A sweet spinach tart? Yes, really. It is delicious. I have discovered this original dessert from the North-Italian town of Reggio Emilia thanks to Simona who is from that region and has the wonderful Italian food blog Grembiula da Cucina (which means kitchen apron). Her recipes are unpretentious but always very tasty. This is locally called erbazzone dolce, to indicate it is a sweet version of erbazzone. Compared to Simona’s recipe I increased the spinach and reduced the sugar. The spinach has a larger impact on the appearance than on its flavor, which is dominated by almonds. I don’t think you can even taste the spinach if you don’t know it’s there. Everyone who tried this cake loved it, and was very surprised after I had described it as a spinach cake. The official booze to be used for this recipe is the local anise liqueur called Sassolino, but any anise liqueur (preferably Italian) will do. I used Sambuca. For the crust I used a special technique to create a more flaky crust.
Serves 6 to 8 for dessert
300 grams (.66 lb) spinach
150 grams (1 1/2 cups) blanched almonds
100 grams (1/2 cup) sugar
3 eggs, separated
pinch of salt
50 grams (3 1/2 Tbsp) butter
60 ml (1/4 cup) anise liqueur
grated zest of 1 lemon
confectioners’ sugar (to finish)
For the crust
100 grams (2/3 cup) cake flour
50 grams (3 1/2 Tbsp) cold butter
1/2 Tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp cold water
butter and flour for the spring form pan
1 Tbsp dry breadcrumbs
To make the crust, combine 70 grams of flour, 1/2 Tbsp sugar and 1/4 tsp salt in a food processor and process briefly to mix.
Add 50 grams of butter, diced.
Process until the dough comes together. This will take some time.
Flatten the dough with a spatula.
Sprinkle the remaining 30 grams of flour on top.
Pulse a few times until you have pea sized pieces of dough that are covered by flour.
Transfer to a bowl and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of cold water.
Carefully fold in the water with a spatula until the dough just comes together. Do not process more than needed.
Shape into a thick disc and wrap with plastic, then refrigerate.
Make the filling while the dough rests. Toast 150 grams of almonds in the oven for about 8 minutes at 180C/350F, or until golden but not too dark. Allow to cool.
Wash 300 grams of spinach and put it in a casserole or pot with the water that clings to the leaves.
Cover and cook until the spinach has wilted, stirring once or twice.
Drain the spinach and squeeze out most of the liquid using a spatula.
Melt 50 grams of butter in a pan (or the same pot that was used for the spinach).
When the butter foams, add the spinach.
Cook, stirring, until the spinach is coated with butter and most of the liquid is gone. Turn off the heat and allow to cool.
When the almonds have cooled off, put them in the food processor with 50 grams (1/4 cup) of sugar.
Grind them until they are quite fine. (If they are a bit coarse the filling will have more texture.)
Combine 3 egg yolks with the remaining 50 grams of sugar in the bowl of the food processor.
Process until the mixture is pale yellow.
Add the grated zest of a lemon to the egg yolk mixture.
Add the spinach and almonds as well, and pour in 60 ml of anise liqueur. Add a pinch of salt.
Process to mix.
Prepare a 22 cm (9″) spring form pan with butter and flour.
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F (or 180C/350F if fan forced).
Take the pastry out of the refrigerator and remove the plastic. Use a rolling pin to roll it out on a floured surface…
…to a circle with a diameter of about 30 cm (12 inches).
Line the prepared spring form pan with the rolled out pastry. The sides should be 3 to 4 cm high (1.5 inch).
Pierce the crust all over with a fork.
Sprinkle it evenly with a tablespoon of dry breadcrumbs. This will help to prevent a soggy bottom.
Whip the egg whites until they are stiff.
Transfer the spinch mixture to a large bowl. Fold in the whipped egg whites in three additions…
…working from below with a spatula…
…with gentle movements to keep it as airy as possible.
Pour the filling into the prepared crust.
Flatten the top.
Bake the tart at 200C/400F (180C/350F if fan forced) until the filling has just set and the crust is golden brown, about 40 minutes.
Allow to cool in the spring form pan.
The spring form pan should be easy to remove if you used enough butter and flour to prepare it.
Following Simona’s example I used some leaves from my garden as stencils…
…and used confectioners’ sugar…
…to decorate the tart.
This will work well with a dessert wine with a nutty flavor that is not overly sweet, such as Vin Santo or a Verduzzo Passito (from Friuli). Even more appropriate may be an Albana Passito from the same region as the tart.
A nice variation on the usual is this passion fruit crème brûlée. The passion fruit adds another layer of flavor and the tartness balances out the sweetness just a bit.