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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Tarte of Strawberries (Strawberry Tart)

To make a tarte of Strawberries.
Wash your strawberries, and put them into your Tarte, and season them with suger, cynamon and Ginger, and put in a little red wine into them.
Thomas Dawson, The Good Huswife’s Jewell, 1596.

To make a Tart of Strawberries.
Wash your strawberries, and put them into your tart, and season them with sugar, cinnamon and ginger, and put in a little red wine into them.

THE GERMAN RECIPE
89 Ain erbertorten zú machen
Mach das bedellin vnnd laß erstarcken jn der tortenpfanen/darnach nim die erber vnnd legs daraúf vmber aúfs allernechst zúsamen, darnach zúckeres woll aúfs allerbast, laß darnach ain klain weil bachen, geúß ain malúasier daraúf vmber vnnd laß ain weil bachen, so jst er gemacht.
Das Kuchbuch der Sabrina Welserin, c1553.

89 To make a strawberry tart
Make a pastry shell and let it become firm in the tart pan. Afterwards take strawberries and lay them around on top as close together as possible, after that sweeten them especially well. Next let it bake a short while, pour Malavosia over it and let it bake a while, then it is ready.

The text of the original German recipe can be found here.

The translation of the German recipe is by Valoise Armstrong, and can be found here.

I tried cooking the Dawson recipe several times. The first time, I pureed the strawberries, sugar, wine and spices (despite there being no instructions to do so). And I used far too much wine, so the puree was extremely wet. This caused the pastry shell to completely collapse because it was far too wet. The next two times I used less wine each time, but the tart still collapsed when the pastry got soggy.

And then I found Sabrina Welserin’s recipe. I found it interesting that she specified to bake the strawberries and sugar for a time, then add the wine and continue baking. And trying this, it worked. Even though the pastry still absorbed some liquid from the strawberries and sugar, adding the wine after they had baked a while ensured the strawberries absorbed the wine, not the pastry.

I would recommend eating the strawberries from the pastry shell with a spoon, then eating the pastry separately. It’s still very tasty.

Ingredients

1 quantity shortcrust pastry 50g sugar Optional: 1/2 tsp cinnamon
300g strawberries 30mL madeira wine (see notes) Optional: 1 tsp ginger

Method

  1. Roll out the pastry to approx. 4mm thickness and line a greased pie plate with it.
  2. Prick the bottom of the tart shell. Line the tart shell with baking paper and fill with weights. Blind bake the tart shell for approx. 12 minutes in a 200°C oven. Remove the paper and weights when finished.
  3. Return the tart shell to the oven and bake for a further 8 minutes, to firm the base. If necessary, line the rim of the pie with foil to stop it browning too much.
  4. Wash the strawberries and remove the stalks. Cut any large strawberries into smaller pieces.
  5. Arrange the strawberries in the pastry shell, and sprinkle with sugar and spices, if using.
  6. Bake the tart in a 160°C oven for around 10 minutes, until the strawberries have softened.
  7. Drizzle the wine over the strawberries, and return to the oven for a further 5 minutes.
  8. Leave the tart to cool, and serve cold. You will probably want to spoon the strawberries out of the tart, and eat the pastry separately.

Notes

  • Modern strawberries are typically hybrids of the indigenous European variety, Fragaria vesca. These would have been used in the medieval and early modern period. They are extremely sweet, but tiny. If you want to use them, you will probably have to grow them yourself. You will need more than one plant to provide the fruit to make a single tart. The plants and seeds are frequently sold was “wild strawberries” or “alpine strawberries.” You may also be able to forage them in Britain and Europe.
  • Malavosia is a sweet, fortified wine, originally from the Greek island of the same name. A similar wine is produced on the island of Madeira, which is why I have substituted it.

Strawberry Tart
The tart is garnished with dianthus flowers, also known in Elizabethan England as gillyflowers. They are edible (rather tasteless, but they are pretty!).

Further Reading

Click on the links below to buy direct from The Book Depository.
Black, Maggie (1996). The Good Housewife’s Jewel
Brears, Peter (2011) All the King’s Cooks

Tarte of Ryce (Rice Tart)

To make a Tarte of Ryce.
Boyle your Rice, and put in the yolkes of two or three Egges into the Rice, and when it is boyled, put it into a dish, and season it with Suger, Sinamon, and Ginger, and butter, and the iuyce of two or three Orenges, and set it on the fire againe.
Thomas Dawson, The Good Huswife’s Jewell, 1596.

To make a Tart of Rice.
Boil your Rice, and add in the yolks of two or three eggs into the rice, and when it is boiled, put it into a dish, and season it with sugar, cinnamon, ginger, butter, and the juice of two or three oranges, and set it on the fire again.

 

Except for the eggs, all the ingredients in this dish were imported, so it would have been quite a status dish. Fortunately for us, these ingredients are cheap today, so this is an excellent feast dish, particularly as it is quite easy to make. Although the recipe is called a Tart of Rice, there is no mention of pastry aside from putting the flavoured rice into a dish; the recipe below puts it into a pastry case, and the rice mixture sets well as a tart filling. However, I have served the rice by itself as a side dish, and it was extremely well received (and quick to make!).

Ingredients

1 quantity shortcrust pastry 1 tsp ginger
200g rice ½ tsp cinnamon
3 egg yolks 2 tbs sugar
250mL orange juice 50g butter

Method

  1. Roll out the pastry to approx. 4mm thickness and line a greased pie plate with it.
  2. Prick the bottom of the tart shell. Line the tart shell with baking paper and fill with weights. Blind bake the tart shell for approx. 12 minutes in a 200° oven. Remove the paper and weights when finished.
  3. Return the tart shell to the oven and bake for a further 6 minutes, to firm the base. If necessary, line the rim of the pie with foil to stop it browning too much.
  4. Rinse the rice in cold, running water until the water draining from the rice is clear.
  5. Cook the rice in lightly salted water until it is still slightly firm in the centre.
  6. Drain the rice, then add the rest of the ingredients and stir well to combine.
  7. Spoon the rice mix into the tart shell and press down lightly.
  8. Bake the tart in a 180° oven for about 20 minutes, or until the rice filling feels dry and firm.
  9. Serve hot or cold.

Notes

  • Although this is a sweet dish, it would have been served alongside savoury dishes, most likely in the second course.
  • Rinsing the rice before cooking it removes excess starch from the rice, which means it doesn’t go gluggy when cooked. If you are worried about wasting water, hold the strainer over a bucket to catch the rinsing water – gardens love it.

 

Tarte of Ryce

Further Reading

Click on the links below to buy direct from The Book Depository.
Black, Maggie (1996). The Good Housewife’s Jewel

(Elinor Fettiplace’s) A Tart of Spinage (Spinach Tart)

To make a tarte of spinage.
Take the spinage & boile it in water till it bee soft, then straine it, & put to it the yelks of vi eggs, & some rosewater and corrance, & sugar, & some sinamon, & ginger & some butter. boile it on the fier, a good while, before you put it in the paste.
Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book, ed. Hillary Spurling.

To make a tart of spinach.
Take the spinach & boil it in water until it be soft, then strain it, and put to it the yolks of 6 eggs, & some rosewater and currants, and sugar, and some cinnamon, and ginger and some butter. Cook it gently on the stove for a good while, before you put it in the pastry.

Spinach was introduced to England some time in the reign of Henry VIII – a 1654 herbal noted it was not long introduced to England (Dalby, 2012, 101). It was probably one of the many foodstuffs introduced through increased contact with Spain, where it was introduced by the Arabs. The earliest Spinach Tart recipe I am aware of is from 1545 (see ((A Propere Newe) Tarte of Spinage). There are many recipes for spinach tart – they were clearly a novelty so I feel they should be part of any Tudor era feast.

This recipe is slightly sweet, but not overly so, and is quite pleasant.

Ingredients

1 quantity shortcrust pastry 60g currants 1 tsp powdered ginger
2 bunches spinach (approx. 500g) 50g sugar 1 tsp powdered cinnamon
6 egg yolks 30mL rosewater 50g butter

Method

  1. Roll out the pastry to approx. 4mm thickness and line a greased pie plate with it.
  2. Prick the bottom of the tart shell. Line the tart shell with baking paper and fill with weights.  Blind bake the tart shell for approx. 12 minutes in a 200° oven. Remove the paper and weights when finished.
  3. Remove the stalk and the central vein from the spinach leaves and chop into strips.
  4. Put the spinach in the pan with a little water, and over a medium heat, steam the spinach. It will rapidly lose volume. Keep an eye on it to ensure it doesn’t stick.
  5. Remove the spinach from the pan and squeeze out some of the water between tea towels or kitchen paper.
  6. Return the spinach to the pan with the egg yolks, rosewater, currants, sugar, cinnamon and ginger. Over a low heat, stir well to break down the spinach and mix the ingredients.
  7. When the spinach, eggs, currants, rosewater, butter and spices are well mixed, remove the pan from the heat and spoon the spinach mixture into the tart case.
  8. Bake the tart in a 180° oven until the filling has firmed, approx. 30 minutes.

Notes

  • Ideally this recipe should be made with true spinach (Spinacia oleracea) rather than silverbeet (Beta vulgaris) which is often sold as spinach. Silverbeet was well known throughout medieval England and wasn’t the novelty true spinach was.
  • Elinor Fettiplace’s instruction “to boile” can be quite confusing. Often she actually means “simmer,” and you generally have to work out the meaning from the context. In this case, because of the egg yolks, I feel the spinach mixture has to be simmered, as boiling would cause the egg yolks to curdle.
  • If possible, use whole dried ginger that you grate directly into the mix – the flavour is so much better!

Elinor Fettiplace's Spinach Tart

Further Reading

Click on the links below to buy direct from The Book Depository.
Ahmed, Anne (ed) (2002) A Proper Newe Booke of Cokerye
Dalby, Andrew and Dalby, Maureen (2012) The Shakespeare Cookbook
Spurling, Hilary (2011). Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book.

Mushroom Pasties

Mushrooms of one night are best, if they are small, red inside and closed at the top, and they should be peeled and then washed in hot water and parboiled, and if you wish to put them in a pasty add oil, cheese and
spice powder. The Goodman of Paris (trans. Eileen Power)

This is probably the first medieval recipe I ever cooked, with the newly formed Mordenvale Company of Cooks (though we didn’t have a name at that point), using the recipe in Maggie Black’s Medieval Cookbook, except we varied the amount of cheese. Since then I’ve cooked it many times, because it provides a great vegetarian option that can be made vegan easily, and non-vegetarians tend to love it too.

One of the great frustrations with medieval recipes is ingredients like “spice powder.” What spices?! It is probable that each medieval cook had their own preferred blends. Maggie Black suggests mustard and pepper, which is delicious and what I use most often when I make these. However, it is probably not what the Goodman intended, and he does have another recipe for “spice powder.”

Item,take half a quarter of clove wood, called stem of cloves, half a quarter of cinnamon, half a quarter of pepper, half a quarter of ginger, half a quarter of nutmeg, half a quarter of grain of paradise, and reduce them all to powder.

I would suggest a 1/4 tsp each of cloves, pepper and grains of paradise, and a 1/2 tsp each of cinnamon and ginger to create the spice powder.

Ingredients

1 quantity fair paste 30mL extra virgin olive oil
500g button mushrooms 1 tsp Goodman’s spice powder
125g cheese (choose your favourite type)

Method

  1. Chop the mushrooms finely and soak in boiling water for at least 5 minutes. Then drain them well.
  2. Grate or crumble the cheese through the mushrooms, then add the oil and spice powder, and salt to taste, and mix well.
  3. Roll out the fair paste to around 3 mm thick, and cut into 6 square shapes.
  4. Spoon a portion of the mushroom mix into the centre of each paste square, and brush the edges with water or egg to help the edges stick.
  5. Press the edges of the fair paste together well, ensuring there are no breaks in the pastry or the edges.
  6. Put the pasties on a lined baking tray, and bake in a 200°C oven for around 15 minutes, or until they are golden and smelling yummy.
  7. Serve hot or cold.

Notes

  • Grains of Paradise, or Melegueta pepper, is native to west Africa, and became very fashionable in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. However it had fallen out of fashion by the sixteenth century. You can find it from specialist spice merchants.
  • If possible, buy your spices whole and grate or grind them together – you will get a lot more potency from your spices.
  • Maggie Black’s recipe uses mustard and pepper. It is a very tasty combination, and the Goodman did love mustard, however the spice powder described above is probably what he meant.
  • If the mushrooms are small and young enough, it’s not necessary to peel the mushrooms or remove the stems, unless you’ve gathered them from the wild and you don’t know what’s happened to them.
  • Terrence Scully (2002, 97) suggests it’s not necessary to parboil the mushrooms; however once when I made them I forgot and the mushrooms were unpleasantly leathery in the final pasty.

Mushroom pasties

Further Reading

Click on the links below to buy direct from The Book Depository.

Anon., trans. Eileen Power. The Goodman of Paris.

Black, Maggie (2012). The Medieval Cookbook.

Scully, D.Eleanor and Scully, Terence. Early French Cookery.

Coffyns and Faire Pastes – Early Pastry Recipes

You can download a handout for a class I have run on the evolution of pastry here. This includes shortcrust pastry and puff pastry.

If you know anything about medieval food, you’ll know that pastry was important as a food preserver. Food would be cooked in a pastry case called a coffin, for transportation, then cut out of the coffin, which would be thrown away. Experimentation by SCA cooks has actually shown that food can be cooked in a pastry case and stored for around a week in a cool place, so long as there are no gaps in the pastry.

But that’s not the whole story. You do find pie recipes, particularly for meat dishes, where the text specifies a coffin, and this is probably what was thrown away. However, you come across recipes with more delicate, luxurious fillings, and these refer to the casing as a “fair paste.” These fair pastes may be sweetened or use luxury ingredients like sugar or saffron, which would not have gone into a dish that wouldn’t be eaten. I think these were two different formulations, one intended to be eaten, the other not (or at least distributed as alms for charity).

A Recipe for a Coffyn

You tend to find “coffyns” associated with meat recipes, and I suspect these were the ones where the pastry wasn’t meant to be eaten (by nobility). The flour was probably much coarser.

The following recipe comes from Peter Brears (2008, 129). He has experimented with both hot and cold water, and discovered making pastry with cold water is much harder if there is no fat, such as butter.

225g wholemeal flour Approx. 150mL boiling water 1 tsp salt
  1. Put the flour and salt in a bowl in a mound, and make a well in the centre.
  2. Pour the boiling water into the well, then use a spatula or spoon to mix.
  3. When the pastry is cooler, get your hands in to finish incorporating the pastry. The pastry will feel quite lumpy in your hands; knead it fairly hard until it is reasonably smooth-feeling and elastic. You won’t be able to get the pastry completely smooth feeling, as it’s wholemeal flour, and it’s unlikely as much care was taken with coffyns. Add more flour or water as necessary. You will need to work fairly fast, as the pastry will stiffen as it cools.
  4. Divide the pastry into two pieces, one 2/3 of the pastry and one 1/3.
  5. Roll the larger piece of pastry out, and put it into a pie tin, or make a ball of the dough and mould it into a hollow pie shape. The pastry should be quite thick – around 4-5mm.
  6. Roll out the second, smaller piece of pastry into a lid large enough to completely cover the pie. Brush the edges of the pie and the lid with water to help the pie seal. Crimp the edges together hard to ensure the edges of the pie are completely sealed, with no gaps.

This will make enough pastry to make a 20cm pie, with a lid.
 

A Fair Paste

In recipes such as custard or fruit tarts, or for small pies called chewets, you will see “fair paste,” though they are also often called coffins. But because they’re referred to as “fair,” I believe these mixes were meant to be consumed.

Take and make faire paste of floure, water, saffron and salt; And make rownde cofyns þere-of; and þen make stuff as þou doest for rissheshewes, and put þe stuff in þe Coffyns, and couer the coffyns with þe same paste, and fry hem in goode oyle as þou doest for risshshewes and serue hem forthe hote in the same maner.Harleian MS 4016. 140

Take and make fair paste of flour, water, saffron and salt. And make round coffins thereof, and then make stuff as thou do for rissoles, and then cover the coffins with the same paste, and fry them in good oil as thou do for rissoles and serve them forth hot in the same manner.

There is a similar recipe in Harleian MS 279.lv, which adds sugar to the recipe. Adding sugar will make for a crisper pastry.

Chawettys Fryidde. Take & make fayre past of flowre & water, Sugre & Safroun & Salt, & þan make fayre round cofyns þer-of; & þen fylle þin cofyns with þin stuf, & keuere þin cofyns with þe same past, & frye hem in gode Oyle, & serue f[orth].

Fried Chewets. Take and make fair paste of flour and water, sugar and saffron and Salt, and then make fair round coffins thereof; and then fill thine coffins with thine stuff, and cover thine coffins with the same paste, & fry them in good oil,and serve forth.

225g fine white flour Approx. 150mL boiling water 1 tbs salt
Optional: 75g sugar Optional: Large pinch powdered saffron
  1. If using, add the sugar and the saffron to the boiling water, and stir to combine and dissolve the sugar.
  2. Put the flour and salt in a bowl in a mound, and make a well in the centre.
  3. Pour the boiling water into the well, then use a spatula or spoon to mix.
  4. When the pastry is cooler, get your hands in to finish incorporating the pastry. The pastry will feel quite lumpy in your hands; knead it fairly hard until it is smooth and elastic. Add more flour or water as necessary. You will need to work fairly fast, as the pastry will stiffen as it cools.
  5. Divide the pastry into two pieces, one 2/3 of the pastry and one 1/3. You don’t need to divide the pastry if you are making a tart rather than a pie.
  6. Roll the larger piece of pastry out, and put it into a pie tin, or make a ball of the dough and mould it into a hollow pie shape. If using a pie tin and the pastry has sugar in it, make sure you grease the tin well or it will stick.
  7. Roll out the second, smaller piece of pastry into a lid large enough to completely cover the pie. Brush the edges of the pie and the lid with water to help the pie seal, and ensure the edges of the pie are completely sealed, with no gaps.

 

Notes

  • When initially incorporating the flour and water, it’s important to make the well in the flour, rather than just pouring the water over the flour. If you don’t make the well in the centre, the top layers of the flour will absorb all the water but the flour at the bottom of the bowl won’t be incorporated as well. Making a well in the flour distributes the water through the flour much better.
  • The gluten in wheat is a protein. When wet, it can stick to itself and form long chains. It can also change its shape, especially when heated and moulded. When it’s heated, gluten stretches, and when it cools, it relaxes, but it retains its shape. However, the more you work it, the more gluten sticks together, and becomes tougher.
  • Pie tins were rare in period, so it is likely most pies, even those made from fair pastes, were free standing.
  • The coffyn has a higher salt content to assist with preservation of the pie contents. If you make it free standing, the higher salt content will also help it retain its shape without collapsing.
  • A pastry with sugar in the mix will be crisper than one without. Sugar, as it heats, turns from a solid, to a liquid. As this liquid cools, it re-forms into a solid, but the sugar crystals are now more cohesive. These sugar crystals will stick to each other, and any other materials in the mix. However, it may tend to spread while it’s cooking. It is also why the pastry will stick to a pie tin.

 

Further Reading

Click on the links below to buy direct from The Book Depository.
Austin, Thomas. Two Fifteenth Century Cookery Books.
Brears, Peter (2008). Cooking and Dining in Medieval England.

Santich, Barbara. “The Evolution of Food in the Middle Ages.” In Food in the Middle Ages, ed. Melitta Weiss Adamson.
This essay traces how four foods evolved in the Middle Ages, including pastry.

(A Proper Newe) Tarte of Spinage (Spinach Tart)

To make a tarte of spinage.
Take Spynage and perboyle it tender, then take it up and wrynge oute the water cleane, and chop it very small, and set it uppon the fyre wyth swete butter in a frying panne and season it, and set it in a platter to coole then fyll your tart and so bake it.
A Proper Newe Booke of Cokerye (1557).

To make a tart of spinach.
Take spinach and parboil it tender, then take it up and wring out the water clean, and chop it very small, and set it upon the fire with sweet butter in a frying pan and season it, and set it in a platter to cool. Then fill your tart and so bake it.

This is possibly the first mention of spinach in print in English; a 1654 herbal noted it was not long introduced to England (Dalby, 2012, 101). It was probably one of the many foodstuffs introduced through increased contact with Spain, where it was introduced by the Arabs.

Spinach tarts were clearly something of a novelty, as there are multiple recipes in different recipe collections. I feel for this reason they should be on the menu of any Tudor era feast, and I shall be featuring several different recipes. This is one of my favourites, as it is the most savoury tasting and thus the most compatible with modern palates. It is also very easy to make vegan friendly and is already vegetarian friendly.

Ingredients

1 quantity shortcrust pastry 1/2 tsp ginger
2 bunches spinach 1/2 tsp salt
100g butter 1/4 tsp pepper

Method

  1. Roll out the pastry to approx. 4mm thickness and line a greased pie plate with it.
  2. Prick the bottom of the tart shell. Line the tart shell with baking paper and fill with weights.  Blind bake the tart shell for approx. 12 minutes in a 200° oven. Remove the paper and weights when finished.
  3. Remove the stalk and the central vein from the spinach leaves and chop into strips.
  4. Put the spinach in the pan with a little water, and over a medium heat, steam the spinach. It will rapidly lose volume. Keep an eye on it to ensure it doesn’t stick.
  5. Remove the spinach from the pan and squeeze out some of the water between tea towels or kitchen paper.
  6. Return the spinach to the pan with the butter, salt, ginger and pepper, and stir will to break down the spinach and mix the ingredients.
  7. When the spinach, butter and spices are well mixed, remove the pan from the heat and spoon the spinach mixture into the tart case.
  8. Bake the tart in a 180° oven until the filling has firmed, approx. 30 minutes.

Notes

  • Ideally this recipe should be made with true spinach (Spinacia oleracea) rather than silverbeet (Beta vulgaris) which is often sold as spinach. Silverbeet was well known throughout medieval England and wasn’t the novelty true spinach was.
  • I have interpreted the instruction to “season” the tart as adding ginger and pepper. You are welcome to use whatever spices you wish; I have found these to be good additions and complement the savoury taste of this tart.

Further Reading

Click on the links below to buy direct from The Book Depository.
Ahmed, Anne (ed) (2002) A Proper Newe Booke of Cokerye
Dalby, Andrew and Dalby, Maureen (2012) The Shakespeare Cookbook