Torta Verde: a Savory Pie from Italy

The crust of a torta verde, an Italian savory pie. This one is filled with chard, potatoes and feta.
The crust of a torta verde, an Italian savory pie. This one is filled with chard, potatoes and feta.

Now and then a food magazine contains a recipe that becomes a standard my kitchen. Even more rarely, a single issue will contain two standards. The May/June 1998 issue of Saveur was one of those rarities, with two recipes that I have made many, many times and consider critical parts of my cooking repertoire.

The first is clafoutis;, a dessert of fruit embedded in a custard, a dessert I make a few times during the cherry and apricot season in the spring. Although it can be adapted to fall fruit like apples and pears, I haven’t tried those variations. The second is torta verde, a savory pie from the Liguria region of Italy. In this torta, a thin olive oil crust holds a mixture of Swiss chard, feta cheese, onion, potato and eggs.  I probably make it once a month, all year round, especially before long domestic flights because it is superbly portable and has robust flavors that stand up to taste-killing aircraft cabins.The torta was born out of necessity, according to the Saveur article. Its home region — the rural areas of Liguria north of the Italian Riviera (like the town of Triora) — is a place where wheat flour has historically been quite expensive. And so the torta, with its thin crust enclosing a wealth of vegetables and cheese, was created so families could stretch their flour budget. Although this torta uses Swiss chard as the green, I’m sure that tortas are made with wild greens foraged from the countryside, various thinnings from the garden, and so on.  Like all pies, there are countless filling possibilities (I include two variations in the recipe notes, as well as a reference to another variation) .

Here are a few notes about making the torta that I have learned over the years:

  • The recipe calls for chard leaves only, but if you want to use the chard stems in the filling (I do this sometimes), you will want to cook them first. After slicing the stems into 1 cm pieces, saute them in a skillet with olive oil over medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes.  Let cool before adding to the filling.
  • The crust is very thin — you can almost see through it.  If the dough snaps back as you roll it, let it rest for a few minutes so the gluten can relax. I generally work on the bottom piece for a few minutes, then switch to the top piece, and continue to switch back and forth until the dough is rolled.
  • I sometimes have too much filling — from extra leafy chard or because I used larger potatoes, for example — I make the leftovers into a fritter by adding an egg or two, then cooking the mixture in a lightly oiled skillet.

 

The crust of a torta verde, an Italian savory pie. This one is filled with chard, potatoes and feta.
The crust of a torta verde, an Italian savory pie. This one is filled with chard, potatoes and feta.
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Torta Verde

A thin olive oil crust holds a mixture of Swiss chard, feta cheese, onion, potato and eggs.
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 35 minutes
Resting time (for dough) 2 hours
Total Time 1 hour 15 minutes
Servings 8

Ingredients

Dough

  • 170 grams all-purpose white flour sifted (1 1/4 cups)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 22 grams extra-virgin olive oil 1 1/2 tbsp
  • Up to 1/2 cup cool water

Filling

  • 150 grams Swiss chard leaves finely chopped (from 8-10 large leaves)
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 350 grams potatoes 2 medium
  • 1 small onion peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp minced fresh parsley
  • 180 grams crumbled feta cheese 1 1/4 cups, 0.4 lb
  • Pepper to taste
  • 2 eggs lightly beaten
  • 60 grams extra-virgin olive oil 4 tbsp

Instructions

Make the dough

  1. In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt.
  2. Drizzle the oil into the flour, mixing with a fork to combine.
  3. In measures of 1 tablespoon at a time, add water to the dough and mix. Continue adding spoonfuls of water until the dough holds together -- try to add as little as possible because less water means a flakier crust. Knead the dough for a few minutes until it is smooth and elastic.
  4. Shape into a ball and wrap in waxed paper or place in a sealed container. Refrigerate for 2 hours.

Make the filling

  1. Boil the potatoes in salted water until tender. Remove and let cool.  Once cool, peel them and dice into rough pieces (about 1 cm on a side).

  2. Wash the chard and remove the stems. Finely chop enough of the chard to make 150 grams.
  3. Place the chopped chard in a colander, sprinkle with 1 tbsp salt, toss to mix, and set aside over a bowl or in the sink for 20 minutes. Rinse chard to remove excess salt, and then squeeze chard to press out liquid.
  4. Combine potatoes, onion, parsley, cheese, and chard in a large bowl. Mix in eggs and 45 grams (3 tbsp) oil. Set aside.

  5. Place an oven rack in middle of the oven. If you have a pizza stone, place it on the oven rack. Set oven temperature to 375 F (190 C). Note that if you are using a pizza stone, you'll need to preheat the oven for a much longer time.

Roll the Crust and Fill the Torta

  1. Lightly oil and flour a 14" pizza pan (or cookie sheet). (I like to use a heavy steel Chicago-style pizza pan from Chicago Metallic.) Divide dough into two unequal pieces: one-third and two-thirds.
  2. The bottom crust will be rolled out to 15" in diameter, the top crust to 13" in diameter.
  3. Roll out the pieces of dough on a floured surface. They will be very thin -- almost thin enough to see through. If the dough snaps back as you roll it, let it rest for a few minutes so the gluten can relax. I generally work on the bottom piece for a few minutes, then switch to the top piece, and continue to switch back and forth until the dough is rolled.
  4. For a perfectly round torta, cut the dough into a circle using the pizza pan as a guide. For a more rustic preparation, leave it as is.
  5. Place bottom crust into the pan, stretching it gently if it snaps back.
  6. Spread filling across the dough, leaving 1" of exposed crust around the edge.
  7. Roll the top crust to a 13" circle. It will be very thin.
  8. Place atop the filling so that it drapes slightly over the filling onto the bottom crust.
  9. Lightly wet the edge of the bottom crust, fold over the top piece, and crimp to make a seal. Use your fingertips to press down the filling and make indentations in the torta.
  10. Drizzle 15 grams (1 tbsp) oil over the pie.
  11. Using a fork or knife, poke some holes in the torta to allow steam to escape during baking.

Bake

  1. Bake the torta for about 35 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.

Recipe Notes

Adapted from "The Italian Torta," by Colman Andrews, Saveur magazine, May/June 1998
 
Paula Wolfert's Mediterranean Grains and Greens has a torta recipe with a filling that includes grated winter squash and rice.  It's great. 
 
Leftover filling can be used to make a frittata.  Add an extra egg or two, then cook like a frittata.  (You could probably also cook it like a "scramble.")
 
Two filling variations:
Torta di funghi 1
1 1/2 pounds fresh mushrooms, trimmed and thinly sliced
3 T. extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 c. crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over low heat. Add the garlic and cook until slightly golden, a few minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook until tender. Transfer to a colander and allow to drain for 15 minutes. Add parsley and cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
 
Torta di funghi 2
2 pounds fresh mushrooms, trimmed and thinly sliced
3 T. extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over low heat. Add the garlic and cook until slightly golden, a few minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook until tender. Transfer to a colander and allow to drain for 15 minutes. Add parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

 

8 comments

  1. Hi Marc,

    In the last few months, you may remember receiving an email invitation to become a part of the Foodbuzz Featured Publisher Program. With all the recipe-writing and food photography to be completed, we know emails can easily get lost in the shuffle, so Foodbuzz would like to re-extend our offer of inviting you to be a part of our food blogger network. I would love to send you more details about the program, so if you are interested, please email me at Shannon@foodbuzz.com.

    And thanks for sharing the torta verde! I’ve had the clafoutis, but this is a new one for me to try. =)

    Cheers!

    Shannon Eliot
    Editorial Assistant, Foodbuzz.com
    shannon@foodbuzz.com

  2. Hi,

    My name is Lauren and I work with the BBC World Service on the programme, World Have Your Say. Today we are doing a show on food, asking the question, should we create healthy food even though it is usually more expensive or create cheap, usually unhealthy food to feed hungry people all over the world. If you have an opinion on the matter, we would love to hear from you. Please email me at lin.liu@bbc.co.uk with your number. The show will be on at 6 pm London time.

    Thanks,
    Lauren

  3. Thanks for sharing the torta recipe. The recipe sounds so much like a cross between a quiche and Spanish tortilla. In fact, it seems to be it’s got the best of both worlds: the eggs and cheese with the potatoes. Will file the tip of taking it on a long-haul flight in the future. I like to bring my own food as well since the prices of airplane food are so high yet quality quite low.

    ***
    I didn’t realize that torta came from the lack of wheat. So many great rustic foods have started this way, including ravioli (stretch meat) and dumplings.

    ***
    Will you give us an update on your clafoutis recipe in early May when the first cherries come into season? I love clafoutis. Waiting with bated breath!

    ***
    I also learned a new word from you — thinnings. Thanks for that 😀

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