You could safely call this a rustic pie. Sophisticated it ain’t. It started as the classic Italian torta pasqualina (Easter pie), but, over the years, has evolved into a fail-safe, fridge clearing, no fuss crowd pleaser. With its humble ingredients and rugged looks, I wouldn’t serve this at an introduction dinner to the in-laws, but, get to know them a bit, and they’ll love you forever for this pie.
I’ve started calling it a picnic pie after it proved to be a total winner at a park lunch with friends – when their then 3 year old son devoured slice after slice, annoying my husband immensely, as he was hoping to take the leftovers home. It soon became my standard picnic contribution. It’s also a very regular feature at home, since it lends itself beautifully to my inability to let leftovers be. I mostly make it as a vegetarian dish, as it’s one of my veggie husband’s favourites, but it also works well with chicken, and, I imagine, ham or sausages. The two ingredients I’m always loyal to when making this are leek, because it gives it a creamy, juicy filling, and halloumi cheese, as it doesn’t just melt all over the pie. Apart from that, it really is a case of whatever is lying around. I am extremely partial to all dark greens, so spinach, kale or broccoli tend to find their way to the filling too. This latest edition has a lot of spinach, and a combination of various greens I used last week in a veggie ravioli: swiss chard, mustard greens and endive. I also had some sage, which I believe is always a happy addition to vegetarian dishes.
The dough remains loyal to the pasqualina recipe I first tried many years ago: water, flour and quite heavy handed on the olive oil, resulting in a pie case that is rich and fragrant, and also sturdy enough to hold the juices from the leeks and courgettes. I keep a bottle of supermarket’s own, non extra virgin olive oil just to make this dough. Save the expensive stuff for the filling and other more noble ends.
Since I am clearly not serving this pie to the queen, I decided I was allowed to crack a couple of eggs in it, and let them to cook as the pie baked. My friend at work had brought some very fresh eggs from his chickens, and I just had to use them. As I say, it is not the picture of refined cuisine, but I never met anyone who doesn’t love this pie. Served warm with salad – tomatoes and mint works wonderfully – or cold straight from the fridge after the pub, it always disappears in seconds.
22 cm (9 in) loose bottomed pie tin
oven: 180C ( 375 F)
baking time: 30 min
For the dough:
- 300 g all purpose flour
- 100 ml water, room temperature
- 100 ml olive oil
- a pinch of salt
For the filling, use whatever combination of vegetables work for you. This is what I’ve used this time:
- 1 orange pepper
- 1 courgette
- 1 onion
- 1 leek
- 200 g fresh spinach
- a handful each of swiss chard, mustard greens and endives
- 4 eggs
- salt, black pepper and nutmeg
- 50 g parmesan
- 150 g halloumi cheese. If you can’t find halloumi cheese, then provola is also a good choice.
- a handful of green olives
- 8 leaves of sage.
Make the dough:
In a bowl, mix the water, oil and salt. Gradually add the flour and mix it with your fingers until the dough comes together. You may not need the full 300 g. The dough takes no time to come together and should feel quite greasy.
Turn it onto a lightly floured surface and knead only a little bit until it feels uniform . I firmly believe this is what gives my wooden worktops their fresh shine. The regular oily dough kneading.
Wrap it in cling film/plastic bag and leave it in the fridge for 30 minutes or more. It is fine to leave it overnight.
Prepare the filling:
Chop the onions and gently fry it in good extra virgin olive oil until translucent, about 3 minutes.
Add the chopped leaks and cook for another 5 minutes, until both are soft.
Chop the peppers and courgettes and add them to the onion/leeks, cooking for another 3 to 5 minutes, erring on the undercooked side. Remember this will keep cooking for a good 30 minutes in the oven.
Add all the greens gradually into the pan and close with a lid at each addition, leaving it to cook for about 30 seconds before the leaves wilt. Keep mixing the leaves into the main mixture, then adding some more.
Season with salt, pepper and ground nutmeg.
Mix everything well and turn off the heat.
Transfer the mix into a bowl to cool down a little, 15 to 20 minutes.
Assemble the pie:
While the filling is cooling, remove the dough from the fridge. Set aside about a quarter of it to make the lattice later.
Open it with a rolling pin on a floured surface and line the baking tin.
Beat 2 eggs with a fork and set about 3 tablespoons aside. You will use it later to egg wash the dough.
When the filling has cooled down, add the beaten eggs, grated parmesan, the olives and halloumi.
Mix everything well and fill the prepared tin with it.
Open the remaining dough and cut stripes approximately 0.5cm wide and slightly longer than the pie tin.
With your fingers (or a teaspoon if you insist), make a couple of holes inside the filling and crack an egg inside each hole.
Cover the pie with the dough stripes, making a lattice pattern over it. Seal the end of each stripe against the pie case. Brush the top of the pie with the remaining eggs.
Bake it at 180C (350F) for 30 to 35 minutes. It’s ready when the dough has turned golden and firm.
To keep the thrifty spirit going, the remaining scraps of dough work very well as a fried snack:
Bring all the remaining bits of dough together to form a ball and open it as thinly as possible onto a floured surface.
With a cookie cutter, cut small rounds until you have used all the dough.
Sprinkle some grated parmesan over it and pat it with your fingers so the cheese sticks to the dough.
Pour extra virgin olive oil into a frying pan and warm it, but don’t allow it to get smoking hot. Keep it on medium heat.
Fry a couple of sage leaves until crispy, then fry the dough discs for about 30 seconds on each side, until puffy and crispy on the outside.
Open a bottle of wine and drink a healthy glass with the fried dough while you wait for the pie to bake.