Torta Rustica (Rustic Farmhouse Pie)

I’m not sure what made us crave a torta rustica this weekend.  Perhaps it was the dark and stormy week we’ve had that gave appeal to the scent of a savory pie baking in a warm oven.  Or, maybe the farmhouses and chalets situated among the rolling foothills of the Dolomites that we saw this morning while researching our summer trip to Trentino-Alto Adige and other northern Italian wine regions put us in the mood.

We don’t have a proprietary torta rustica recipe; neither Stefano’s mom nor his grandmother made it frequently.  Our sister-in-law Valentina makes one, the recipe almost certainly passed down to her from her mamma, Marinella.  Without Valentina and Marinella’s recipe at hand, though, we perused our copy of the The Silver Spoon for the perfect pie for this Sunday afternoon.

There are many different types of torte rustiche.  Many call for leafy greens, like the arugula e taleggio version that we almost made, or like .  Some are heavier on cream and cheese, like the classic torta pasqualina, or Easter Pie, recently made by fellow blogger Pola at an Italian Cooking in the Midwest.  Although many call for spring vegetables like leeks and artichokes, the woodsy mushroom pie with walnut cream inspired us to fold the corner over and make note for fall.

We settled on a rustic farmhouse pie that is a nice balance of vegetables and and cheeses, with pretty colors and complex flavors.  We put our own touch on The Silver Spoon’s original recipe, and loved the results.

Ingredients
385 grams (2 and 3/4 cup) flour, plus extra for dusting
1 cup (250 ml) white wine
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 packages frozen, chopped spinach
30 grams (2 Tablespoons) butter, plus extra for greasing
125 ml. (1/2 cup) heavy cream
35 grams (1/4 cup) grated Parmigiano
1 bunch thyme
2 red bell peppers
2 yellow bell peppers
6-8 slices of thinly sliced cooked ham (deli ham)
200 grams (7 ounces) fontina cheese, thinly sliced
1 egg yolk
Salt and pepper

Directions
Add a pinch of salt to the flour, and form a mound on a clean smooth surface.  Make a well in the center of the mound, and pour the wine and oil into it.  Using your fingers, gradually work the flour into the liquid, working from the center outward and gradually incorporating the flour into the dough.  Knead the dough lightly until if forms a smooth ball.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

In the meanwhile, add the spinach to boiling water and cook until tender, approximately 5 minutes.  Drain well, squeezing out as much of the water as you can.  Melt the butter in a skillet.  Return the spinach to the skillet, and add the cream and Parmigiano.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Cook for 5 minutes over low heat, stirring frequently.    Remove from heat and set aside.

Halve the bell peppers, removing stems and seeds.  Place the pepper halves onto a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil, and place in oven under a high broiler until the skins are deeply charred and blistered.  Remove the peppers from the oven and place them into a paper bag.  Close the bag tightly and let sit until they are cool enough to handle.  Peel off the skins, and then slice the peppers thinly, keeping the strips of red pepper separate from the yellow ones.  Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 180° C/350° F, and butter a pie plate or a tart pan with tall sides.  Remove the dough from the refrigerator and cut into two pieces, one piece slightly larger than the other.  Roll out the larger of the two pieces of dough on a flour-dusted smooth surface, until it is just larger than the diameter of the pie plate or tart pan.  Place the dough carefully into the the pan, allowing it to fold over the edges.

Arrange a layer of ham on the bottom of the pie. Add a layer of spinach, using half of the spinach, Parmigiano and cream mixture.  Follow with a layer of all of the red peppers.  Top with a layer of fontina, using half of the cheese slices.  Repeat the process with another layer of ham, the rest of the spinach mixture, and then the yellow peppers.  Add another layer of ham on top of the peppers, and finally the last layer of fontina.

Roll out the second ball of dough, and cover the pie.  Roll the edges of the bottom layer of dough up over the top layer, and pinch together with your fingers.  You may wish to wet your fingers to help seal the crust together.  Beat the egg yolk and add a small amount of water to it.  Prick the top of the pie with a fork, and brush with the egg yolk.

Bake for 1 to 1.5 hours, until the top is golden brown.  Let sit 30 minutes before cutting.  Serve hot or cold.