I’ve got my grubby little mitts on some eggs! Well, to be precise, my partner came across a small independent grocer selling them by the tray. I hope you’ll forgive that the next couple of recipes feature this delightful and currently scarce ingredient.
For my first egg-centric dish, I chose a French Easter Pie, filled with ricotta and spinach, or Tourte Pascale – see my source recipe.
A layer of spinach mixed with parmesan is topped with a layer of ricotta, oregano, eggs, more parmesan, salt and pepper. You hollow out the ricotta mixture to create spaces for your eggs to nestle in, before the pastry top is added.
Since this recipe features both ricotta and parmesan, presumably there must be some Italian influence here, but I haven’t tracked that down. I did find however find out why this recipe graces French dining tables at this time of the year:
‘The purpose of this is to use up the surplus of eggs that hens have laid during Lent, the six-week period leading up to Easter when Christians abstain from certain foods, including anything derived from animals.’
(Source: Chocolate and Zucchini.)
Chop the spinach...clumsily?!
My recipe featured the following instruction relating to the thawed spinach leaves:
Hachez is mince, or finely chop, so no problems there. Rather, it’s the adverb grossièrement I found interesting. I was more accustomed to seeing this as a negative comment on someone’s behaviour, where it could be translated with words such as: tactlessly, rudely, clumsily, or awkwardly. I found it also meant ‘approximately’, and in this specific context, where it was describing how the spinach should be chopped, good options seemed to be ‘coarsely’ or ‘roughly’.
Now I think about it, both coarse and rough could be used to describe someone’s behaviour as well. It’s interesting how often the process of analysing another language means you learn more about your own. Or perhaps more accurately, you become more conscious of it.
A failed bake leads to a sponge cake
This pie was to be cooked in a moule (mould or tin) à manqué. A manqué is a type of sponge cake with an interesting history. Manqué means ‘missed’ or ‘failed’, and is so named since the dish itself was created from a failed génoise sponge.
Getting rid of the liquid from frozen spinach isn’t fun at the best of times. And 1kg is rather a lot of spinach to squeeze. I did my best. Or, let's be honest, the most I had the patience for. The sink looked like I’d murdered Kermit. And yet I probably should have persisted. Then I might have been able to avoid the dreaded soggy bottom... While it wouldn't have pleased Mary Berry, it still held together.
I also had trouble creating little nests to crack the eggs into. My mixture just wouldn’t stay put. So my eggs sat on top rather than nestling.
Despite all that, it still tasted delicious – most likely thanks to the large quantities of parmesan.
Recipes and substitution options
If you feel like going the whole hog, this recipe includes making the pastry and using fresh spinach, and is available both in French and English. It does use goat’s cheese rather than ricotta and parmesan though.
If you follow that recipe but want to make things easier or don’t have everything, I think you could definitely substitute:
shop-bought pastry for the handmade
goat’s cheese for another type – although you’ll want a strong flavour to give a punch, and make sure the moisture content is similar
frozen spinach for fresh – but make sure you squeeze out all the moisture you can!
Now, this may controversial, but I couldn’t really taste my ‘nestled’ eggs. Perhaps, if they’re scarce, you could omit those too. But this is an iconic part of the pie itself, so just call it by another name, and you’re good to go. Your secret’s safe with me...
I’ve got a sweet treat up my sleeve that is a true celebration of the humble egg.