With spring in the air, my thoughts turn to the Italian Easter pie, torta pasqualina, a festive puff pastry dish customarily prepared for consumption on Easter Monday for marauding guests. The tart is more often than not stuffed with ricotta and spinach or chard—the classic greens used for ravioli and such. Emilia-Romagna and Liguria take credit for having invented it (though it seems plausible that country people anywhere would think to put spring greens, foraged or cultivated, into a pastry casing). The torta has been an anticipated ritual for me every season, but this year, I’m making it with a traditional American-style pie crust.
The idea to use rapini in a pie came to me when a big styrofoam chest filled with those freshly harvested greens (aka broccoli rabe in America) on ice arrived at my doorstep, courtesy of the D’Arrigo Brothers (Andy Boy) growers, with whom I have partnered recently to figure out ways of getting Americans to eat more of this astonishingly nutritious (and tasty) vegetable.
With a prodigious supply of rapini at hand, my dreams of Easter pie were realized. Four of us gobbled one in no time two days later (it keeps well, covered, in a refrigerator for up to five—just warm it in a medium oven for twenty minutes or so, cover off, before you are ready to eat). I’m going away to visit my children for the holiday and I had better bake two pies to take with me. One never knows when unexpected guests will arrive. How lovely to eat it for brunch the day after the big feast. We’ll have a glass of wine, perhaps a rustic red Negroamaro from Puglia or a minerally Greco di Tufo from Campania.
Serves 6 to 8 people
This is my emigrant version of Italy’s “torta pasquelina,” also called “scarpazzone.” “Scarpa,” shoe, refers to the frugal peasant practice of including the stalk along with the leaves in the filling mixture. I do the same here, using the entirety of two rapini bunches, stems and tops alike (they really shrink after boiling). In the traditional spinach or chard version, pancetta pairs irresistibly with those mild, garlicky greens, but I prefer smoky bacon as a counterpoint to the pungent rapini in my newfound filling.
For the crust:
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, well chilled or frozen
6 tablespoons solid vegetable shortening, well chilled or frozen
1 large egg
1 tablespoon lemon juice or unflavored vinegar
5-7 tablespoons ice water, just as needed
For the filling:
2 bunches rapini (“broccoli rabe”)
2 tablespoons kosher salt
3 slices bacon, chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large onion, chopped
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
3 large eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon fine dried bread crumbs
¼ cup freshly grated medium-aged pecorino such as Fior di Sardegna or cacio Romano
½ teaspoon salt
freshly milled black pepper to taste
For the egg glaze:
1 egg yolk, beaten well with pinch of salt
Directions for the pie pastry
- Combine the flour and salt and pulse a few times in a food processor to blend.
- Add the cold butter and solid vegetable shortening and pulse only until fat is cut into bits the size of peas.
- Through the processor’s feed tube, add the egg and lemon juice or vinegar, pulse once or twice, then add the ice water one tablespoon at a time, pulsing once or twice between additions, only until dough begins to show some clumps. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the inside walls of the vessel. Do not form a dough ball on the blade.
- Turn dough out onto a piece of wax paper (if it looks sandy and dry, sprinkle on a tiny bit more water) and use your hands to bring it together into a ball. It should hold the form of your fingers when squeezed. Wrap the dough well in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or for up to 5 days until you are ready to make the filling. Note: If butter and vegetable shortening were frozen, dough can be rolled without prior chilling.
- After the pie is made, brush the surface with the egg glaze to give it a golden finish just before baking.
Directions for the filling
1. Wash the rapini is cold water, drain.
- Detach and separate the stems from the tops of the vegetable. Set the tops and the leaves aside. Using a small, sharp knife, peel any especially tough skin from the thicker lower stalks, much like you would peel the tough skin from the bottom of asparagus stalks.
- Fill a large pot with plenty of water to cover all the greens and bring to a rolling boil. Add the kosher salt and the peeled stems, cover partially, and boil over high heat for 7 minutes. Now add the florets and leaves and cook them together with the stems until 3 more. Drain the greens and allow them to cool. With your hands, squeeze out as much water as you can. Chop them finely and set aside.
- Warm a large, heavy skillet over medium heat and cook the bacon until it begins to color, about 7 minutes. Drain off excess fat, stir in the butter, and add the onion to the pan. Adjust the heat to medium-low and sauté until the onion is transparent, another 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and continue to sauté gently until it softens and the onions are lightly colored, but do not brown the mixture, another 3 minutes. Stir in the rapini mixture, turning it over with the bacon and onion mixture to combine. Set aside to cool.
- In an ample bowl, beat the eggs lightly and mix in the breadcrumbs, grated cheese, cheese, salt and pepper. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the cooled rapini mixture, blending well.
- Preheat an oven to 350 F. Select a 10-inch tart pan or pie tin. Butter it lightly. Divide the chilled dough into 2 portions, one slightly larger than the other. To use, roll out the larger ball of dough on a lightly floured, wide sheet of parchment or waxed paper using a floured rolling pin. Form an 11-inch round. Drape it around the pin and transfer it to the pie pan. Press it gently onto the bottom and sides. Spoon in the filling.
- Roll out the second ball of dough in the same manner into a slightly smaller circle. Lay it over the filling. Crimp the edges together to seal and trim off any excess to form an even edge. Cut a slash in the top to allow steam to escape. If there are any dough scraps, gather them up, re-roll them, and cut out leaves or rosettes. Decorate the top of the pie with the cutouts, pressing them gently onto the crust.
- Brush the crust with the beaten egg and bake in the preheated oven until golden, about 1 hour, 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and transfer it to a rack to cool for about 10 minutes. Serve hot or warm, cut into wedges.
Note: This pie keeps well in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Reheat it in an oven preheated to 350 F until warm throughout, 20 to 30 minutes.