Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Pretty Rustic

Torta Salata Rustica di Spinaci, Ricotta Salata, Scorza di Cedro, Uvetta & Pinoli
Rustic Pie with Spinach, Salted Ricotta, Cedro Lemon Zest, Raisins and Pine Nuts

Considering that the preparation and the ingredients for this little pie were so simple and that I really just threw it together in a rough and ready kind of way... the result is relatively pretty to look at I'd say! What's better still is... that it was really good to eat, too!

I had the last of the fresh spinach from Saturday and wanted to use it up whilst it was still "at it's best", so decided to quickly improvise something quick and easy. And it is at times like this that I am glad that I always keep a roll of puff-pastry in the fridge as a "staple"- it is always good to have it to fall back on and you can almost always dream up something that can be made wonderful by giving it a crispy, flaky shell... Something like this for example!

I had spinach, Spring onion, pine nuts, raisins, the zest of a lemon (a lovely big "Cedro" lemon in this case) and an egg. Simple stuff! Which is the kind of stuff that I am happiest cooking with at any given time! Oh, it may be fun every now and then to go crazy and do something extravagant in the kitchen... but for me, probably what gives me the greatest joy is to transform the most everyday of ingredients into something cool and delicious to share with family friends... or to just enjoy by myself. To me, that is what real cooking is all about.

We have a tradition of adding pine nuts and raisins to our savory dishes in Sicily, which dates back to our Arab ancestors in days of yore... and I kind-of like that touch of unusual and exotic flavoring in my food and so decided to do a little of that this evening too.

This dish is so simple to make that I will let the pictures do most of the talking for me- especially as so many of you have mentioned how much you enjoy the step by step visuals... and as always- I aim to please!

So- after washing the spinach thoroughly and steaming it, together with 3-4 slices of lemon zest, I squeezed out as much moisture from it as I could- as one does! And it is quite amazing and always just a little bit depressing to find that the whole saucepan full of spinach that you began with, ends up being nothing more than a handful once it is cooked... but don't be too sad!

Chop the spinach up quite finely- but don't overdo it, then pop it into a bowl along with a handful of raisins, a handful of grated salted Ricotta, 1 finely sliced Spring onion and the zest, chopped into fine shreds.

Next, add the egg and season well with freshly grated nutmeg. Stir it together thoroughly and you will find that the Ricotta will begin to blend in with the egg and become soft and creamy. There is no need to add any salt for seasoning as the salted Ricotta takes care of that- something to bear in mind! Don't get adding too much salt and spoiling things! In fact, I added the raisins to give a nice contrast and balance to the saltiness of the cheese!

Once the ingredients are nicely blended together, add more fresh pepper and ricotta, but do not stir this in as thoroughly as before- it's nice to have some extra seasoning on the top of the pie.

Next, cut the pastry to fit your frying pan... you will want it to be a bit larger, so that you have to fold it into shape a little as seen in the picture below... this was just a small frying pan as you can see.

Next, obviously, you need to add your filling. Spread it out evenly, but leave the outer edges of the pastry nice and free so that you can fold them over and form a nice edge.

And forming a nice edge does not being super-accurate or overly fussy- as you can see- haha! Just make sure it is folded over relatively evenly and make sure to sprinkle a little extra grated Ricotta and the pine nuts on first, so that the folded edge stays nice and clean. 

Now turn on the oven to the highest setting to get it nice and hot and in the meantime, pop that frying pan onto the stovetop and start "baking" the pastry from below before it goes into the oven. As you may have noticed by now- this is always, always my preferred method for baking pastries and pizzas at home, as it ensures that turn out firm and crispy rather than limp and soggy- ugh!

And after 5 minutes on the stovetop and 15-20 minutes in the oven, baking on the middle shelf, at 350-375°F, that rather limp looking pastry in the image above, comes out looking golden and flaky and deliciously golden as the one in the image below! I kid you not!

The important thing at this point, is to try and practice restraint! Because doesn't that just look terrific? The fragrance of the nutmeg and the toasted pine nuts is pretty amazing- I think it is only right for me to warn you! I was sooo eager to cut myself a slice... but first things first- a guy has to have his priorities and my priority is always to try to get some nice pictures taken to share with all of you good people. That's just the guy I am! Haha!

The great thing about this is of course the contrast between the salty cheese and the sweet raisins, which just elevates the flavor of the spinach, which is after all a pretty simple vegetable. That nutmeg is one of spinach's best friends is common knowledge of course- and I hate for friends to not be together and always enjoy seeing them re-united in my dishes. And then of course come the pine nuts, which have also become an ultra-perfect golden brown color in the meantime... not to mention how wonderfully their flavor has become!

Well, dear friends- that was my simple and yet slightly exotic little pie. And it was "easy as pie" to make- so much so, that I absolutely recommend it! With so little in the way of ingredients, time and effort, I would say that this is not only a great dish to make for a special occasion, but also one that you can whip-up on any weekday night too. So what are you waiting for?? Get into that kitchen and get cracking! And enjoy!

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