Torta Pasqualina: Easter Greens & Ricotta Cake

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Torta Pasqualina
Celebrate the end of Lent with torta Pasqualina, a savory Easter cake.

Easter is a relaxed holiday. There’s a saying “Natale con i tuoi. Pasqua con chi vuoi.” Christmas with your family. Easter with whomever you like. In Italy the Easter celebration spills over to Monday, called La Pasquetta, when Italians like to eat al fresco or go on a picnic.

Torta Pasqualina, Easter cake, is traditionally served as an antipasto on the Easter table. Torta Pasqualina is best at room temperature so it’s good to go for your picnic too.

The torta includes traditional symbolic Easter foods. Before modern production, eggs were costly and only available this time of year so eggs and tender leafy greens are a reminder of spring awakening.

The dough for the crust is fun to make. It’s pliable enough so that you can stretch it and roll it out really thin. If making dough doesn’t sound like fun to you, use puff pastry instead.

Chard and baby spinach sautéed with onion in olive oil and brightened by fresh marjoram forms the first layer. Ricotta whipped light and fluffy with egg and parmigiano creates the second layer topped with a golden phyllo-like crust.

Spring lamb, “the Lamb of God” in all those Renaissance paintings, is a symbol of Christ’s sacrifice. So baby spring lamb is another traditional Easter food. If you’re looking for an Easter main course check out my abbacchio video, baby spring lamb roasted with rosemary and garlic served with golden potato wedges. And if you want help with the other courses, check out my Easter recipe roundup.

Buona Pasqua! Buon Appetito!

 

Torta Pasqualina: Easter Chard & Ricotta Pie
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Antipasto
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 6-8
Ingredients
Crust
  • 2½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2½ cups flour
  • 1½ cups water
Filling
  • 1 pound swiss chard
  • 1 pound spinach
  • 1 bunch of spring onions (or half an onion)
  • 1 pound ricotta, drained
  • ½ cup grated parmigiana
  • 9 eggs
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram
  • 2 tablespoons chopped Italian flat parsley
  • sea salt freshly ground black pepper
Instructions
Crust
  1. You want to end up with 4 sheets, 2 for the base of a 10" inch spring form pan and 2 for the top crust.
  2. Dissolve the salt in the water then add the oil and stir.
  3. Put the flour in a large bowl. Add the water mixture.
  4. Mix the flour with a fork or knead it with you hand.
  5. When a dough has formed put it on a lightly-floured surface and knead it until it becomes smooth, about 2 or 3 minutes.
  6. Form the dough into a ball, wrap with plastic film and let sit at room temperature for about an hour.
Filling-Greens
  1. Blanch the chard and spinach in simmering water for about 3 minutes. Drain the greens and let them cool on a plate.
  2. When cool squeeze all the water out of the greens. You want them very dry.
  3. Roughly chop the greens.
  4. Chop the onion.
  5. Over medium-high heat put 2-tablespoons olive oil in a large saute pan.
  6. When the oil starts to ripple add the onion and cook until the onion starts to turn translucent.
  7. Add the greens to the pan, add sea salt and pepper and mix well. Cook until the greens are tender.
  8. Put the greens in a bowl and add the chopped marjoram and let the greens cool.
  9. Put the ricotta in another bowl. Beat 3 eggs and add them to the ricotta along ¼ cup grated parmigiano, parsley, nutmeg (which I forgot to add in the video) and sea salt and black pepper to taste. Whisk all the ingredients together so that the ricotta mixture is well blended and fluffy.
Assembly
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Divide the dough in 4, roll 2 larger dough pieces (about 10 oz. each) to a thin sheet about a 13-inch diameter and the smaller balls (about 7 oz.) and roll out to to a thin sheet about 10-inches.
  3. Brush the bottom and sides of the baking pan well with olive oil.
  4. Spread one larger sheet of the pastry and spread it with evenly over the bottom of the pan and about up the side.
  5. Brush the pastry all over with oil.
  6. Put the second pastry sheet, put it on top of the first sheet and pat it so that the second sheet adheres to the first.
  7. Add the greens to the baking pan and spread them evenly over the bottom crust.
  8. Add the ricotta mixture and spread it evenly over the greens.
  9. Make an indentation with the back of the spoon in the center and then 5 indentations spread evenly mid-way between the center and the edge of the pan.
  10. Separate 6 eggs. Put an egg yolk in each indentation.
  11. Lightly beat the egg whites and spread a thin layer of the whites on top of the ricotta mixture and sprinkle grated parmigiano all over.
  12. Completely cover the top the ricotta layer with one of the smaller sheets. Press it to adhere to the side crust and brush it with olive oil.
  13. Lay the last small sheet on top to fully cover the cake and press this last sheet gently to adhere to the side crust.
  14. Cut off any dough that hangs over the side of the baking pan. Roll down the remaining dough on the sides, crimp with your fingers to form the edge of the crust an the circumference of the cake. Gently depress the edge with a fork to create a pretty top edge.
  15. Brush the top of the cake with olive oil.
  16. Bake the cake in the oven until the top crust is golden, about 45 minutes.
  17. Serve warm or at room temperature.

 

Easter Recipe Roundup

Abbacchio: Easter spring lamb

Lent’s coming to an end. No more fasting soon, so I’m getting ready for my 4-course Italian-American Easter dinner celebration.

I’m bringing what’s available in the spring farmers market to our Easter feast.

For the antipasto I’m serving pizza rustica, a Neapolitan savory deep-dish ricotta pie with sausage, salami and fresh mozzarella. I’ll serve a slice of the pizza rustica with Giardiniera, marinated garden vegetables that I make a few days ahead so they reach their full flavor. Giardiniera will be a piquant foil for the savory pie.

My primo piatto, the first plate, is a light but full-flavored artichoke, leek and potato soup.

The secondo piatto, the second plate, is porchetta, a butterflied pork roast with an herb paste. The roast is accompanied by roasted potatoes dotted with truffle oil and cipollini agro dolce, onions in a sweet & sour glaze.

I’m bookending the meal with another Neapolitan Easter pie, pastiera, a sweet ricotta pie with wheat berries and candied citron.

Make the same dinner I’m making or change it up. Design your own Easter dinner. Choose from my selected dishes for each of the 4 courses. And if you just want to see the videos, check out this handy YouTube playlist.

 

Antipasti (before the meal)

Baked Baby Eggplant
Baked Baby Eggplant

Pair one of these dishes with your favorite Italian salumi, cheeses and olives.

Primo Piatto (first plate)

Soups

Tasty artichoke slices, leeks and potato in a thick thyme flavored broth
Artichoke, leek and potato soup

Rice

Risi bisi: Venetian Rice and Spring Peas
Risi bisi: Venetian Rice and Spring Peas

Pasta

Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni
Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni

Secondo Piatto (second plate)

Porchetta
Porhcetta–Herb Filled Pork Roast

Contorni (Side Dishes)

Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Use one of the vegetables in the antipasti selections or make one of these to serve with the second piatto.

 

Dolci (dessert)

Tiramisu

Stracciatella–Italian Egg Drop Soup

This simple but elegant soup is at home in Rome or Naples. Little egg "rags" and spinach in chicken broth.
This simple but elegant soup is at home in Rome or Naples. Little egg “rags” and spinach in chicken broth.

After a slice of savory Pizza Rustica and some arugula salad, the first course for my Easter meal is Stracciatella, Italian egg drop soup.

Stracciatelle means “little rags” in Italian. They’re formed by whisking beaten eggs into hot chicken broth. My Mom made perfect little egg rags in her soup.

This is an elegant but terribly simple soup to make. Just heat up some chicken broth, whip in the beaten eggs to make little rags, tear in baby spinach leaves and eat.

Use your homemade chicken broth or a low-sodium broth you pick up at the market. Stracciatella will be ready in the time it takes to bring the broth to a boil.

I’m looking forward to having Stracciatella either in Roma or Napoli while I’m in Italia soon. It’s a popular dish in both cities.

The mild broth is the perfect bath for the torn tender spinach and the egg rags flavored with parmigiano and black pepper. Stracciatella is a wonderful light and flavorful first course.

Watch me making the bookends for my Easter meal, savory Pizza Rustica and sweet Pastiera Napoletana, traditional Easter deep-dish ricotta pies.

Buona Pasqua! Happy Spring!

Stracciatella--Italian Egg Drop Soup
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Italian
Cuisine: Soup
Serves: 4-6
Ingredients
  • 6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 cup baby spinach leaves (rip larger ones into smaller pieces)
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Instructions
  1. Bring the broth to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.
  2. In a bowl whisk together the eggs, cheese, parsley, salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Stir the broth in a circular motion.
  4. Gradually drizzle the egg mixture into the moving broth, stirring gently with a fork or whisk to form thin strands of egg, about 1 minute.
  5. Stir in the spinach and cook until the spinach starts to darken in color.
  6. Add sea salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Ladle the soup into bowls and serve. (Put out some grated parmigiano and let everyone help themselves.)

 

Chicken Roman-Style with Peppers

Chicken Roman Style with Red and Yellow Peppers
Chicken Roman Style with Red and Yellow Peppers

I’m hosting an informal Easter dinner next Sunday. Some of the friends at the table will be with me in Rome and Naples in a few weeks so I’m serving dishes from those 2 cities.

We’ll start with a savory deep-dish pie, Pizza Rustica filled with ricotta, mozzarella and salumi and a deep-dish ricotta with candied citrus peel pie, Pastiera Napoletana, will be the sweet ending to our meal.

Chicken Roman-Style with red and yellow peppers in a sweet tomato sauce with prosciutto bits will be the piatto secondo, the main course.

Pollo alla Romana con i peperoni is a simple recipe that is ready in about 30 minutes. I used boneless, skinless chicken breast but you can use any chicken parts that please you. If you have more cook time, bone-in pieces will add even more flavor to the dish.

The cooking method used here, insaporire, to develop flavor, is a classic Italian technique. Cook the chicken and peppers separately to develop their full flavors. Then combine them together at the end so that the ingredients absorb flavor from each other and the dish develops distinctive, yet complex flavors.

The chicken is infused with the soft sweetness of the peppers, the salty prosciutto and chunky San Marzano tomato sauce. A perfect flavor balance.

Serve some polenta or rice on the side to absorb the sauce and you have lunch or dinner on one plate.

Watch me making the Neapolitan savory and sweet Easter Pies. Make them for your spring celebration.

Buon appetito!

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Chicken Roman Style with Peppers
 
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A one-pan chicken dish with peppers bathed in a sweet tomato sauce that is ready in about 30 minutes.
Author:
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4-6
Ingredients
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast (or your favorite chicken parts. You can use a whole, chicken cut into 8 pieces if you want.)
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut lengthwise into 1-inch wide and 2-inch long strips
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut lengthwise into 1-inch wide and 2-inch long strips
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 ounces prosciutto, coarsely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram or oregano
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 can (14 ounces) imported San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand or coarsely chopped
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Cut the chicken breast into 4 or 5 pieces of equal size.
  2. Put 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a saute pan large enough to hold all the chicken over medium-high heat.
  3. Add the smashed garlic and cook for about a minute.
  4. Add the chicken and brown on all sides, about 10 minutes (15 minutes if your using chicken parts.)
  5. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Remove the chicken and garlic to a bowl and set aside.
  7. Add the last 2 tablespoons of olive and oil to the pan.
  8. Add the prosciutto and 1 smashed garlic clove and cook for 1 minute.
  9. Add the pepper strips and cook until tender, about 5 minutes.
  10. Add the marjoram or oregano, sea salt and pepper to taste.
  11. Return the chicken and any juices that collected on the plate to the pan and mix everything together well.
  12. Add the wine and deglaze the pan, scraping up all the brown bits on the bottom of the pan.
  13. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the wine mostly evaporates.
  14. Add the tomatoes and their juices. Stir well and bring to a rapid simmer.
  15. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  16. Put the chicken and peppers on a platter and serve immediately.

 

Beef Brisket Roman Jewish Ghetto Style

Beef Brisket
Beef Brisket
Beef Brisket in the Roman Jewish Ghetto Style

When I was in New York City a couple of weeks ago I ducked into a deli for a beef brisket sandwich before heading to the airport to come back home.

Unfortunately, the sandwich sucked. I left most of it uneaten on the plate.

Back in San Francisco, I still had a craving for tender, succulent long-braised beef brisket in a rich gravy. I couldn’t get it out of mind.

Luckily, on my last visit to Little City Meats on Stockton at Vallejo, the boys had plenty of beef brisket in the case. I had to get a hunk to satisfy my desires.

Here’s my take on how this dish might be made in Rome’s Jewish Ghetto. I’ll let you know if I find it on a menu when I’m in Rome this spring.

Beef brisket isn’t that hard to make. Most of the time is spent waiting for the brisket to slow-braise in the pot for a couple of hours in a broth flavored with aromatics.

You end up with fork-tender beef in a rich, mellow gravy. Serve the brisket with the carrots and celery scattered on top, pour the gravy all over and dinner is ready.

Make sure you get a big piece of brisket. Thick slices moistened with gravy make a fantastic sandwich. You want to have leftovers so you can stuff a crunchy Italian roll the next day.

Buon appetito!

Beef Brisket from the Roman Jewish Ghetto
 
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Beef brisket long braised with aromatic vegetables in the style of the Roman Jewish Ghetto
Author:
Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 2-3 pounds beef brisket
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 large stems Italian flat parsley
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 4 cups water
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Cut the celery and carrots in 2-3-inch pieces.
  2. Smash the garlic cloves and peel.
  3. Cut the onion in half and then quarter.
  4. Season the brisket all over with salt and pepper.
  5. Dust the brisket with the flour.
  6. Put a large enameled or heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons EVOO.
  7. When the oil is hot put the brisket in the pot, fat side down.
  8. Brown the brisket on all sides.
  9. Put the brisket on a plate and set aside.
  10. Drain out the oil.
  11. Add 1 tablespoon EVOO to the pot.
  12. Add the tomato paste and toast it in the oil until it's color darkens a bit.
  13. Put in the celery, carrot, garlic, bay leaf, parsley and onion, mix the vegetables with the tomato paste and saute until the onion is just translucent.
  14. Add the red wine and deglaze the pot, scraping all the brown bits on the bottom.
  15. Simmer about a minute or 2 to let the wine alcohol burn off and the brown bits dissolve into the broth.
  16. Put the brisket and any juices on the plate back in the pot.
  17. Add enough water to cover the vegetables and about half of the brisket.
  18. Bring the pot to a low simmer, cover and simmer for about 2 to 3 hours until the brisket is fork tender.
  19. Put the brisket and some of the carrot, celery and onion pieces on a platter and set aside.
  20. Pour the gravy and the vegetable pieces through a strainer into a bowl.
  21. With a big spoon push down on the vegetables pieces in the strainer to get all of the flavorful liquid into the bowl.
  22. Return the gravy to the pot, simmer to reduce and thicken the gravy, about 3 minutes.
  23. Slice the brisket and put the slices on a platter. Serve some of the carrots, celery and onion on the side. Pour the pan gravy on top.
  24. Serve immediately.

 

Spring has arrived.

Buon appetito!

 

An Easter Dinner Menu for You

Porchetta

Porchetta Here’s a 4-course Easter dinner suggestion. I even threw in Italian wine pairings.

Follow my easy video demonstrations and text recipes (a fan suggests I call these “videocipes” or “recideos”) and make dinner for yourself. Bake the 2 traditional Easter Pies the day before and let them sit overnight. They’ll taste better after all the flavors meld. Make the soup the day before. It tastes best the next day too.

That’s 3 courses ready to go. You can make the main course–roasted herb-infused pork with 2 delicious sides–on Easter in just a couple of hours including cooking time.

Don’t forget to pick up your Columba Pasquale the traditional Easter bread in the shape of a dove. They’re at every North Beach caffe, deli and bakery. Hopefully you’ll find one near you. Buona Pasqua! Happy Easter!

Antipasto

A slice of Pizza Rustica the savory cheese, salumi and ricotta deep-dish pie. A dry Prosecco pairs well.

Primo Piatto

A nice bowl of Italian Wedding Soup. Finish up the Prosecco.

Secondo Piatto

Pochetta, Sweet-Sour Onions, Truffle Roasted Potatoes go well with a hearty Aglianico, Taurasi or Lacryma Christi (Tear of Christ) all from near my mom’s village in Campania.

Dolce

A sweet slice of the traditional deep-dish ricotta pie Pastiera Napoletana.

Espresso