savory-italian-pie

There are a great variety of Italian savory cakes, pies and tart recipes for all occasions. You can serve them cold or warm, as a starter or as a one-plate meal accompanied with a green salad.

The main ingredients are fish, meat, vegetables and eggs and they can be made with a pie crust or puff-pastry or pizza dough

A torta (the plural is torte) is a pie, usually a savory one, at least in the countries across the Mediterranean—consisting of a filling (often based on vegetables) enclosed in thin dough and baked in an oven or cooked over an open fire. The notion of savory pies is ancient, perhaps dating to the Mesopotamians. The Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all ate something similar.

Torte of various designs are made all over Italy today, but the Ligurians seem to produce this dish in its purest form—just dough and filling, without any enhancements. The only complex Ligurian torta made today is torta pasqualina, or “Eastertide torta”, which is filled with either artichokes or Swiss chard and mixed with eggs, cheese, and herbs. Traditionally, torta pasqualina was made with 33 layers of dough—ten on the bottom and 23 on the top—to symbolize the 33 years of Christ’s life.

Sandro Oddo, who is a serious student of local history, folklore, and cuisine, writes that, In the old days people in the mountains ate torte everyday. Pasta was a rarity.” Pasta is filling and comparatively inexpensive, but because little wheat grows in the Ligurian countryside—or anywhere else in the region—flour was expensive, and pasta was usually purchased instead of being made at home. So instead of making pasta, less than a pound of flour could be formed into a thin-dough torta with a filling of wild greens or mushrooms, some eggs from the barnyard and some homemade cheese.  This pie could  feed eight to ten family members. The prevalence of torte in this region wasn’t originally a matter of cultural preference; it was a matter of survival.  

Until 1994 Triora, a city in Liguria, held an annual torta-making contest.  “In the last two years of the contest,” Oddo says, “only two women bothered to enter. It wasn’t much of a competition and the event has been permanently canceled. The art is being lost,” he adds. 

A past contest winner, Allavena, created a torta that was different from that of most of Liguria. Instead of many top and bottom layers, hers was made with a single oversized sheet of dough; the filling was placed in the middle, the edges were drawn up to the center in irregular pleats and the pie was baked. While she often made a traditional chard-filled torta, her specialties were, torta di patate with a filling of puréed potatoes and torta di polenta  with a spinach and herb filling.

She usually baked her torta in a small oven in her little kitchen, but on special occasions Allavena used to carry them down the street to the local communal oven.  “The baker would cook it for you in the leftover heat after he’d finished his loaves,” she said. Unfortunately, the oven closed down recently in response to new Italian safety laws. Another lost art.

In the United States torta often means a combination of layered soft cheeses, pesto and sun-dried tomatoes. This is served in a loaf form and spread onto breads or crackers, but this is not the traditional torta as viewed by the Italians. Instead, the Italian torta is a meat and cheese pie or tart, usually double crusted, that slightly resembles a quiche. The primary difference between quiche and torta, besides the double crust, is that the slightly eggy custard in a torta is much more cheese based than egg based. Usually egg is only used to bind ingredients together, instead of making up the majority of the savory filling, as in a quiche.

Some chefs suggest using a pizza dough for the Italian torta, while others suggest a more traditional piecrust. Either type of dough can make a delicious torta, but the pastry crust is more traditional than bread dough. When pastry dough is used, the torta may be made in a large springform pan instead of in a pie dish.

Italian torte can have any combination of ingredients. Some are completely vegetarian, and are flavored merely with vegetables like artichokes or spinach. Other recipes introduce ham or sausage. The principal filling is usually a combination of ricotta cheese, parmesan, parsley and onion. From that point on, you can get creative and use many different ingredients to augment the Italian torta.

You can serve a torta while it is still slightly warm and the cheese semi-melted, or you can serve it cold, especially for parties. The pie’s interior, when cool, is more like a solid cheese custard. Do observe caution when storing the pie, if you plan to serve it cool. It should be kept in the refrigerator, because of its high cheese content, until about ten minutes prior to serving. As mentioned, ingredients can vary significantly. Any and all can make for a delicious and unusual dish to offer guests.   

To keep these dishes on the healthier side, my pie dough is made with olive oil and the pies are made with a single crust. I also use lighter ingredients in the fillings. These savory tarts make a great lunch entrée or you can serve them for dinner with a salad.

Tart Dough/ Oil Pie Crust

Pie crusts made with vegetable oil have a crisp, tasty crust with no trans fats or cholesterol. No rolling needed, just mix it right in the pie plate and pat it into place. This recipe makes enough for a single deep dish crust.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour or Eagle Ultra Grain flour or 3/4 cups white whole wheat flour and 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder 
  • 1/3 cup olive oil (not extra-virgin)
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons water 

Directions:

Whisk together the flour, salt and baking powder. This can be done right in the pie pan, if you like.  Whisk together the oil and water in a small bowl, then pour over the dry ingredients. Stir with a fork until the dough is evenly moistened.

Pat the dough across the bottom of the pie pan and up the sides. A flat-bottomed measuring cup can help you make the bottom even. Press the dough up the sides of the pan with your fingers, and flute the edge.

Chill the pie crust or fill and bake depending on your recipe.

Roasted Tomato Tart

Serves 6 to 8

Most of the tomatoes’ moisture evaporates when they are slow-roasted, concentrating their flavor and making them ideal for using in a tart filling. Since the size of tomatoes varies so much, use your judgment as to how many will be necessary.

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup part skim ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup Parmigiano cheese, plus extra for sprinkling on top of the tart
  • 1 egg or 1/4 cup egg substitute
  • Handful of chopped fresh herbs such as, basil, oregano, thyme, or chives
  • Tart Dough, pressed into a 9” pie pan and chilled
  • 10 to 15 Slow-Roasted Tomatoes, recipe below
  • Sliced basil leaves for garnish

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425°F. and position the rack in the middle of the oven.

Combine the ricotta, 1/4 cup Parmigiano cheese, salt, pepper,  egg substitute, and the herbs in a small bowl. Stir until well combined. 

Spread the filling in the prepared tart and arrange the tomatoes on top, leaving a little space between them. Sprinkle the top with additional grated Parmigiano.

Place tart pan on a baking sheet and transfer to the oven. After 10 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 400°F, rotate the baking pan, and bake 20 minutes longer. Garnish top with sliced basil.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Slow Roasted Tomatoes

Makes 24

Any size or type of tomato can be slow-roasted but the timing will vary depending on the size and juiciness of each tomato; just look for shriveled edges and just a bit of wetness in the center to tell you they’re done. Enjoy them on their own, or in salads, sandwiches, tarts, and pizzas. Since the juices are reduced, they won’t turn a tart or pizza soggy.  They will keep, layered in a jar and covered with oil, for about a week. The oil can be used in vinaigrettes or as a finishing oil to drizzle over grilled fish.

Ingredients:

  • 12 plum tomatoes
  • 2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 or 3 thyme sprigs
  • 2 or 3 oregano sprigs
  • Coarse sea salt

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350°F. and position the rack in the middle of the oven. Line 1 large or 2 smaller baking sheets with parchment paper.

Sliver the garlic as thinly as possible. Cut the tomatoes in half. Cut larger ones in quarters. Arrange the tomatoes, cut side up, on the baking sheet, leaving plenty of space in between. Drizzle with oil and rub the tomatoes with your fingers to coat well. Sprinkle with the garlic, herbs, and salt.

Reduce the oven to 300°F and bake for 2 to 2½ hours, until the tomatoes are shriveled and beginning to brown. Let cool, and transfer to an airtight container.

Squash and Herb Pie

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 pounds zucchini or yellow squash or a combination, ends trimmed
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh oregano
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 cup shredded reduced calorie Sargento Italian blend cheese
  • 3 eggs, beaten or 3/4 cups egg substitute
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Tart Dough, pressed into a 9” pie pan and chilled

Directions:

Grate the zucchini using a food processor or a hand grater. Place in a large colander, salt generously, and let drain for 1 hour, pressing down on it occasionally to squeeze out liquid. After an hour, take up handfuls and squeeze out moisture (or wrap in a kitchen towel and twist the towel to squeeze out the moisture). Place in a medium bowl.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium heat in a large, heavy nonstick skillet over medium heat, and add the onion. Cook, stirring, until tender, about five minutes, then add the garlic. Cook, stirring, until the garlic is fragrant, about one minute. Transfer to the bowl with the zucchini. Stir in the herbs, cheese, eggs and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 425°F, and position the rack in the middle of the oven.

Spread the filling in the prepared tart. Place tart pan on a baking sheet and transfer to the oven. After 10 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 400°F, rotate the baking pan, and bake 20 minutes longer. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Crab and Red Pepper Tart

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup diced crabmeat 
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, sliced into very thin strips
  • 1/2 cup shredded reduced calorie Sargento Italian Blend cheese
  • 3 large eggs or 3/4 cups egg substitute
  • 3/4 cup nonfat milk
  • ½ teaspoon Old Bay seafood seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 whole scallions, chopped
  • Tart Dough, pressed into a 9” pie pan and chilled

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 425°F, and position the rack in the middle of the oven.

In a medium bowl beat the eggs and add the milk, crabmeat, scallions, cheese, seafood seasoning, salt and pepper.  Pour into the prepared tart and lay the red pepper strips on top in a decorative design.

Place tart pan on a baking sheet and transfer to the oven. After 10 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 400°F, rotate the baking pan, and bake 20 minutes longer. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Spinach Ricotta Tart

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup thinly sliced green onions (scallions)
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1  cup part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh chives
  • 1 package frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten, or 3/4 cups egg substitute
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • Tart Dough, pressed into a 9” pie pan and chilled

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 425°F, and position the rack in the middle of the oven.

Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Coat pan with cooking spray and add olive oil, green onions and spinach to pan; cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour into a bowl and add the ricotta cheese, eggs or egg substitute, sliced fresh chives, salt, and freshly ground black pepper.

Pour mixture into prepared crust; sprinkle mixture with Parmigiano-Reggiano. Place tart pan on a baking sheet and transfer to the oven. After 10 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 400°F, rotate the baking pan, and bake 20 minutes longer. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Sausage Tart

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound Italian sausage (pork, turkey or chicken), casing removed
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped onions
  • 1/3 cup green peppers, chopped
  • 1 large plum tomato seeded and chopped
  • 1 cup shredded part skim mozzarella cheese
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 1 cup low-fat evaporated milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Tart Dough, pressed into a 9” pie pan and chilled

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 425°F. and position the rack in the middle of the oven.

Heat skillet, add sausage and brown well.  Drain on paper towels. Drain fat from skillet and wipe clean with additional paper towels.

Add olive oil to skillet and cook until onions are translucent.

In a medium bowl combine sausage, onion, tomato, green pepper and cheese. Add flour and mix until ingredients are coated with the flour.

In another bowl mix spices with beaten egg and add evaporated milk, and add to sausage.  Mix well and pour into prepared tart.

Place the tart on a baking sheet and transfer to the oven. After 10 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 400°F, rotate the baking pan, and bake 20 minutes longer. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Advertisements