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Published December 13, 2011, 11:30 PM

Halgrimson: Torta stuffed with flavor

Almost all foods Italian please me and beckon to my spirit. And although my mom was Norwegian and Swedish, she often cooked Italian dishes for our family.

By: Andrea Hunter Halgrimson, INFORUM

Almost all foods Italian please me and beckon to my spirit. And although my mom was Norwegian and Swedish, she often cooked Italian dishes for our family.

When I saw this recipe for Torta Rustica in one of my favorite cookbooks, “Cucina Fresca,” by Viana La Place and Evan Kleiman, I knew I had to try it. And when my friends, Liz Anderson and her husband Oscar Schefers decided to come from their home in Minneapolis to spend a day cooking, the recipe for this non-dessert filled pastry went on the menu.

The recipe looks long but if it is done in steps, it goes quickly. Especially if you have someone else in the kitchen to boss around as I did.

Oscar’s grandma, the late Mary Helen Delong, was my first French cooking teacher so Oscar’s talents in the kitchen come naturally. Liz helped with the mixing and took photos of us as we worked.

When the torta is cut, the mosaic of red and green vegetables is quite in keeping with the season.

Torta Rustica

5 10-ounce packages frozen chopped spinach

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small onion, minced

4 eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

½ cup bread crumbs

Salt and pepper to taste

1-pound jar red bell peppers

½ pound fontina, sliced

½ pound Black Forest ham, thinly sliced

1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons milk

Cook spinach, drain and squeeze dry in a clean dish towel. Set aside. Heat butter and oil in a small pan. Sauté onion until translucent and mix with spinach in a large bowl. Add eggs, Parmesan, bread crumbs, salt and pepper. Mix well and set aside.

Dry peppers on paper towels. Lay flat in one piece.

To assemble tart, roll out two-thirds of the dough into a circle about 14 inches in diameter. Line a medium mixing bowl with foil. Invert dough into the bowl and pat dough against sides of bowl. Layer ingredients starting with a thin layer of spinach mixture, then a layer of red pepper, fontina, and ham. Continue layering in a pattern you like, but finish with a layer of spinach at least ½-inch thick.

Roll out remaining dough into a circle large enough to cover filling. Invert dough onto filling. Trim edges of circle and fold over extra dough and pinch it together. Be sure edges are well sealed. Carefully invert tart onto a baking sheet and remove bowl. Peel off foil that lined bowl.

Heat oven to 375 degrees and bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until crust is a deep golden brown. Serve tart at room temp, cut in pie-shaped wedges. Serves 8 to 10.

Adapted from “Cucina Fresca,” by Viana La Place and Evan Kleiman

Soft Tart Dough

4 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

8 ounces cold unsalted butter, cut in pieces

2 eggs

2 egg yolks

1/3 cup milk approximately

Combine flour, salt and butter in a processor and whiz with short pulses until mixture is crumbly. Add eggs and yolks with short pulses. Do NOT over-mix. Add milk gradually with short pulses until dough begins to clump. Remove dough and gather into a ball. Wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour or up to 2 or 3 days. When ready to roll the dough, place it on parchment to facilitate handling.