Genovese Tart

30 Ain jenaweser torta zú machenn
Nempt 36 lott mangoldt oder spinetkraút, 6 lott geriben kesß, 5 lott bamel, 12 lott gerente milich, das keslin darúon, vnnd das kraút brien, aúch klainhacken vnnd als vnnderainanderrieren vnnd ain torta daraús machen mit ainer deckin.
Das Kuchbuch der Sabina Welserin

30 To make Genovese tart
Take eighteen ounces of chard or spinach, three ounces of grated cheese, two and one half ounces of olive oil and the fresh cheese from six ounces of curdled milk. And blanch the herbs and chop them small and stir it all together and make a good covered tart with it.

The text of the original recipe can be found here.

The translation is by Valoise Armstrong, and can be found here.

Often in medieval cooking manuscripts there are recipes like this one – a dish named for a foreign region, in this case the city of Genoa in Italy. Sometimes it’s effectively impossible to work out why the dish acquired its name; I suspect in some cases it was to give an otherwise pedestrian dish a little pizzazz.

However, when I looked in Italian recipe collections I found recipes that were very similar to this one – a pie where the principal ingredient was spinach, combined with other ingredients. For instance, Maestro Martino’s Libro de Arte Coquinaria (The Art of Cooking) features a recipe for spinach torte in the Genoese style; a rather luxurious dish where the spinach is combined with almonds, walnuts, spices and caviar (Martino, 2005, 123). Bartolomeo Scappi’s Opera has a recipe (V.97) very similar to Sabina Welserin’s, where the spinach or chard is combined with fresh cheese, mint and pepper (Scappi, 2008, 481). Most Italian regions had special names for pies and tarts. The Genovese version was called a gattafurra, and appears to have been quite shallow compared to those from other regions, and was always covered.

The first time I made this recipe, I had run out of wheat flour so I used spelt flour. However, I forgot to adjust the recipe for the different flour. When I got the pie out of the oven, the pastry collapsed and tore a little more every time I looked at it or breathed in its direction. And to make matters worse, I didn’t pay attention to Sabina Welserin’s recipe, which is quite specific about the ratio of ingredients to use. Essentially my filling had half as much spinach, twice as much parmesan cheese and four times as much fresh cheese. It really wasn’t pleasant to eat.

Failed Genovese Tart

Once I adjusted the quantities to Sabina’s specifications, the pie was delicious, and would make a good addition to any feast, whether for vegetarians or everybody.

Ingredients

1 quantity shortcrust pastry 80g grated parmesan cheese 1/2 tsp salt
500g chopped spinach or silverbeet 100g ricotta
30 mL olive oil 1/4 tsp ground pepper

Method

  1. Roll out the pastry to approx. 4mm thickness and line a greased pie plate with it.
  2. Blanch the spinach or silverbeet until the spinach has softened and lost most of its moisture.
  3. Add the cheeses, oil, salt and pepper, and mix well.
  4. Pour the mixture into the pie shell, and smooth off.
  5. Roll out a pastry lid and place on top of the pie. Trim the edges and press the lid into the tart rim. Cut a small incision into the lid of the pie.
  6. Bake the tart or pie in a 180°C oven for around 30 minutes for a tart, or 45 minutes for a pie, until the pastry is golden.
  7. Serve hot or cold.

Notes

  • Parmesan cheese was a coveted, imported luxury in Germany, (Bach, 2016, 163), and is used extensively in Sabina Welser’s book. Parmesan was probably first exported from Italy in C14, and was prized throughout Europe. The relative dryness and higher salt content of a good parmesan cheese makes it easy to transport long distances without spoiling (Kindstedt, 2012, 155-157). If you are uncertain about using Parmesan in this recipe, you could substitute a milder cheese, such as Gouda or Edam.
  • In Australia, what is often sold as spinach is actually silverbeet (Beta vulgaris). This is an ancient vegetable known throughout Europe, and is also known as chard. True spinach (Spinacia oleracea) is called English Spinach in Australia, however as Sabina specifies either leafy vegetable can be used, you don’t need to be pedantic.

Genovese Tart

Note: I originally published this recipe with a note stating true spinach would have been recently introduced to Germany in the mid sixteenth century when this recipe was compiled. I had a few people contact me to rightly question this. Foolishly, I applied the probable date of true spinach’s introduction in England to the rest of Europe. Sixteenth and seventeenth century herbals that describe spinach describe it as a recent introduction, whereas spinach and chard are mentioned separately in European cooking manuscripts as early as the fourteenth century. I’ve removed this note from the recipe, and if I ever make the same mistake, please feel free to point me back to my own words to show I’m wrong.

Further Reading

Click on the links below to buy direct from The Book Depository.
Bach, Volker (2016). The Kitchen, Food and Cooking in Reformation Germany.
Kindstedt, Paul (2012). Cheese and Culture.
Martino, Maestro of Como (2005). The Art of Cooking: The First Modern Cookery Book, trans. Jeremy Parzen.
Scappi, Bartolomeo (2008). The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi (1570), trans. Terence Scully.

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