Erbazzone is a chard tart with an impeccable pedigree. It comes from Reggio Emilia, a charming town in Emilia Romagna, the land of Parmigiano, balsamic vinegar, tortellini, mortadella, prosciutto di Parma, i.e. one of Italy’s culinary heavens. It used to be a typical spring dish (when young, tender chards were available), now it can be prepared almost all year round, because leafy greens seem to be always available (and rather “local” too). I have made erbazzone with spring chards, with older, winter chards, with chards only, with chards and spinach and also with cabbage: it never fails. The pastry is a pasta matta traditionally made with strutto (lard, these days sometimes replaced with butter) and the filling is mellow and savory at the same time: onions and chard sautéd in a mix of chopped pancetta & lard, with some parmigiano to round them off. The (generally rectangular) tart is then baked with extra lard brushed over the top: this gives the lean pastry a richer finish.
This savory pie is also called scarpazzone, which roughly translates as “big shoes”. Most contemporary recipes use only chard leaves, but in older times this tart was made with both leaves and stalks, the “shoe” of the whole leave: the stalks bulk up the filling and lend extra sweetness. I now prepare my erbazzone/scarpazzone following this thrifty and clever tip.
There are different versions of this torta salata (savory tart); sometimes partially cooked rice is added to the greens, sometimes ricotta: however, this seems to be very controversial, because purists claim that adding ricotta is blasphemy. I stand in the NO-ricotta team, mainly because I think this makes for a better pie.
Some sources claim erbazzone to be of Jewish heritage.
One detail everybody agrees is that erbazzone must be on the thin side when assembled, no thicker than three centimeters at most.
Pancetta and lard make this tart truly irresistible. For sake of experimenting, I have also made erbazzone with an olive oil-only pastry and using a limited amount of pancetta in the filling: it does work of course, but the whole suffers a little, it sings but it does not soar. Here in the UK, I am now lucky enough to be able to get hold of excellent lard, but in the past I have also successfully used goose fat, more easily available.
Note that, contrary to many vegetable pies of this type, there are no eggs in the filling.
Erbazzone o scarpazzone
26 x 36 cm non stick pan, greased
1 quantity pasta matta, rested and ready to be rolled
1.5 kg young, tender chards (or a combination of spinach and chards is fine too)
2 large onions, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
50 g parmigiano
100 g pancetta and lard, reduced to a creamy paste in the food processor. Sometimes I have used Italian lardo only (not lard), reduced to a paste.
Cut up the chards in ribbons, wash them and steam them lightly, until the stalks are barely tendere. Drain and cool down. Squeeze them and chop them coarsely.
Keep two-three tablespoon of the pancetta&lard mix aside.
In a roomy pan, fry the onions and the garlic in the remaining pancetta & lard: the heat is gentle and the pan is covered. If you salt the onions, they will release some of their moisture and they will soften faster and better. When they are lightly golden, add the chopped greens, toss them well into the flavorsome base and cook for about 20-30 minutes: there should not be much moisture left in the pan, at the end. Cool down completely, add the Parmesan and mix well. Check for salt and pepper.
Pre heat the oven to 180° C. Divide the dough into two pieces, one larger than the other. Roll out the larger piece to fit the tray, making sure to have few centimeters of pastry left overhanging the sides.
Spread the filling inside. Roll out the smaller piece and place it atop the base.
Fold the overhanging pastry over and create a border, pressing down to seal.
Dock the top with the prongs of a fork.
Bake the tart on the floor of the oven for about 20 minutes. Remove it and brush it with the pancetta&lard mix that you had kept aside.
Return it to the oven, moving it to the first from the bottom level and bake it for further 30-40 minutes.
Cool down completely before eating.
There are similarities of course with the Ligurian torta Pasqualina