Pasqua = Easter or Passover. The name of this torta embodies the time of year when you’ll generally find it. I’ve honestly never seen one on a menu but it’s one of those dishes that you hear more about people making in the home.
They don’t come much more traditional than this one but whenever you ask around about traditional dishes you can expect some contention. This dish is typically made with leafy greens and not artichokes therefore many people think that the real Torta Pasqualina does not include artichokes. On the other hand there is another camp that believes that the original recipes calls for artichokes but they were replaced in an age when they were beyond the affordability of most people so the recipe changed to include a cheaper vegetable.
As this dish comes from Liguria it contains a local cheese called Prescinseua which can only be found in Liguria. It is very creamy, soft and slightly acidulated. It’s unlikely you will find Prescinseau so a very soft ricotta can or a regular ricotta with the addition of a little milk will do.
The dough is simply flour and water with a couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Being made at the holiest time of the year the most strict recipe calls for the symbolic number of 33 balls of dough to be used as the pastry for the torta. Today it would be pretty hard to find anyone committed going as far as using 33 layers of dough preferring to buy the pre-made puff pastry which I would use the next time I make this torta. Too easy.
For the filling:
6 artichokes (regular size)
1 small bunch fresh marjoram
500g /1.1lbs ricotta
1/2 cup milk (optional)
juice of 1/2 lemon
100g / 3.5Oz Parmiggiano cheese
For the dough:
800g / 1.7lbs Plain flour
Extra virgin olive oil
salt & pepper
1 lemon for lemon water
To make the dough:
Put the flour on a large clean, flat surface. Make a well in the flour and add a little water at a time to begin incorporating the flour.
As the flour and the water begin to incorporate add more water and continue incorporating the flour til the dough is no longer sticky.
Pour 2 spoonfuls of oil into the dough and continue kneading the dough until the dough is uniform and not breaking.
Cut the dough into about 10 pieces , you can get away with 4 if you really wanted to. (or 33) of equal size and roll into balls. Leave these balls on a dusted surface, cover with a slightly damp cloth and leave to rest for ½ an hour. NB. the ingredients make 10 balls.
Gently heat some extra virgin olive oil and in a large frying pan and add 2 cloves of peeled garlic. Allow them to turn golden brown then discard the garlic.
Add the chopped onions to the pan and gently fry for 5 -10 minutes.
Drain the artichokes very well and add to the pan with the onions.
Toss or mix the two together and cook for a further 10 minutes on a moderate heat.
Pick a handful of marjoram leaf and put into the pan with the artichokes. Season with salt and pepper. Toss together to mix well and remove from the pan and allow to cool.
Once the artichoke mixture is cool, add 3 whole eggs and mix in well, being careful not to turn it into a pulp.
Prepare the ricotta by whipping it with a spatula into a creamy consistency, add the juice of half a lemon to replicate the acidity of the Prescinseau. If you have a firmer ricotta, try whipping in a little milk until you have a soft, thick, creamy consistency.
Add a generous handful of Parmiggiano cheese, add 2 whole eggs, season with salt and mix in well.
By now the dough is ready to work. Now comes the putting together of everything.
Lightly oil a 22cm baking dish and dust with flour.
With a rolling pin, roll out a ball of dough on a dusted surface until it’s very thin, being careful that the dough does not break.
Drape this sheet of pastry over the entire baking tin and gently work it into the bottom edges of the tin and line the sides. Allow any excess to hang over the edges for the moment. This can be trimmed later.
Brush a little olive oil onto the pastry.
Repeat this step with another ball of dough and line the tin with a second layer of pastry.
Now place the cooled artichoke mixture into the pastry lined tin and pat them down so they are level.
Add the creamy ricotta and spread it out evenly covering the artichokes completely.
Using the back of a wet tablespoon, make six shallow cavities into the ricotta. A wet spoon will allow the spoon to slide over the cheese without sticking.
Separate 6 egg yolk from the white and place one egg yolk in each cavity.
Whip the remaining egg white gently till homogeneous.
Pour the whipped egg whites over the egg yolks and ricotta.
Sprinkle the top with a generous handful of Parmiggiano cheese.
To seal the torta, roll out another ball of doll as thinly as possible and stretch this over the cake tin. Brush with oil.(this separates the layers)
Repeat this process with the remaining balls.
There will be many layers of pastry laid on top of each other so make sure they are very very thin.
When you have finished the dough balls, trim of the excess hanging over the tin edges.
If you like you can use the excess you have cut off to roll another layer for the top of the cake.
Crimp the edges together with you fingers to seal the torta, making sure that it has been tightly sealed.
If you want a decorative finish to the edge you can you the prongs of a fork.
Prick the top layer of the torta with a fork..
Brush the top lightly surface with olive oil.
Bake in a pre-heated oven at 160 C / 320 F for 40-45 minutes.
Remove from the oven when the torta is a nicely baked brown colour.
Allow to cool before removing from the cake tin.
It can be eaten warm or cold.