Sunday, 24 July 2011

Torta di Verdura. A Delicious Italian Tart of Summer Greens

When I spotted some locally grown artichokes at my neighbourhood Nicastro's Food Shop, I realized that at long last the season had progressed to the point where I finally had everything I needed to make my favourite savoury  tart.  Hurrah!

I think I know how this tart was created.  I've always imagined an Italian housewife surveying her garden at the height of summer, putting her hands on her hips and saying to herself, "Che diavolo devo fare con tutta questa verdura?" or, "what the devil and I going to do with all these greens?"

Well, here's her answer:  bake them all into a fabulous tart!

You can find torta di verdura almost everywhere in Liguria.  Most Italian food markets, bakeries, Pizzerias and supermarkets sell big squares of it for a few Euro as a healthy mid-afternoon or pre-dinner "grab and go" snack.  Of course, the one you make will be better.

My version is quite a bit thicker than you'd find in Italy and I make it in a pie plate or a fluted tart pan so it looks more refined and suitable to serve to guests. I also like to use cream cheese in place of the traditional ricotta but you can use either...

The flavour of the tart mellows and deepens the second day and it makes a great next day lunch.  It freezes well and it's healthy too.  What more could you ask?

This is not a quick recipe to prepare. It takes a lot of chopping so sharpen your knife! I think those Italian housewives had more patience than we do.  If you want to serve the tart at 7:00, start it at 5:00 and pop it in the oven at 6:00. It will be worth the effort.

Serves 6-8

390˚F˚ (200˚C) for 50 Minutes

10" (26cms) tart pan with a removable bottom or a 10" glass pie plate
Rolling pin
Salad Spinner 
Pastry brush


1/4 cup (50g) uncooked Arborio or Carnoroli rice
2 1/2 cups (350g) water
1/4 teaspoon salt

2 large bunches green swiss chard* (not rhubarb or yellow chard) to make 6 cups (350g) finely shredded
1 1/4 cups (95g) leek, chopped
5 (100g) green onions, chopped
1 cup (125g) broccoli stalks or kohlrabi or zucchini* (outer flesh only), finely chopped

1/4 cup (6g) each of parsley and basil, finely chopped
1/4 cup (30g) pine nuts

4 medium or 1 large artichoke, trimmed and finely chopped to make about 3/4 cup
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons olive oil
pinch of salt
1/3 cup (75g) cream cheese*, room temperature
1 egg plus one yolk at room temperature
1/2 cup (30g) grated Parmesan
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

This pastry is common for savoury tarts from the Mediterranean.  It's not flaky at all but it's tender, delicious,  and it's important to roll it as thinly as you can.

1/4+1/8 cup (72g) whole wheat all purpose flour
3/4 cup (97g) all purpose white flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1.5 ounces (36g) olive oil
3 ounces (78g) water

3 tablespoons olive oil for brushing the crust

I recommend you use only green swiss chard for the tart.  The rainbow bunches that are available these days will turn the tart a strange unappealing reddish/brown colour.

If you are using zucchini, use only the outer 1/2cm.  The fleshy inside part will make the tart too moist.

Philadelphia Cream Cheese is widely available in France and Italy but for a fraction of the price and just as good, you can use any Fromage à Tartiner such as St Môret o r Marché U brand. 


1.  Cook the rice.  Put the rice, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 2 1/2 cups (350g) water  in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil and then lower heat and cover.  Set a timer for 10 minutes.  There will be a lot of water left in the pot and the rice will still have a lot of tooth to it.  When timer rings, pour rice with water through a sieve and put rice aside to cool.

2.  Prepare the pastry dough.  Mix the water and oil together.  In a separate bowl, mix together the dry ingredients.  Add the liquids to the dry ingredients and mix well.  The dough will be soft but should not be not sticky.  Add a bit of flour or water if needed.  Knead the dough a bit to bring the mixture together and form it into a smooth ball.  Don't knead it too much.  Place in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside.

Trimmed artichokes
3.  Prepare the vegetables.  Remove the white stalks and thick spines from the chard.  Wash well and spin to remove as much water as possible.  Separate the chard into four equal portions.  Stack each portion together lengthwise and roll the leaves into a tight cigar roll.and chiffonade (slice finely) to about 1/4" (1/2 cm) wide.  Set aside.

4.  Prepare the artichokes.  Put the lemon juice, a few pinches of salt and the two teaspoons of olive oil into a large bowl.  Remove and discard all the tough outer leaves, cut off and discard the tops and halve the artichokes.  Using a melon baller, remove the chokes.  Chop the artichokes finely, place them in the bowl with the lemon juice/oil/salt preparations and toss well.  Set aside.
Remove the choke

5.  Finely chop the green onions, leeks, herbs and broccoli stalks/kohlrabi/zucchini and herbs and add them to the bowl with the artichokes. Add the pine nuts and cooled, drained rice.

6.  Prepare the liquids.  In a blender or with a bowl and whisk, blend together the eggs, cream cheese (or ricotta) until smooth.  Stir in the Parmesan, salt, pepper, nutmeg until well blended.  Set aside.
Swiss chard shredded

Leeks, artichokes and herbs chopped

Use the outermost part only

7.  Prepare the pastry.  Preheat the oven to 390˚F˚ (200˚C)Brush the tart pan/pie plate with olive oil.  Divide the dough in half and form each half into a tight ball.  Generously flour your work surface and the rolling pin.  Roll each ball into a disc about 1" (2cm) larger than the pan. You may need to rest the dough periodically because it will be quite resistant to rolling but don't give up! It's important to roll the dough as thinly as possible  because the thin crust is one of the defining characteristics of the tart.  The final thickness should be 1/16" (2mm)  .  If you don't have the counter space to alternate rolling between both discs, roll one ball at a time, place the first disc into the bottom of the tart pan and then roll out the top crust.  Once you've lined the pan with one disc, brush the edge of the bottom crust with a bit of oil.  Finish mixing the filling.

Brush with oil before baking
8.  Add the chard to the other chopped vegetables and mix well.  Add the liquid mixture to the vegetable mixture, mix well and spoon it into the tart pan. Sprinkle a bit of salt and grind a bit of pepper on top of the filling.

9.  Finish the tart.  Put the top crust on the filled tart.  Using scissors, trim the overlapping dough to about 1/2" (1cm) from the edge of the tart pan. Pinch the dough together and then tuck the edge inwards and pinch lightly to create a seal.  Brush the top with olive oil and cut some vent holes on the top crust.

Brush with oil before serving
10.  Place the tart the preheated oven and bake for 50 minutes.

11.  After you remove the baked tart from the oven, brush it again with olive oil.

12.  Serve with side vegetables such as tomatoes and salad or carrots or anything else your heart desires.

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