Artichoke and Swiss Chard Pie

Torta di Carciofi e Biete

Venice is recognized as a source of a dazzling variety of seafood and seafood dishes, but what is not so generally known is that, for its light-handed cooking, it also draws on the riches of the vegetable gardens that cover the farm islands of its lagoon. Most prominent among these islands is S. Erasmo, whose fields benefit from exposure to the savory, salt-laden breezes of the Adriatic. S. Erasmo’s most famous product is artichoke. In the spring it is copious in the market, whence it finds its way into risotto, into pasticcio—the Venetian version of lasagne—into fish and vegetable combinations; raw, into salads; and, most elegantly perhaps, into pies such as this one.

Here artichokes are combined with Swiss chard, another S. Erasmo specialty. A Venetian cook would have the option of buying young spring chard before it has grown a large stalk, when it looks like spinach, but I have rarely seen chard that young abroad. If you have only mature chard available, use just the leaves for this recipe, keeping the stalks for a soup or for gratinéing or for other chard recipes that you find in this and in my previous books.

With the young vegetables of the lagoon, olive oil is the cooking medium of choice, and that is what I have used here. The taste impressions this dish makes, light in weight yet deep in satisfaction, evoke the spirit that animates Venetian cooking at its freshest.

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Ingredients

For the Pie Dough

  • cups lukewarm water
  • A pinch of granulated sugar
  • teaspoons active dry-yeast
  • cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • Some extra virgin olive oil for greasing a bowl

For the Vegetable Filling

  • 1 lemon
  • 4 globe artichokes
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons chopped onion
  • Salt
  • Black pepper ground fresh
  • 1 pound Swiss chard
  • ½ pound ricotta
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • Some extra virgin olive oil for filming the baking pan

9½-inch springform pan

Method

Making the Pie Dough

  1. Put ¼ cup lukewarm water in a small cup together with a pinch of sugar and the dry yeast. Let the yeast dissolve and come to life for about 2 minutes.
  2. Put the flour, ¼ cup olive oil, 2 teaspoons salt, 1 cup lukewarm water, and the dissolved yeast in a food processor and run the steel blade for 45 seconds to 1 minute until the dough masses.
  3. Remove the dough and knead it briefly by hand.
  4. Grease the inside of a bowl with a thin film of olive oil, put in the dough, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside to rise in a warm corner of the kitchen for at least 2 hours.

Making the Artichoke and Chard Filling

  1. Squeeze the juice of 1 lemon into a bowl of cold water.
  2. Prepare the artichokes, trimming away all the tough, inedible portions. Cut the trimmed artichokes lengthwise into the thinnest possible slices. Drop the slices into the bowl containing water and lemon juice.
  3. Put the olive oil and chopped onion in a 12-inch skillet, and turn on the heat to medium. Cook the onion, stirring frequently, until it begins to be colored a pale gold.
  4. Drain the artichokes, rinse them in cold water, and put them in the skillet, adding salt and black pepper. Turn the artichokes over three or four times to coat them well; then add ¼ cup water, turn the heat down, and cover the pan. Cook, turning the vegetable over occasionally, until it feels very, very tender when tested with a fork, from 15 to 30 minutes, depending on its freshness and youth. If during the cooking the pan juices should prove insufficient to keep the artichokes from sticking, add 2 tablespoons of water whenever necessary. When done, however, there should be no liquid left in the pan and the artichokes should become deeply colored. If there are watery juices left, uncover the pan, raise the heat, and boil them away.
  5. While the artichokes are cooking, detach the thick stalks on the Swiss chard and set them aside to use in other dishes. Wash the leaves in several changes of cold water until the water runs completely clear. Bring a quart or more of water to boil in a saucepan; add 1 tablespoon salt, which serves to keep the chard green; and put in the chard leaves. Cook a few minutes, until very soft, drain, and when cool enough to handle, chop coarsely.
  6. When the artichokes are done, add the chopped chard to the skillet, turn the heat up to medium high, and with a wooden spoon, turn the full contents of the pan over several times to coat them well. Transfer the artichokes and chard to a bowl and let the vegetables cool off completely.
  7. Turn the oven on to 375°.
  8. When the vegetables in the bowl are cold, add the ricotta, the grated Parmesan, and the eggs, holding back about ½ teaspoonful of egg. Turn the ingredients over for as long as it takes to produce a uniformly distributed mixture, then taste and correct for salt and pepper.

Assembling and Baking the Pie

  1. Lightly film the inside of a springform pan with olive oil.
  2. Divide the risen dough into two parts, one slightly larger than the other. Roll out the larger half into a disk about 14 inches in diameter and use the disk to line the bottom and sides of the baking pan. If the pan shows through in one or two places, pull the dough over, patching it together with thumb pressure.
  3. Pour the vegetable filling into the pan, leveling it off.
  4. Roll out the remaining dough into a disk large enough to cover the pan. Place it over the filling and press the two edges of the dough together to make a tight seal.
  5. Pierce the dough covering the filling in several places to allow steam to escape during the baking. Brush the top with the reserved ½ teaspoon of egg.
  6. Place the pan in the upper middle level of the preheated oven and bake for about 1 hour, until the top of the pie becomes colored a light gold. Let settle for 15 minutes or more before serving.

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