Tarta Pascualina / Easter Pie

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.

An Easter egg from Rococo Chocolate

An Easter egg from Rococo Chocolate

Tarta Pascualina

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

6 eggs

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.

Sprouting Broccoli

After many months of waiting for the ‘triffid’ plants also known as sprouting broccoli, here they are finally ready to be harvested.  If you grow broccoli, you will have been waiting almost as much as waiting for a child to be born!  Now is the time to be rewarded with the shoots of broccoli.

Here is a simple recipe that uses both green and purple sprouts, you don’t need to use both, they can be interchanged, also instead of boiling, you can pan fry them until they are golden or roast on a tray with a little olive oil, salt and pepper until soft outside and crunchy inside.

Warm Broccoli Salad

Serves 6

1 head of Broccoli, separated into florets

200 g sprouted purple broccoli

50 g crumbled fetta cheese

70 ml extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp dried oregano

1 Tbsp flat leaf parsley, chopped

The juice of half a large lemon or 1 small one

Salt and pepper to taste

1 Tbsp pine-nuts, toasted

black olives


Boil both types of broccoli in separate saucepans of lightly salted water until soft but still firm, about 4 minutes [you can pan fry the florets or even roast them instead].  Drain very well and combine in a warmed salad bowl.  Sprinkle the fetta cheese on top.  Mix oil, oregano, parsley and lemon juice together, heat the dressing up in a microwave or gently warm up in a saucepan.  Add to the broccoli –be extra careful because this might sizzle.  Lift and turn the pieces to mix properly.

Sprinkle the toasted pine-nuts and black olives.  Serve immediately.

Leeks, glorious leeks!

Leeks are in season right now and if you grow your own, I need not to tell you that they are just like asparagus, best when they are young and do little to them, braise them in wine for instance or pan-fry them with a little olive oil.

Larger leeks are slightly tougher and they need more time to soften, braising again is a good method of preparation.   Below is a nice recipe from Jane Grigson’s great Vegetable Book, for a very simple Leek Pie.

Flemish Leek Pie


125 g butter

1 medium onion

375 g leeks, sliced

125 g double cream

1 tsp plain flour

salt and pepper to taste

500 g puff pastry

1 egg, beaten

In half the butter, cook the onion slowly to soften, add the rest of the butter and put in the leeks.  Cover the pan and leave the vegetables to cook for 5 minutes.  If there is much liquid left, raise the heat to evaporate, making sure the vegetables do not brown or burn!

Beat the cream into the flour to make a smooth paste and stir it into the leeks.  Cook for one minute, then remove from the heat, season and cool down.

Roll out the pastry and cut two large circles, one slightly bigger than the other.  Put the smallr of the two on a moistened baking sheet.  Spread the leek filling in the middle, leaving a 2 cm rim.  Brush the rim with egg.  Place the larger circle over the top.  Press the edges firmly together and twist to seal.  Make a hole in the centre of the lid and score the pastry lightly with the tip of a knife.  Brush with the beaten egg and bake for 15 minutes at 220 C / Gas Mark 7, then lower to 180 C / Gas mark 4 and continue baking for 20 minutes.

If you have a wet filling or if you are unsure about baking a flat pie, you can always fit in a cake or flan tin 22-23 cm in diameter.

Something delicious to do with Cavolo Nero

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Here is another good recipe for cabbage cooking, today it is the turn of delicious Cavolo Nero, which is not only abundant, but especially tasty, because this nice brassica, improves its flavour with a good frost!

Celery is in season as well in January/February, so it is good to try these two vegetables in this dish.

Braised celery, red onions and Cavolo Nero

Serves 4

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 large red onion

½ head celery

500 g curly kale or cavolo nero or any other beautiful seasonal cabbage or spring greens

50 ml olive oil

50 ml water

a good measure of vermouth about 50 ml.

the zest of a lemon

salt and pepper to taste

1 Tbsp parmesan (optional)


Pre-heat the oven to 180 C

Cut the onion into wedges

Trim the celery and slice in a diagonal, 1 inch slices are nice

Trim and wash the kale, reserve

In a large pan, heat up 1 Tbsp of olive oil and sauté the onion for one minute; add some of the greens and sauté for another minute.  Transfer to a baking tray and mix well with the celery and the rest of the greens.

Mix the oil and water with the vermouth and pour this mix onto the vegetables, mix to coat well, season with salt and pepper and cover tightly with foil.  Put in the oven and leave to braise until the vegetables are soft.  This can take about 30 minutes.  If you want to make this dish in advance, cook until the vegetables start to look cooked but they still feel al dente, later on you can put back in the oven and continue cooking until they are soft; this last process can last about 8 minutes. Once ready, mix with the lemon zest.

Serve on a dish and decorate with some shaved or grated parmesan and eat immediately.

Caldo Verde or something delicious to do with a Savoy Cabbage

Wintertime is cabbage time and here is a recipe that is says simplicity all over: Caldo Verde.  This is a very simple Portuguese soup that uses Savoy cabbage which is abundant at this time of year, you can also use spring greens, Cavolo Nero, and plain or curly kale for this.

This is a meatless version, if you want to add meat, try some pan fried pancetta, chorizo or some sausage.  Delicious winter warmer, cheer me up type food!

Serves 4 – 6

Medium sized Savoy cabbage about 400 g

1 kg potatoes

3 garlic cloves, peeled and made into a puree

2 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded and finely chopped

1.5 litres of vegetable stock

½ tsp pimenton –maybe more according to taste

salt and pepper to taste

Garnish with finely chopped parsley that is pounded with olive oil and pimenton –if you want you can add a little garlic to this mix.

Prepare the cabbage by removing the outer leaves and cut into quarters, then core and slice very finely.   Peel and dice the potatoes and put in a pan with the garlic, tomato, pimenton and stock.  Bring to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes and break the potatoes to a rough puree.  Season with salt and pepper and add more pimenton if you want.

Just before serving, add the sliced cabbage, bring to a simmer and cook for about 5 minues or until the cabbage has cooked.

Make a garnish by putting some finely chopped parsley, pimenton a clove of garlic and some olive oil, pound and mix until it resembles a puree.

Serve in bowls and put a teaspoon of the garnish.

Seville Orange Marmalade / Mermelada de Naranjas de Sevilla

For those who happen to live on northern latitudes, January can be seen as a bleak month, when after all the jolly of Christmas, we are left over with extra pounds of belly fat, with short days that seem to take an eternity to become longer and with a desire for something exciting and new to happen.

The appearance of Seville or bitter oranges (citrus auriantium) at fruit stalls and markets certainly is no cure for winter nostalgia, but it can be seen as some kind of first aid: their bits of green/yellow and orange colour, provided by these fruits can be added to our seasonal cooking palette.  These fruits become like the first rays of sunshine, coming to our rescue from those winter blues.

And rescue they do.  Seville oranges are only available for roughly a period of six weeks from early to mid January and they are used mainly for making marmalade because they have a high pectin content and also because they are very sour and bitter as a fruit.

Gorgeous it is to see these oranges at the shops and glorious is the smell they produce when they are turned into conserve.   To make a large batch of marmalade every January not only gives you enough stock to spread on your toast for the rest of the year, it also gives you a sense of seasonality.

It is fun to turn the kitchen into a production line, invite friends and family and make large batches of marmalade, you can achieve a lot by sharing jobs and have a great time during the process.

So when you see Seville oranges at the shops buy loads, don’t eat them as a fruit, instead turn them into marmalade.  This in time will become something that will make you appreciate January.

Recipe for Seville Orange Marmalade

This recipe comes from Stephanie Alexander’s cooking bible: The cook’s companion

Makes 1.5 – 1.8 litres

1 kg Seville oranges

3 large lemons

2 litres water

2 kg sugar

old jam jars and lids


Begin by peeling the rind of the oranges and lemons using a potato peeler, then cut into long strips or julienne.  Juice the fruits and reserve the pith and seeds –this is important, the seeds are full of pectin that you will need later on.  Place these inside a muslin bag or cloth and tie well.  Put the juice, muslin bag, water and zest into a non-reactive saucepan [stainless steel] and bring to the boil;  as soon as this happens, reduce to a very gentle simmer, partially cover the pan with a lid and cook for one hour, stirring from time to time.  You want to reduce the liquid to about half of its original volume.  Take off the heat and leave covered overnight.

The day after, begin by squeezing the muslin bag very well of any liquid/pectin, remember any pectin is valuable, so you want to really squeeze as much liquid as possible from the bag.

Add the sugar to the citrus mix and stir well, heat up gently, stirring all the time, up to boiling point.   Once it begins to boil, stop stirring and leave to bubble for about 7 minutes or until it comes to setting point.  Test for setting using a thermometer, it should reach 104 C, if you don’t have a thermometer, just place a blob of marmalade on a cold plate and leave for a couple of minutes, push your finger into the marmalade, it should separate in two halves; this is setting point.  If this does not happen, continue boiling for a bit longer and test until you are able to do so.

Sterilise your glass jars: Wash jars and lids in hot soapy water and rinse well in hot water.  Submerge  into a large pan full of boiling water for 10 minutes, carefully take out of the bath and place upside-down over a clean tea-towel to drain.  Dry well by putting them inside an oven at 150 C.  Take out of the oven and avoid touching the insides of the jars and lids.  While these are still hot, fill them with hot marmalade and then screw on the  lids.  Do this with care.

Leave them to cool down, a vacuum should be created, you can tell this by feeling the concave shape of the lids when they are cold.  Label and date the jars… when you open a jar in July and see the date, you will remember the day you made this!

Rosca de Reyes / Galette des Rois / Epiphany Bread

… On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love left his shoe by the door and waited for the three wise men to leave a present.

Yes this is what happens on Epiphany night in many countries.  In Mexico many people celebrate this night almost as much as Christmas eve, because this night is also loaded with symbolism, it is the night when the three wise men finally arrived to give gifts to the baby Jesus; and as such it is expected that the men will arrive and deliver a present to children… you just need to leave your shoe by the windowsill or by your bed or by the Christmas tree and the morning after there will be something there for you.

Of course this follows the previous night of families gathering to drink hot chocolate and cut the ‘rosca’. This is a bread/cake that is made on this night and it has the shape of a large ring, inside of which there is a token like a bean, a coin or even a plastic baby or person.  When you cut the bread, if you get the token, that means that you have to host a party on the 2nd of February that usually features tamales.

These breads used to contain one or two tokens or babies, as the world keeps turning, it seems that these have reproduced and now at least in Mexico City  roscas’ you can find as many as ten or more.  Personally I prefer the cakes that contain one or two tokens because then, the one who gets it, becomes ‘special’ a king for a day I guess.

This is not an exclusive Mexican tradition, it is an adaptation from other countries like Spain and France where they eat Roscon de Reyes and Galette des Rois, respectively.

Below is a simple recipe for a Mexican Rosca, this is followed by one for Galette des Rois.

This is another excuse for getting together, gather on the last night of this period, drink hot chocolate and have a slice of this bread, if you get the token, then make tamales at your place and invite more people.

Mexican Rosca

For the Bread

500 g strong white flour

100 g caster sugar

10 g salt

100 g softened butter

3 medium sized eggs

2 sachets or 14 g easy blend yeast

200 ml water

zest of 1 lime

zest of 1 lemon

zest of 1 orange

2 plastic babies for the rosca, or substitute with a dried bean

100 g acitron [this is a candied cactus] if you can’t find this, substitute with candied fruits


100 g soft butter

100 g icing sugar

150 g flour

2 Tbsp caster sugar

In the bowl of  an electric mixer, add all the powdered ingredients for the bread mix, then add the softened butter and cream, add the eggs, water and the zest of the citrus fruits, mix using the bread hook for three minutes at a slow speed, increase to a medium speed and mix for six minutes or until the dough is very elastic, you need to develop a lot of gluten here, leave to rest for 30 mins or 1 hour is your kitchen is cold.

Take out of the bowl and roll into two balls that you are going to shape into two long saugages that you are going to link into a ring, don’t forget to insert the tokens.

Place on baking trays that are covered with greaseproof paper.

Mix the ingredients for the cover by beating them in a bowl to fully incorporate.  Decorate the roscas by alternating the candied fruits and placing strips of the bread cover.

Leave to prove for another hour and place on greased in a medium hot oven 160 C fan, 180 C conventional Gas Mark 4 for 35 minutes.  The roscas are ready if they sound hollow when their bottoms are gently tapped.

Galette des Rois

Make about 250 g puff pastry [or rather buy…] and roll it out into two round shapes about 2 cm thick.  Place these on a baking tray that is covered with greaseproof paper.  Push a bean into the dough. Sandwich them together with frangipane cream before baking.  Trace a pattern on the top of the dough with the pint of a knife and brush it with egg.  Bake in a very hot oven at 250 C conventional oven, 230 fan oven, Gas Mark 9, until the top is golden brown.

Below is a simple recipe for frangipane:

125 g butter

125 g sugar

2 eggs

200 g ground almonds

½ tsp vanilla essence (optional)

Cream butter and sugar until white and fluffy

Add eggs one at a time add vanilla essence and fold in almonds

With thanks to Ingrid Vargas-Cessa for giving me her version of this recipe for Rosca de Reyes that I have adapted.

Galette des Rois Taken from Larousse Gastronomique