You Can Have Torta Rustica, an Easter Pie, Any Time of Year

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Eggs may be the most universal symbol of springtime on Easter tables around the world, but, in Italy, dishes made with ricotta are also a menu mainstay.

Serving them is a custom that dates back hundreds of years to the traditional rules of fasting for Lent, when all animal products (including dairy and eggs) were forbidden. After 40 days of abstinence, the return of ricotta-filled Easter pies, pastries, cakes and breads to the table was in and of itself reason to rejoice.

Torta rustica (also called pizza rustica, pizza gaina, pizza di Pasqua, among other names) is a savory ricotta pie especially beloved in Southern Italy. There are dozens of versions: some with chopped ham and salami; some with roasted peppers, other vegetables or herbs mixed into the filling. The crust varies, too, and can be a sturdy short crust, a yeasted bread or pizza dough, or an elegant, buttery puff pastry, either homemade or store-bought.

These days, torta rustica is baked all year long, not just during Easter. Sophie Minchilli, a Roman friend of mine who is the author of “The Sweetness of Doing Nothing,” recently texted me a photo of a party at which six different kinds of torta rustica were served, all with different fillings and crusts, all divine looking.

“It’s the kind of easy, adaptable recipe that home cooks can put their own spin on,” Ms. Minchilli said.

During Covid lockdown in Italy, Ms. Minchilli whipped up torta rustica about once a week, using prepared puff pastry as the crust and tweaking the filling to accommodate what she had on hand. In springtime, she skips the meat entirely and adds grated hard cheese and plenty of greens like chard to the ricotta mixture.

In my version, I use greens and meat, choosing diced, mild pink ham over more pungent salami or prosciutto. Then I sauté baby spinach with a little garlic until the greens soften and wilt, releasing moisture that would otherwise interfere with the smoothness of the filling.

But instead of puff pastry, I chose a pasta frolla scented with lemon zest that I adapted from Nancy Harmon Jenkins’s wonderful cookbook, “Cucina Del Sole.” There’s a little sugar in the crust, too, which provides a gently sweet contrast to the salty, savory filling.

Baked in a deep pan, it makes a generous, creamy pie that’s perfect for Easter or any festive meal.

Recipe: Torta Rustica With Ricotta and Spinach

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