Italians have a soft spot for torte salate (savoury tarts/pies), particularly now a primavera, at spring time. Torte salate are not extravagant with cream and eggs in the way French quiches are, they tend to be simpler, lighter, casual dishes that lend themselves to endless improvisations and impromptu suppers: some cooked vegetables, a little ricotta and/or a couple of eggs, a generous fistful of parmigiano or pecorino to jazz things up, all enclosed in a thin, crisp, lean pastry, called pasta matta, which literally means “crazy dough”, probably on account of the very little fat that is used to make.
Pasta matta is the poor relative of richer brisè and puff pastry, but I find it more useful in every-day cooking and often better in fact As much as I love brisè and puff pastry, I often find them too rich; they are also more demanding on the cook. I adore, for instance, Thomas Keller’s pate brisè, but after few mouthfuls I feel already full (and it takes a long time to make).
Pasta matta on the contrary, is light, almost unassuming and yet not insubstantial (the way phyllo pastry is) AND It can be prepared easily and in no-time. Win-win. Very little fat (oil, lard, butter) is cut into the flour and then the dough is brought together with some water or a mix of water and white wine. By the time you have gathered and prepared the other ingredients, pasta matta has rested enough and can be rolled out in a breeze. The final pastry is the perfect showcase for most (generally vegetable-based) fillings : it does not “scream” in the way brisè and puff can do and yet it has a definite character. When used in a double-faced tart/pie, the top is often brushed with a very modest amount of extra fat: this is a clever trick to amplify its taste and makes the tart even better.
An olive oil pasta matta is, for instance, used in one of the most celebrated vegetable tarts, torta pasqualina, from Liguria, an extravagant chard and fresh cheese pie, traditionally made for Easter.
Lately, I have been using lard to make my pasta matta and I am very pleased with it. Lard (or a combination of lard and butter) gives the dough a deeper flavor and a crispiness that butte or olive oil r alone cannot deliver.
A lard pasta matta is for instance used in erbazzone from Reggio Emilia, a delicious chard, pancetta, onion and parmesan pie,that I will post about in the next few days.
For the time being, I want to share with you the recipe for my version of pasta matta, which I developed over the years, borrowing from different sources (amongst which: The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Le Ricette Regionali Italiane by Anna Gosetti della Salda). If you have a handful of spinach or chards, a couple of eggs and a little ricotta and parmesan, supper should not take long (see notes)
Pasta matta is generally rolled rather thin; sometimes I even roll it using my Imperia pasta machine, I then lightly overlaps the strips of dough, other times I roll it a little thicker, so that is has more bite – it really is up to you.
Pasta matta fatta co lardo e burro (Crazy dough made with lard and butter)
enough for a 35 cm double-faced round tart or for a 26 x 36 cm double-faced rectangular tart or even for a 30 x40 cm double-faced rectangular tart (dough rolled with a pasta machine in the last instance)
260 g 00 flour
40 g fine wholemeal flour
generous pinch of salt
30 g cold. cubed butter
30 g cold lard
8-10 tablespoons cold water
As usual, I use a food processor to make my pastry.
Mix flours , salt and butter. Process until the butter is incorporated and no more discernible. Add the lard and process until is fully integrated.
Add 8 tablespoons of water and process until the pastry starts coming together. Check if it needs more water, by pinching it. The dough should be soft, smooth and pliable. According to my notes I end up using the full 10 tablespoons of water (if not more), most of the times.
Transfer onto a surface, knead it gently and cover with cling film. That’s it.
Let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. Use it
On the first (You Tube) link: it is Alberto Rabagliati, an Italian matinée idol and singer from the 1930s, in one of his most famous song: Mattinata Fiorentina, “Morning time in Florence”, about Spring, Love in the air, lovely girls ecc eccc
You can use white flour only; of course.
You can use all butter only/all olive oil only
The dough can be stored in the fridge for at least 24 hours or even longer, with no major drama.
Generally eggs are not included in pasta matta…. but then all rules can be successfully broken: this beautiful, olive oil pastry from Nick Malgieri could be still regarded as a “crazy dough”, at a push
on using some acid in pastry (lemon vinegar, white wine): it was once thought that adding some acid element to the pastry, would make it softer… apparently that is not true according to King Arthur Flour
For an impromptu torta di spinaci e ricotta (ricotta and spianch tart): half quantities would be more than enough for a double-faced 23 cm tart. Divide the dough into two pieces, one bigger that the other. Butter the tart case, roll out the larger piece of pasta matta and line the tin with it, making sure to leave some dough overhanging the rim.
Steam and squeeze 1 kg fresh spinach. Sauté them in a little butter. until dry. When cold, add a couple of eggs, about 200-300 g ricotta, a handful of parmigiano, a little grated nutmeg. Mix well.
Place into the tart and level well.
Roll out the smaller piece of dough and place it atop the tart.
Remove the excessive dough and pinch the border well. Dock the pastry with a fork to prevent it ballooning. Cook for about 45 minutes in a pre-heated 180 C oven. Much better warm or at room temperature, never hot.
This is the sort of torta salata that any Italian cook worth his salt could make blindfolded. You will understand that a little less/more of this or that ingredient cannot sabotage a(n unsinkable) recipe of this kind.Have fun with it- you cannot fail.