Even if you consider yourself to be well versed in Italian cuisine, you’re probably wondering what this week’s post is about. Is this some sort of side dish? A weird dessert? A quiche?!
The torta salata isn’t a dish that most Americans would automatically identify as Italian. I’ve never seen it published as a recipe in any Italian cookbook in the States, and you will rarely find it on the menus of any Italian restaurants (not even in Italy). So what is this mysterious dish, then?
In short, a torta salata, which can be literally translated as “savory cake” is just that: a savory cake or pie that can be made with eggs, vegetables, cheese, meat, or even seafood. There is no classic recipe for torta salata – rather it is a term that refers to a variety of different recipes that fall under the torta salata umbrella, kind of like how “pie” can mean apple pie, pecan pie, or peach pie.
Torta salata may not be the most famous of Italian dishes, but it definitely has an important role in Italian cuisine. It is a dish that many Italians have their own version of, which can be eaten as an antipasto, lunch, or even light dinner. It is versatile, embracing whatever ingredients you happen to have in the fridge or allowing you to experiment with your own carefully chosen ingredient combinations. A few of my favorite combinations are potatoes, spinach, ham, and cheese; asparagus and goat cheese; or speck, fontina, and zucchini, but there is no right or wrong recipe here.
This recipe for torta salata was inspired by one that I tried when I was living in Bologna, prepared by cooking instructor Rita Mattioli. Since our cooking classes started at 5:00 and we didn’t sit down to eat what we had made until around 9:30, she often had something ready for us to eat while we prepped our ingredients. This torta salata with spinach and ricotta stayed with me far after the end of the cooking course with her, and I’m happy to be able to recreate it myself at home. I chose to add sun-dried tomatoes here, but if you’re not a fan you could always leave them out.
This recipe is quick and easy to throw together, makes a great appetizer, lunch, or light dinner, and would even be a good addition to brunch.
- 1 pie crust
- 1 3/4 pounds of fresh spinach
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 cup ricotta cheese
- 3/4 cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese
- 3 tablespoons breadcrumbs
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup of oil packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and chopped
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large pan, sauté the spinach with the cloves of garlic and some olive oil until it is wilted. Transfer the spinach to a large bowl. Note that you will have to do this in batches, as there is a lot of spinach in this recipe, but it cooks down in no time. When all the spinach has been sautéed, remove the garlic cloves. Stir the ricotta cheese in to the spinach. Using a food processor, blend the ricotta and the spinach together until completely smooth (you will probably be able to get the ingredients much smoother than I did in the picture – my tiny blender here in Rome isn’t quite cut out for this!) Stir in the breadcrumbs, eggs, parmesan cheese, and sun-dried tomatoes. Unroll the pie crust and place it in a 9 inch spring form pan. Pour the spinach mixture in to the crust and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the filling is set. Let cool a bit before cutting and serving. Serves 6-8, depending on how big you cut the slices.