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.
- 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
- 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
Make the dough
- In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt.
- Drizzle the oil into the flour, mixing with a fork to combine.
- 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.
- Shape into a ball and wrap in waxed paper or place in a sealed container. Refrigerate for 2 hours.
Make the filling
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).
- Wash the chard and remove the stems. Finely chop enough of the chard to make 150 grams.
- 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.
Combine potatoes, onion, parsley, cheese, and chard in a large bowl. Mix in eggs and 45 grams (3 tbsp) oil. Set aside.
- 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
- 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.
- The bottom crust will be rolled out to 15" in diameter, the top crust to 13" in diameter.
- 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.
- 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.
- Place bottom crust into the pan, stretching it gently if it snaps back.
- Spread filling across the dough, leaving 1" of exposed crust around the edge.
- Roll the top crust to a 13" circle. It will be very thin.
- Place atop the filling so that it drapes slightly over the filling onto the bottom crust.
- 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.
- Drizzle 15 grams (1 tbsp) oil over the pie.
- Using a fork or knife, poke some holes in the torta to allow steam to escape during baking.
- Bake the torta for about 35 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.