So what else can you do with all these wonderful winter leafy greens?
In Italian a torta is a cake, but it can also be a savoury type, for example as in this case a TORTA DI VERDURA (A vegetable flan or pie). Verdura means vegetable and in this case green, leafy vegetables.
There are different types of pastry that can be used, but in this case I chose one made with extra virgin olive oil. It is easy to make and I have found that it also generally keeps better than the other pastry and makes a more solid casing for the verdure. Interestingly in the rural areas around Ragusa (Sicily) sugar is often added to pastry and on this occasion I have done so.
I like to use a variety of different green leafy vegetables for the filling. Selected from any combination of the following: chicory, escarole/endive, chopped tender green leaves of celery and fennel (in small quantities) spinach, broccoli, cime di rape and cavolo nero (in the North of Italy). Kale (not Italian) is also suitable and occasionally I have also used a little cabbage.
If I am including endives or chicory, I use the outside leaves and reserve the more tender, lighter coloured leaves in the centre for green salads. Bitter tasting chicory and endive are particularly appreciated – bitter vegetables are considered particularly beneficial for the liver.
The TORTA DI VERDURA is best served at room temperature and usually I bake it on the same day if I am presenting the torta at home. I usually stagger the preparations by cooking the verdura the previous day – often I will have it as a contorno (a vegetable side dish) the night before and save some for the pie. I either make the pastry the night before or at least two hours before the baking (this pastry likes to rest).
Breadcrumbs are sprinkled on top of the pastry before the filling is added. This will help to absorb juices from the vegetables and will assist to prevent the pastry from becoming soggy. My breadcrumbs are made from 1-3 day old, with the crusts removed. I use bread like a sourdough or made with pasta dura flour (hard wheat) and which has had time to rise naturally.
In the north of Italy, eggs are usually included to bind the mixture rather than the breadcrumbs; I add 2 beaten eggs well as the bread expecially if I am going to leave the cooked torta for more than 2 hours before I eat it.INGREDIENTS Vegetables: you should have masses of raw leaves – the equivalent to 3 large bunches of green leafy vegetables (se above for variety) which should give a mixture of about 6-8 cups of cooked, well drained and chopped, mixed greens. ½ cup of extra-virgin olive oil, onions, 2 large chopped salt to taste chillies 2 dried or fresh (left whole and optional) garlic, 6 cloves, squashed, ¾ to 1 cup coarse breadcrumbs 2 eggs, lightly whipped with a fork Variations When you are ready to put the filling into the torta you could also add the following: Anchovies and black olives, ½ cup of olives ¼ cup of anchovies, chopped, Currants and toasted pine nuts (about ½ cup of each, to taste). When I use this option I do not use chillies and add a little nutmeg. Cheese – Sharp cheese like pecorino or provolone (with chillies) or a mild cheese like ricotta or pecorino fresco (I do not add chillies). PROCESSES To clean the greens: remove any bruised or brown leaves and cut off the tough stem ends. Separate the bunches into leaves, wash and tear some of the bigger leaves into smaller pieces (so that they cook quicker and fit into the pan better). Cook the leaves by either steaming them in the pan and only using a little water or by adding them to about 3 cups of salted boiling water (as is the traditional Italian method for cooking verdure.) Stir regularly and ensure that the vegetables do not stick to the bottom of the pan. Cover and cook over medium heat until softened, about 10 minutes – they will get more cooking later. Once again, Italians would cook these for a longer period. Drain well (I leave them in a colander until ready to use). Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a large saucepan, add the whole chillies and the garlic and stir till the garlic has flavoured the oil. Remove and discard the garlic and chillies. Add the onion and stir until softened. Squeeze any remaining moisture from the greens before adding them to the pan, then taste for salt, adjust and toss them into the pan in the flavoured oil. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5-10 minutes. Let cool and set aside.
PASTRY CRUST: Pasta Frolla Fatta Con Olio (Short pastry made with oil)
I like to make my own pastry, but you may prefer to use a commercial variety. I also enjoy using my fingers, however food processors work well.
In this recipe I have used standard cup measurements and approximate weight, but let your intuition be your judgement and vary the amounts as needed. Different flours will absorb differing amounts of liquid I have estimated the approximate amount of water which could be used. Pastry making is also influenced by the weather, use cold water, and rinse your hands to cool them under the cold-water tap, keep the pastry in a cool place when you allow it to rest.
The pastry should be compact and may not need any extra liquid, but if you feel that you will not be able to roll it out, add more oil or a little water. Some recipes use a combination of whole eggs and egg yolks, others add a little white wine or lemon juice for the extra moisture.
I like to bake the bottom of the pastry blind before I put in the filling: line the pastry with foil; add pastry weights (or dried beans or chick peas) on top. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove foil and weights. (Optional – brush pastry with egg white to provide a better seal and bake for another 10 minutes).
The torta can also be covered entirely with pastry, rather than with strips as I have done on this occasion.INGREDIENTS plain flour, approx 3 cups ½ teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon of sugar ½ cup extra virgin olive oil ¾ cup water cold 2-3 egg yolks extra virgin olive oil, to brush the top of the pastry PROCESSES Combine in a large bowl or on a slab with the flour, sugar and salt. Drizzle with the extra virgin olive oil and lightly rub quickly with your fingers until the mixture is crumbly. Make a well in the centre, work in some of the water, adding more water as needed, until the mixture begins to hold together and form soft dough. Knead for 2-3 minutes until the pastry feels elastic Shape into a ball, wrap it in plastic film and let it rest in a cool place for at least 60 minutes before rolling out. To assemble the torta: Preheat the oven to 190.C. Butter a deep spring- form pan (mine is 22.5 cm round and 6.0 cm deep) with extra virgin olive oil. Divide the pasty into 2 parts; roll out one slightly larger than the other to line the bottom and the sides of the dish. Make the edge about 1cm higher than the edge of the tin. (About 07.5 cm). Do not b concerned if you find this dough to have become a little more stiff and resistant to stretching. Fit the dough into the prepared well buttered pan, pressing it against the sides and letting the excess dough hang over the edge (about 3cm). Prick the pastry and place it in the fridge until the filling is ready. Roll out the remaining dough and cut the pastry into strips.– these will form the lattice. Prepare the filling: Drain and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Add eggs and any of the variations (optional). Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over pastry in the pan. Cover the filling with strips of pastry: start with the longest strips and lay in a cross shape across the centre of the pie (90 degree angles). Alternate horizontal and vertical strips until you have covered the cake with a lattice (or weave them in an over-and-under pattern). Press the ends of the strips firmly to the lip of the pie and then fold in on itself. Bake and cook until the top is golden and the pastry has detached itself from the sides of the tin. This may take about 45- 60 minutes Allow to rest in the tin for 8 minutes on a wire rack before releasing it (or if you are clever and have used a conventional baking tin, inverting it).
As an Italian I am able to better appreciate the different flavours of the torta if I eat it warm rather than hot.
Can you imagine this torta made with wild greens? The photo below was taken just outside the gates to the Valley Of The Temples in Agrigento. There he is with his plastic bag…..