what's sweet in your area is white, use that)
  • 3/8 cup (75 g) unsalted butter
  • An ounce (30 g) dried porcini, soaked in warm water to cover until rehydrated
  • 1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
Melt the butter, and sauté the remaining ingredients except the cheese for about a half hour. Remove the mixture from the fire, stir in the cheese, check seasoning, and once the filling has cooled make the pie.

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