A couple of years ago, I posted a great recipe for Tarta Pascualina with roasted red peppers that was sent to me by a reader in Washington. Since this dish is popular in Argentina during this season, I'd share another variation of the recipe. Pascua is the Spanish word for Easter, so Tarta Pascualina literally means 'Eastertime Tart'.
What makes this dish extra-special is that under the crust, little wells have been made in the filling, and eggs are cracked into each well. The average Tarta Pascualina has between 6 to 8 eggs per pie, which get cooked inside the filling as the tarta bakes. When the Pascualina is served, each slice has a cross-sectioned hard-cooked egg in it.
Since Easter is right around the corner, we're eating all the traditional Lent and Easter season foods at our house. One of the most typical for this time of year is this tart--a Spinach and Ricotta pie--great for observing Lent since it's meatless. The eggs in the dish make it an obvious choice for Easter, but really, it's delicious with or without the eggs, at any time of year. Served as a main dish, it can be accompanied by baked sweet potatoes or corn on the cob, served as a side, it can accompany a family barbecue spread as a vegetarian option.
According to Katie of Seashells and Sunflowers, the recipe for Tarta Pascualina dates back to the 16th century, and was brought to Argentina by Italian immigrants from the Liguria region. Chef Francis Mallmann says that the traditional recipe calls for 33 layers of pastry, representing the number of years Christ lived on earth.
Today, though, we take a shortcut to make the much faster version of the dish, using pre-made tarta shells and frozen spinach--though of course, these can be done the slow way, too! As Spring springs, enjoy this eggcentric dish--and save it for another time of year, too.
Chard is also used frequently in Tarta Pascualina. Feel free to use chard or a combination of chard and spinach.
2 tarta shells or pie crusts--store bought or homemade (one package contains 2 shells, available at Latin markets. Pillsbury pie crusts also work well, and a homemade pie crust is excellent)
2 packages (9 oz.) frozen spinach
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 cup parmesan cheese, shredded
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon pepper, or to taste
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons milk
butter, for greasing pan
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Defrost the spinach by heating in the microwave or in a pot on the stove top over medium heat. Heat the spinach to defrost, but do not heat it up too hot. Let cool before handling. Place the spinach in a linen towel, and squeeze out to drain the moisture from the spinach. Not until it's totally dry, leave alittle moisture. In a medium bowl, mix together the spinach, crushed garlic, ricotta, and the mozzarella and parmesan cheeses. Season with the nutmeg, salt and pepper, and mix well to combine. Dissolve the cornstarch in the milk, and add the milk mixture to the spinach and cheese mixture and stir well until incorporated.
Traditionally, Tarta Pascualina is made using a spring-form pan. However, a regular pie plate also works fine. Grease the bottom of your pie pan or spring form pan with butter. Line the bottom of your pie plate or spring-form pan with one of the tarta shells. Put the filling into the shell. Make 6-8 indentations in the filling (about one inch apart, and one inch from the edge of the pan) and crack an egg into each indentation.
Cover the pie with the other tarta crust. Seal the edges by pinching together the two shells with your thumb and forefinger making an indentation, as you would seal an emapanada. Slice a few vents in the top of the pie. Optional: brush the top of the crust with beaten egg to give it shine.
Bake for 45 minutes, until the crust has turned a golden brown on top. Slice and serve warm or at room temperature.