As Easter approaches fast, I would like to share a seasonal recipe for a delicious pie that is eaten in Italy as well as in South America: Tarta Pascualina. I first came across this dish in Mexico City, at an Uruguayan home, the one that belongs to the family of my very good friend Ana.
One day she offered us a spinach pie with eggs that was very different to anything I had eaten before ‘La Tarta Pascualina’ they called it. Later on I found out that this dish originates in Genoa, port from which many migrants sailed off to find a future in the new world. To distant lands these intrepid travellers went, and so to Argentina and Uruguay they arrived. These migrants took with them the nostalgic flavours of home, particularly those which are linked to celebrations like Easter and they therefore took with them Tarta Pascualina.
This dish contains the word spring all over; it is made with the first young tender spring greens and it contains a high symbolic value because it is served at Easter time, hence the word ‘pascualina’: Pascua = Easter. Since it is an easter/spring dish, it contains eggs which are folkloric symbols of resurection.
I first had this pie, not at Easter but as part of a South American buffet that my friend’s family hosted. Julio her father was known for making this dish his speciality and delicious it was. I remember eating this warm pie with a little tomato salad and it was very good.
My friendship with Ana has survived many years in spite of us being separated by thousands of miles and the memory of this pie stayed in my mind always.
Below is a recipe that is similar to the one Julio makes, however I have changed the pastry and here I use hot watercrust pastry, which is one of the easiest types of pastry and one that produces spectacular results. I make a raised Pascualina pie by putting it inside a springform cake tin, filling with a spinach and pepper mixture and by placing some eggs inside, then the whole thing is baked, left to cool down and eaten with some garlicky tomato salad with basil, when you eat this, you will be transported perhaps to Genoa, but certainly to Montevideo.
For a deep cake tin about 20 – 23 cm in diameter:
450 g flour
1 tsp salt
100 g lard
100 g butter (you can use 200 g butter only)
225 ml milk and water mixed in equal proportions
Warm a mixing bowl and sift in the flour and salt, make a well in the centre
Heat the lard/butter or only butter in the milk and water until just boiling
Pour this mix into the well in the flour and stir quickly with a wooden spoon until thick
Continue working by hand to a smooth dough.
Cut in two, wrap in cling film and chill for about 30 minutes
Roll the pastry in two sheets of greaseproof paper until it is about 5 mm in height and the pastry fits the size of your tin, one is for the mould itself and the other one for the lid.
For the filling:
1 kg leaf spinach
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 red peppers, char-grilled and skinned, finely chopped
100 g grated Parmesan or Grana Padano cheese
Salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste
Wash the spinach and place in a pan, heat up without adding any water, cook stirring until it completely collapses.
Sauté the onions with some olive oil until soft, add the garlic and continue cooking until soft.
Add the spinach, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Cook and season accordingly
Take off the heat and add the grated cheese, 2 beaten eggs and the peppers. Mix very well.
Put this mixture on the baking tin filled with pastry; make 3 spaces in the filling. Break an egg and put its contents in this space, repeat with the other 2 spaces. Put the pastry lid on the pie seal. Using a fork prick the pie avoiding the eggs. Brush with a beaten egg.
Put in the oven and bake for about 40 – 50 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown. To un-mould, loosen up the sides using a knife and open the hinge (or spring). Brush with egg all over the sides and put in the oven for another 10 minutes so that the pie goes golden brown all over.