Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Torta di Spinaci Like an Italian Grandmother

My nieces Amy and Alison have Italian grandmothers. I do not. I say grandmothers because their grandmother has a sister. She looks almost exactly like her, and is a sister at the hip. Each a gorgeous sister filling in and rounding out one other, they have made a natural progession in their lives together. It has manifested in one fabulous personality we call Sadie & Ethel. We never see them apart. My sister married when I was quite young, so they were fixtures in my life throughout my childhood. When they entered our lives in the year 1976, they dressed alike, wore identical long black Farrah type hair styles, used the same makeup, spoke certain phrases in unison, traveled often to New York City, and represented the ultimate in class and style in Syracuse New York. They were in the clothing business. They now live in connecting condos in Florida, and I don't know what they are cooking these days. But in their days in Syracuse, they had a joint repertoire of some of the most delectable dishes and desserts I was to experience in my youth. I adore them. They are the only Italian grandmothers I know. They never prepared any kind of torta, from my recollection. But while preparing this with what magically appeared in my hands yesterday, with the greens I had on hand, and some pastry crust from the night before, I thought it might be nice to name this after the Italian grandmothers of the world.

Torto Spinaci Like an Italian Grandmother
Serves 6 as an appetizer of 4 as a main dish
you can have this on the table from start to finish in 40 minutes

For this recipe, if you cannot find this lovely cured pork belly called ventresca, go ahead and use streaky bacon, or if you do have an Italian imports shop in your neighborhood, get some pancetta and use that.

1 batch of basic savory crust, here's a recipe or use your own
3 ounces, about 100 grams, or 6 thin slices of of ventresca, pancetta, or bacon
1 shallot
1 pound or 500 grams of spinach
1 large bunch of garden arugula
2 tablespoons of white wine (see note)
salt and pepper
2 fresh eggs
3 fresh sage leaves

Very important note on the wine: Don't use it if you don't have a glass of white wine in your hand while you are cooking. It is as simple as that. I splashed a couple of tablespoons into the pot while I was cooking but would not have done so if I didn't have the wine in my hand. Please follow suit and don't go out of your way to find wine, pour wine, or open a bottle to prepare this recipe.

- Prepare your pastry dough in the manner you pefer or according to this recipe. Set it to rest.
- Rinse and dry your greens, both the spinach and arugula.
- Take three thin slices of whatever pork belly you have, and remove the strip of skin off one side, leaving the strip in once piece. Slice the three slices of belly perpendicular to the grain and make little matchsticks with them.
- mince the shallot
- heat a pan to hot, put the ventresca in, with the strips of skin, and lower the heat to medium low. Render the fat from the ventresca slowly, for about 5 minutes.
- remove the strips of skin, and add the minced shallot, and sweat it for about 3 more minutes.
- roll the spinach and the arugula into cigars and cut across them, making thin strips.
- raise the heat again to high.
- add the spinach and arugula all at once, and toss it with the shallot and the ventresca. Splash a little bit of wine from your glass into the pan and let it steam up into the greens. Add a little bit of salt as needed and a generous gind of black pepper. Keep tossing them and pushing them around until everything wilts considerably. Evaporate the liquid. Remove from heat.
- beat the two eggs, and reserve 1 tablespoon of the beaten egg for the end.
- divide the dough into 2/3 for the bottom, and 1/3 for the top.
- roll out the 2/3 sized part of the dough and line a small but deep baking dish.
- pile the spinach and arugula into it, don't worry if it mounds up above the top, spread it evenly in the dish, it should fill it completely.
- pour the eggs (except that one Tblsp. you have reserved) over the spinach, and tap it on the counter to make sure it flows down into the spinach and arugula.
- spread the remaining slices of ventresca over the top of the spinach.
- Roll out the 1/3 sized piece into a circle to cover and meet the edges of the tourte, so you can pinch it closed here and there.
- with a little knife, carve three holes in roughly the shape of sage leaves, and pop a leaf into each one. Place the dough you have removed wherever you think it will look nice on the top of the crust.
- brush the top with egg yolk.
- Cover lightly with foil, and bake at 190C / 375F for about 30-40 minutes, removing the foil after 15 minutes.
You can serve it hot or cold, it is very good either way. If you are a vegetarian, you can omit the meat.



Blogger Sarah McColl said...


6:49 PM, October 10, 2007  
Blogger Jann said...

Enjoyed reading about your family~do you ever go to Florida to visit them? Seems I always have a glass of wine in one hand, cooking or not! Cheers

4:04 AM, October 12, 2007  
Blogger L Vanel said...

I have never been to visit them, Jann, but I understand my nieces get a chance every once in a while.

8:03 AM, October 12, 2007  
Anonymous Erika of Sweet Pea Blog said...

I am always looking for new spinach recipes - as there is always a bag of the lovely leaves in my fridge from the market! Thanks for this. If you have some left over, perhaps you might like to take a look at my spinach flat leaf quiche :)

9:58 AM, October 12, 2007  
Blogger winedeb said...

I never start a meal without a glass of wine to accompany me! The tourte looks lovely and very comforting!

9:54 PM, October 12, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The favorite dish of S&E involving greens was a delicious greens and beans dish made by Grimaldi's restaurant. This dish is also known as Utica Greens here in central new york. If you run across a great recipe please post it.
Your Sistah

4:29 PM, October 13, 2007  

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