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Italian Easter Pie (Torta pasqualina)

ingredients

10 1/2 oz (300 g) strong plain flour
3 1/2 fl oz (100 ml) olive oil

for the filling:

1 lb (500 g) spinach
1 lb (500 g) Swiss chard
1 medium-sized onion
1 oz (30 g) butter
9 very fresh small eggs
6 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
1 small clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh marjoram
9 oz (250 g) ricotta cheese
extra olive oil for greasing
salt and pepper

method

1. Sift the flour with a generous pinch of salt into a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the centre and pour 7 fl oz (200 ml) boiling water and the oil into it.

2. Gradually stir all this liquid into the flour then knead for about 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and homogeneous. Divide into 6 pieces of equal size, shape each into a ball; place these in a single layer in the mixing bowl and cover with a damp cloth. Leave for 1 hour.

3. While the pastry dough is resting, make the filling: remove the stalks and wash the spinach and Swiss chard well and blanch both in a large pan of boiling, salted water for 5 minutes. Drain, leave to cool, then squeeze out all the moisture and chop finely.

4. Peel the onion and chop very finely; sweat in the butter with 1 tbsp olive oil in a covered saucepan over a low heat until wilted and tender. Add the chopped spinach and chard leaves and cook, uncovered, for 5 minutes, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon to allow the moisture to evaporate. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.

5. Break 5 eggs into a large mixing bowl and beat lightly, seasoning with a little salt and freshly ground pepper. Stir in the Parmesan cheese, the garlic, marjoram, ricotta and the spinach mixture.

6. Taste and correct the seasoning as required. Preheat the oven to 475°F (240°C) mark 9. Grease a 10 - 10 1/2 in (26 cm) fairly shallow cake tin with a little olive oil. Take a dough ball out of the bowl, keeping the rest covered. Flatten it with the palms of your hands, carefully pushing and pulling it into a very large, thin circle and use this to line the base of the tin, allowing for an extra 3/4 in (2 cm) up the sides. Brush lightly with a pastry brush dipped in olive oil.

7. Repeat this operation with a second dough ball, placing the circle on top of the first one, pressing the spare pastry against the sides of the cake tin and brushing its surface with oil. Do the same with a third ball, but do not brush the surface with oil. Spread all the filling in a very thick, even layer on top of the third pastry layer. Press the back of a large wooden spoon gently down into the filling to make 4 evenly spaced shallow hollows and break an egg into each one. Season each egg with a little salt and freshly ground pepper. Make another circle out of the fourth dough ball, place it carefully on top of the eggs and filling and press the margin against the sides of the cake tin just as you did before but insert a drinking straw at one point as you do so.

8. Brush the surface very lightly with oil. Repeat this process with the last two portions of pastry dough, but do not oil the surface of the last, topmost layer. Blow gently but steadily down the straw to introduce as much air as possible between the filling and the layered pastry lid.

9. Seal the little aperture by pressing it against the inside of the cake tin as you remove the straw. Run a knife between the inside of the tin and the upper edges of the pastry layers, then roll these over, away from the edge of the tin; pinch them to seal firmly. Bake for 30 minutes.

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