Pasqualina means “a child of Easter.” I was named after my Grandmother who was so incredibly adorable and one of a kind.
Easter, or Pasqua in Italian, has always been one of my favorite holiday’s for so many different reasons - the colors, the festivities, the gathering of family and friends, the traditions. It is the most important Christian festival and the one that is loved by all children and celebrated with greatest joy as it represents a new beginning.
La Settimana Santa (The Holy Week) begins on Palm Sunday and ends on Easter, but most of the celebrations take place over three days, Holy Thursday, Holy Friday, and Holy Saturday, when village festivals, concerts, and religious processions are held in towns throughout Italy, with parade participants dressed in ancient costumes. All of this leading to an elaborate, colorful celebration on Easter Sunday, or Pasqua. Easter, like Christmas, is one of those holidays where it is practically impossible not to cook. Easter recipes have a strong symbolic value, often associated with religion. Lamb, for example, is a sign of sacrifice; seasonal vegetables, such as peas and artichokes, are a symbol of spring abundance; and the egg, prepared alone or with other recipes, are a fundamental symbol at Easter. Eggs are seen as the allegory of a new life.
Easter Sunday is then followed by Pasquetta, known in Italy as Little Easter and is celebrated on the Monday after Easter. Pasquetta is when families and friends come together to celebrate spring and a renewal - a new beginning, a time of awakening. While living in Italy, I remember celebrating Pasquetta mostly with friends. There is a saying in Italy, "Natale con i tuoi, a Pasqua con chi vuoi”, meaning “Christmas with your family, Easter (or Pasquetta) with whomever you want.” My friends and I would usually go to Tuscany for a day or two to celebrate!
For our family, it’s all about togetherness. Unfortunately, this pandemic has prevented family and friend gatherings and outdoor celebrations around the world but it will not destroy the meaning of this holiday and our spirits. We are strong, creative and will always find ways to remain hopeful, especially during a holiday that celebrates “a new beginning.” To keep traditions alive and lift our spirits, we decided to share some traditional recipes for this special holiday. There are several to choose from, some of which are a bit difficult to translate, but with the help of my family in Italy, I was able to get clarity on directions, which is the most difficult part!
The origins of “Torta Pasqualina” (Pasqualina Cake) are very ancient, originating in the 1400s when it was already known as a dish linked to the Easter symbolism due not only for the presence of eggs, but also for its characteristic thin shell. Traditionally, it consists of 33 sheets of puff pastry, in reference to the years of Jesus. This version is only made with 4 layers of puff pastry, which is equally delicious with its timeless rustic flavors. There are several different versions of this cake - this was the one shared with me.
Torta Pasqualina Recipe
Yileds: 8 Slices Prep Time: 45 minutes Cooking Time: 60 minutes
Please use a scale if possible.
Ingredients for the Filling:
4.5 - 5 cups of Organic Fresh Spinach, cleaned
25 g extra virgin olive oil (approximately 1.5 - 2 tablespoons)
12 medium pasture raised eggs, 7 of which will be separated
190 g freshly grated Parmigiano Cheese (approximately 2 cups)
3 sprigs marjoram, chopped
2 cups Ricotta
Nutmeg to taste
Salt and black pepper to taste
Ingredients for the Puff Pastry:
600 g Flour 00 (about 4 cups)
350 ml water, more if needed (approximately 1 1/2 cups)
35 ml extra virgin olive oil (approximately 3 tablespoons)
Pinch of fine sea salt.
The first step is to prepare the dough for the sheets, which must be 4; two will be used to line the base of the cake pan and two to cover the filling. First step - Dissolve salt in the water.
In a mixing bowl, add the flour, water with salt, and olive oil and mix with your hands. Once ingredients are completely mixed, transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and continue to knead the dough with your hands for a few minutes until it becomes smooth and elastic.
Divide the dough into 4 loaves: 2 larger doughs, about 300 g and 2 smaller weighing about 180 g and shape them into small round doughs. Place them on baking sheet with parchment paper and cover them with a slightly moistened cloth. Let them rest in a cool place for about an hour.
While the dough is resting, in a large sauté pan, add olive oil and onions, sauté for 1 to 2 minutes then add spinach and stir. Add salt and pepper and sauté for approximately 10 minutes. Turn off heat and move pan to the side. Once it has cooled off, let them drain in a colander, chop the spinach and then transfer them to a large mixing bowl. Add 2 eggs, 50 g (1/2 cup) of grated Parmigiano cheese, chopped marjoram, salt and pepper to taste. Mix well.
In a separate bowl, add ricotta and mix with a spoon or fork to soften it. Add 3 eggs and mix well. Add 90 g (a little less than 1 cup) of Parmigiano cheese, nutmeg and a pinch of salt. Mix well using a whisk until you reach a creamy texture without any lumps. Set aside.
Brush a 30 cm (12 inch) cake pan with olive oil and set aside. Take one of the 300 g prepared round loaves and roll it with a rolling pin on a lightly floured surface until it becomes a very thin sheet. Lift the dough with your hands and lightly spread it well with your hands before placing it on the bottom of the greased cake pan and making it adhere perfectly also to the edges of the cake pan. Do not worry if the sheet comes out of the pan because this is a characteristic of Torta Pasqualina. Brush the sheet with olive oil and take the second 300 g dough and follow same directions as the first. Place it on top of the first sheet making it stick well.
Add the spinach mixture, leveling it well with the back of a spoon. Add ricotta cream over the spinach and also level with a spoon. With the back of a spoon, make one imprint in the center and 6 lateral imprints - this is where you will place the egg yolks being careful not to break them.
Lightly beat the 7 egg whites with a pinch of salt and pour them to cover the yolks and ricotta. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese.
Roll out the 180 g dough balls and follow the same direction as the 300 g dough balls in step 6. Lift and stretch the sheet with you hands and cover the filling. The third sheet will be smaller than the previous two. Again, it should stick well to the bottom and sides of the pan. Brush this puff pastry with olive oil, then roll the last puff pastry and cover the second sheet and stick as the others. Cut the dough that falls excessively on the edges with a small knife and fold it towards the inside of the cake pan to form a cord that will seal the sheets then flatten the edges with the prongs of a fork. Brush the surface with olive oil.
Bake in a preheated oven on the lowest shelf at 180 degrees C (350 degrees F) for 55 min (160 degrease C (320 F) for 45 min in a convection oven). Let it cool before taking it out of the pan. Once you cut the cake, you will get slices in which you will clearly see the layer of spinach and ricotta cream, as well as the egg yolks that will be firm and compact.
You can keep the cake in a refrigerator, covered well, for 3 days.
Once cooked and completely cooled, the Pasqualina Cake can also be frozen. For your convenience, you can already cut it into slices so as to thaw only the portions that you will need. Before serving, defrost it in the refrigerator and then heat it in the oven.