Monday, April 29, 2013

Spinach Torta For Sunday Lunch

A Sunday roast tends to be meat-centric by its very definition. The crispy roast potatoes, the steamed veggies, the baked butternut are all there to cluster around in a supporting role to the main meat event on the plate.

So what do you add to the array if you have a vegetarian joining you for Sunday lunch? They might of course be perfectly happy with fresh steamed vegetables, roasted butternut chunks and roast potatoes, but it still feels to me like there isn’t a centrepiece to hold the meal together if you leave out the meat.

So yesterday morning first thing I went looking for a recipe that would live up to a central role and go well with all the traditional roast accompaniments. I wanted something that would go in the oven with everything else and that could be prepared in advance, so that there would be no extra last minute tasks to compete with making gravy and dishing up the roast potatoes at the very last minute. I also had to already have all the ingredients to hand, either in the larder or the veggie garden.

I found a perfect recipe in one of my Marcella Hazan recipe books. I’d been looking for a recipe for sformato, an Italian baked vegetable dish that I remember from my earliest days working in Tuscany. Instead I found this ‘turta di spinaci e riso’. It was providential because we currently have an over-abundance of swiss chard/spinach in the garden, and this recipe uses a lot of spinach! The flavours manage to be both delicate and robust enough to take on a starring role. The spinach is intensified by cooking without water, parmesan and butter add a rich depth and nutmeg contributes a subtle hint of spice. Our vegetarian guest loved it and so did all the meat-eaters, including three out of five kids present.

I would usually tweak, adapt or add to a recipe before sharing it here, but this one is so good just as it is, that I hope Marcella won’t mind me sharing the ingredients unchanged. It’s from my copy of Marcella's Kitchen , which is out of print now, but still very well worth looking for if you can find a second hand copy. I think Marcella's Italian Kitchen is the US version of the book, which is more easily available.

Spinach and rice torta - photo snapped in middle of Sunday lunch!

“Turta’ di Spinaci e Riso Recipe

900g / 2lb fresh spinach or swiss chard
200g / 7oz long grain rice
60g / 2 oz butter
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion
50g /  1 ¾ oz freshly grated parmesan
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
 4 eggs
Salt and pepper
30g / 1 oz lightly toasted breadcrumbs

Wash the spinach well in several changes of water, until there is no more sand or grit left at the bottom of the sink.

Put the spinach in a large pan (this is a lot of spinach, so I used my stockpot to fit it all in) with only the water still clinging to the leaves. Add a pinch or two of salt and cook covered over a medium heat until the spinach is tender. Turn the spinach once or twice so that it cooks evenly and keep an eye on the heat so that it doesn’t boil dry and stick. At the end of cooking all the spinach should be tender and there’ll only be a little liquid in the bottom of the pan. Allow to cool, then squeeze out the excess liquid and chop roughly..

In a small pan bring water to the boil, add the rice and cook until just tender/al dente. Drain and cool.

Chop the onion fairly finely.

In a large sauté pan, heat the oil and half the butter. Cook the onion for 4 minutes or so until light golden. (Don’t let it catch.) Add the chopped spinach and rice to the pan and toss everything together over a medium heat for 3-4 minutes until all coated and flavoured with the onion, oil and butter. (Note – don’t stint on the oil and butter, even if it seems excessive – this is part of the flavour combination that makes it work). Tip it out into a bowl and allow to cool before proceeding.

You can make the recipe up to this point a few hours in advance, which I would recommend if you are making it as part of a Sunday roast... I ended up using every single pan in the kitchen yesterday!

Preheat the oven to 220C / 450F.

When the mixture is cool, stir in half the grated parmesan and the nutmeg. Mix in eggs one at a time. Season generously to taste with freshly ground black pepper and sea salt.

Prepare a loose bottomed tin ( I use my 23cm cake tin but anything 20-25cm would work) by smearing generously with butter. Sprinkle in the breadcrumbs to cover the butter. Shake them around until the tin is well coated, then tip the excess crumbs onto a plate.
Put the spinach mixture into the tin, level it off, then sprinkle the top with the rest of the grated parmesan and the leftover  breadcrumbs. Dot the top with butter.

Bake at the top of the oven for about 15 mins until the torta is set and golden.

Allow to cool for about half an hour, as it is best eaten warm rather than piping hot.

Anyone want some spinach? - we have plenty and to spare!

A blog post featuring this recipe with US quantities.
Another Italian recipe from Marcella Hazan featured on my blog - celery risotto.


  1. Kit, this sounds wonderful, and I'm just sitting here in my pyjamas with my cup of morning tea... I'd eat this stuff for BREAKFAST! Mmm....

  2. Hi Marcheline, I think it would be good for breakfast too, with several rashers of bacon on the side.


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