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Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Torta Verde Process

Have you ever heard of Torta Verde?  That's Italian for "Green Cake".  
I always crack up at the idea of a "Green Cake" when it actually has nothing to do with cake at all and is in fact a savoury vegetable pie.   I've also heard it called Torta Pasqualina, or "Easter Cake" and that version has whole eggs dropped in to the pie so that when you cut through you get slices of hard baked egg in the middle of your pie.

There are probably about a million different versions of this pie out there.. and I think the reason lies in the word Easter - a pie made traditionally at Easter time which would be Spring in Italy and when the first young, tender veg would be harvested.

Which is why Swiss Chard makes an appearance in this recipe as it over-winters well and puts on a final flourish  in early Spring just before it heads on to seed later in the season.  Wild herbs like Nettles and Dandelions would also be added, and you can still find recipes around which include them.  Those thrifty Italian housewives would use whatever vegetables and herbs they could find - be it from the field or veg garden!

I've recently been asked about Torte Verde and I remembered that a while back I actually made it and took about a bizzillion photos for a blog post of the Torta Verde Process..... and then forgot all about it!
Ever since that discussion I've not been let off the hook about the post so here it is - in all it's pictorial glory.  Forgive me dear reader, but it is a very, very, photo rich post so I'll try and keep the text to a minimum and let the pics speak for themselves.

You will need a selection of green vegetables.  Now don't go nitpicking here, this is Ruby Swiss Chard  and beside it, the finer stemmed leaves are beetroot tops, perfectly edible and often chucked away, which is a shame as they are so tasty and very similar to Chard.
Also at the party are peas,  zucchini (courgettes) and a bunch of flat leaved parsley.  I forgot to lovingly photograph onions - but you can imagine them there I'm sure!

Eggs, cheese; I use strong Gouda but a good Cheddar would do too.  Parmesan, (not strictly necessary if you aren't too flush) salt, pepper and flaky puff pastry, oh, and rice.  I used risotto rice but long grain white rice would be fine too.

So first of all, wash and strip the leaves away from the stems of the swiss chard and dice the stems finely.

Slice/chop up your zucchini and put in a large pot or bowl.  I use a pot as it is the biggest container I have and this recipe makes a rather large pie!

Put half the chopped stems in a separate, smaller pot with the rice, add water to just cover and boil together with a bit of salt until the water has evaporated and the rice is nearly done. (the rest of the stems are good simply steamed and left to cool, then dressed with olive oil and vinegar and a bruised garlic clove stirred through for extra vooma). 

Peel, slice and sauté the onions in a bit of olive oil until they're soft and golden.

Chop up the leafy part of the chard and drain well - either put it in a salad spinner or a clean, dry dishcloth to absorb the excess water.  You don't want any extra moisture in the mix.  Chop the parsley at this point too.  Add the chard and parsley to the zucchini.

Season the vegetables with salt and pepper - be generous, at least a teaspoon of salt for this quantity.

Add the cooked rice and stems mixture to the chopped veg.  It doesn't matter if it is still hot, this is actually preferable as the heat will cause the spinach to wilt and give a bit more space in the pot!

Add in the peas...

And the sautéd onions - see how golden they are?

Mix everything together at every stage - I think it is easier than dumping everything on top and then trying to mix it in.

Now add your cheese and mix it in.

It should look like this.

Beat up the eggs separately in a jug.

Then pour in and mix very well.

Like so!  Then set your mixture to one side and get ready to roll out the pastry.

Now for the pastry - you need to roll it really thin - it isn't like a normal pie, all thick and flaky - it really is just something to keep all the filling in place.  If you've got problems with wheat you could make this as a vegetable slice and omit the pastry altogether.

Oil a large roasting tray and then drape the pastry over, making sure it goes down into the corners.

Spread the filling evenly over the base of the tray.

Smooth all the filling out flat.

Now for the lid - remember I said roll the pasty very thin? Well the idea is that you drape the pastry over the top of the pie...

You can see in this picture how it drapes and falls.

Make sure you pinch and roll the edges of the pastry together in an elegant yet rustic fashion.

It should look something like this when you're done.

Brush the surface with beaten egg so that the pastry has a gleaming, golden hue when it is baked.

E voilá!   

Behold - Torte Verde!

Buon apettito!

Now the best thing about this pie is how great it is for picnics.  Once it has cooled down and set, it travels well and is easy to eat without cutlery.  A word of caution though - this recipe makes a big ol' pie!  Really, this quantity is meant for a big family gathering - but there's nothing stopping you from halving the recipe.  You can also switch it up a bit - if you've got more zucchini and less chard, then it won't be a problem, just use what you have!  

Here's the recipe, as given to me by my late Italian granny, one sunny morning many years ago. The quantities are not exact, but that's how she rolled.. a little more or less of anything wouldn't be too detrimental to the outcome.

Torta Verde

2 big bunches Swiss Chard - typically how big is a bunch?  as big as what you can hold in one hand I think.

6 - 12 Eggs - again depending on how big they are and how big your bunch is!  I'd go for more rather than less here.

5 small Zucchini (courgette).

2 small Onions or 1 large one.

1 400g tin of Peas or fresh or frozen - again there's room for movement here.

1 block of Cheese, strong Gouda or Cheddar - 300g at least.

Parmesan 200g (optional)

450g x 2 Puff Pastry
Flat leaved Parsley

1/2 a cup of Rice

Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper

Oven 180 degrees Centigrade
Wash and de stem the chard and leave to drain on a dishcloth or use a salad spinner.
Chop about half the stems finely.
Put the rice, stems and a bit of salt in a small pot, just cover and cook until nearly done.
Peel, slice and sauté the onions in a bit of olive oil.
Chop the zucchini into small pieces and put in a large bowl.
Chop the chard leaves and parsley and add to the zucchini.
Add Salt and Pepper.
Add cooked rice mix.
Add peas and sautéd onions.
Add grated cheese.
Mix well after every addition.
Beat eggs and add - mix well.
Set vegetables to one side and prepare the pastry - divide, 1 third for the lid, 2 thirds for the base.
Roll the pastry wafer thin.  Line a large roasting tray with pastry.
Fill the roasting tray with the vegetables and smooth down.
Roll the lid wafer thin and drape over the top of the pie, sealing the edges by rolling and pinching together with the base pastry.
Cook at 180 degrees Centigrade for 1 hour + until golden brown.
Leave to cool and set before cutting into slices.

And there you have it.  Please let me know how you get on if you make it.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!
'Til next time!


Thursday, February 6, 2014

I Channeled My Granny!

Yesterday the girls were off sick with a cold, and I can't say I was feeling 100% either.  My energy was low and when my eldest asked for soup for lunch, I admit, I did an internal sigh.
I went to the cupboard and grabbed a couple of potatoes and an onion.. and that is when it happened.  That is when I began to channel my Italian Granny!  Seeing the potatoes and onions and thinking.. what else? What other something could I add to the soup to make it, well, soup.
It was then I had a recollection from my childhood, a flash of an image, a forgotten smell, of a soup made up of the lowliest ingredients, that tasted so good, was warm and comforting and embodied everything a soup should be.
My Granny's rice soup.
By some twist of good fortune I had some left over rice in the fridge.  And as I searched through my memory the tantalising images came flooding back of Swiss Chard and perhaps, celery?
So I set out to make it.. and as an afterthought, grabbed my camera to photograph this humble soup and share it with you.  There is no recipe exactly, more my intuitive understanding of how the soup might have been made, so I'll list the ingredients and how I made it and I'll leave it to you to add or take away quantities as it suits you.

The Ingredients

2 to 3 large fluffy potatoes
Some leftover rice - about a big cup full
A few stalks of Swiss chard or a large handful of spinach
2 or 3 celery stalks
a large onion
a large clove of garlic
Stock of your choice - I used some beef stock.   I'm sure my Granny would have used a stock cube.
Oil/butter to sauté the onions in
Salt and Pepper
Grated Parmesan Cheese for that extra Italian flavour
a drizzle of olive oil if you wish


Dice up the onions and celery, squish the garlic and sauté them in the oil/butter till softened and they have a bit of colour.
Chop up everything a uniform small size, and add to the pot.
Add the rice
Add stock (cube) and seasonings
Add roughly 1.5 to 2 L boiling water

I used a pressure cooker to cook my soup - once the soup had come up to pressure I let it cook for about 5 or 6 minutes.
You could easily bring the soup up to the boil in a regular pot and let it simmer till the potatoes are soft and begin to fall apart.  When the soup is done, use a potato masher to roughly mash the potatoes.  Don't make a puree of it, you want it to remain chunky.
Serve into bowls and sprinkle with Parmesan Cheese, lashings of black pepper and a drizzle of olive oil if it takes your fancy.

A note on the rice.  I used a mix of brown, basmati, white and wild rice - I'd used up all the little bits of rice I had left over that weren't quite enough to make up a full meal.  
But you could use any rice you like really.  I suspect my Granny would have used white rice, nothing fancy.

At the first mouthful it all came flooding back, the smell, the taste.. all were spot on.
Just as if my Granny had been standing beside me in the kitchen guiding me through this recipe, something I'd not eaten in nearly 20 years!

Buon Appetito!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Gingerbread Houses 2013

Last year I made some Gingerbread houses for my girls to take in to school as a Christmas treat.  Well it seems I may have started something because they both "demanded" a gingerbread house each this year and of course I had to indulge them!
Thank goodness I'd saved the templates and recipe I used from last year as that saved me a lot of time!  I'm not usually that organised...  well if you call said recipe and template stuffed into a plastic packet gathering dust at the back of my baking cupboard, organised!
I'll let the pictures speak for themselves here.. I don't think there's much I can add except to say I made the biscuits on the Thursday, glued it all together on the Friday and decorated the WHOLE of Saturday and Sunday.. well you know, like from lunch till evening time (read midnight!).
People have asked me how much patience I have... honestly, I didn't even notice doing it as what better excuse than to have a Christmas movie marathon at the same time!!

If you'd like to compare this year's and last year's houses you can find them HERE!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Christmas Ornaments

I was on Pinterest a few months ago and came across this really cool crochet edging for a blanket.  Being close to Christmas I immediately thought - wow - would that work as a garland for my tree?
You can check out  my inspiration here.

It didn't take much to turn the stitches from a beautiful edging to this cheerful garland.  The whole garland is something like 6 metres long - I used a whole 100g ball of red el cheapo acrylic yarn.  I really love it and glad I made it!

So a week before Christmas all the decorations go on sale in the shops here...  I bought this tiny tree for 1 whole euro! I also picked up some cheap little baubles.. not perfect in size but good enough.  I consider this new tree a work in progress!  And so I couldn't resist crocheting a garland for this little cutie too!
This time I used some green cotton yarn - being a novice crocheter I've no idea what the proper name is - just that standard thin crochet cotton...  My husband thinks I'm officially mad.. but it finishes off my tree beautifully.  
I must just add, that I took these pics as I was putting the decs away, so they're not great and just a bit of an afterthought!  Don't you love my little lights??  OK. I'll stop now!

 Here are some decorations I made as a gift for a friend.. I love the way they turned out.  I've had these on my "to do" list for about 2 years now!  Pattern here.  They are super simple to make but so effective!

Last but  not least.. these are the Christmas decorations I made for my daughters this year.  Every year I try and make one decoration each so that when they leave home and have their own Christmas trees they can have a Christmas decoration from every year of their childhood hanging on their tree...
I usually make the decorations out of felt but I thought I'd try some crochet decorations for a change...
I'm happy with them.. perhaps not the star on the top but the buttons are sweet.  If you want to have a go and make some of these for yourself, here is the pattern.

So there is a round up of the decorations I made this Christmas!