Jorge Mario Bergoglio is Argentina’s most famous home cook. The former archbishop of Buenos Aires is better known these days as Pope Francis.
The pontiff, who became pope just before Easter 2013, is known to be a humble man, a friend of the poor who stands in line for confession, blesses passing dogs, and is just another stranger on the bus trying to make his way home. (Apologies to Joan Osborne.)
We know from the Argentinian newspaper La Nacion, which published an extensive profile of the popular cardinal in 2009, that he favors frugal and healthy meals, paired with the occasional glass of wine. He loves fruit, skinless chicken and salads. But he has been known to splurge on richer treats, as when he visits a convent where the nuns regale him with bagna cauda (a Piedmontese fondue of garlic, butter, anchovies and olive oil).
We know he prefers to dine alone, declines most invitations to eat out. On a rare occasion, he might be swayed to partake in a community meal of rustic soup. But the holy man is not one to impose upon anyone’s supper. And, yes, he’d probably decline even our “fantasy dinner party” invitation.
But we decided to cook for him anyway. We enlisted Tequesta chef Lenore Pinello to bake a torta pascualina, an Easter pie. We thought it an appropriate dish, as it’s a pie that’s popular in Argentina though its roots are in Italy (in Liguria, to be more exact).
Traditionally, the pie is filled with a mix of spinach (and sometimes Swiss chard), ricotta, seasonings and whole raw eggs that cook to harden when baked in the pastry crust. That crust could be a thicker, empanada-style crust, but we used puff pastry sheets.
The result was glorious.
With its golden crust and homey, comforting filling, this torta is both rustic and majestic.
Chef Lenore Pinello of Tequesta’s In The Kitchen shop adapted this recipe by blogger Deborah Mele. As many Argentinian dishes, this savory spinach, ricotta and egg pie has its roots in Italy.
Serves 6 to 8
10-inch springform pan
1 tea towel
For the crust:
2 sheets puff pastry, at room temperature
For the filling:
1 1/2 pounds fresh spinach (can also use Swiss chard)
3 tablespoons bread crumbs
1 pound ricotta cheese (full fat), drained overnight in a sieve placed over a bowl
1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
For the egg wash:
Prepare the filling:
1. Drop fresh spinach into a pot of boiling water for about a minute until leaves wilt but are still vibrant green. Using tongs, remove spinach and quickly drop into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Remove spinach to sieve or colander to drain.
2. Spread a clean tea towel on a work surface. Place drained spinach in a mound on tea towel. Roll up towel to further squeeze out liquid from spinach. Squeeze over sink or bowl. Unroll towel — spinach should be dry now — and place spinach on cutting board.
3. Chop spinach well and place in a large bowl. Season spinach with salt and pepper.
4. Sprinkle the bread crumbs over the spinach bowl. Add the drained ricotta and the Parmesan, and mix well.
5. In a small bowl, beat two of the eggs. Fold them into the spinach mixture.
6. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Prepare the crust:
1. Roll out the two sheets of puff pastry until fairly thin — they should be large enough to cover a 10-inch springform pan, with plenty of overhang to fold back over the filling.
2. Place the sheets side by side and layer them into the pan so that they overlap and cover the bottom and sides of the pan.
Add the filling:
1. Spoon the filling into the pastry-lined pan. With a spatula, smoothing it evenly.
2. Using the pointy tip of the spatula or wooden spoon, make four wells in the filling, large enough to fit the yolk of an egg.
3. Crack 4 eggs, 1 at a time, into a small dish, then pour each egg into a well. (If there’s too much white in the egg, pour out some of the white before pouring egg into well.)
Close the pie:
1. Fold the hanging edges of the pastry sheets over the top of the pie. Fold them to fit, keeping in mind that this is a rustic pie and does not require perfect pleats.
2. In a small dish, beat the egg with 1 teaspoon of water. Brush egg wash over the top of the folded puff pastry sheets.
1. Bake pie in the center of the oven for about 1 hour. Allow pie to cool for about 10 to 15 minutes before removing springform side.
2. The torta can be served warm, or “al tiempo,” room temperature. At brunch, pair it with a crisp Argentine white wine or a glass of prosecco.
A version of this story was originally published in The Palm Beach Post in March 2013.