Isn’t it fascinating how just like languages and cultures, the same basic culinary idea gets a new accent and a new perspective on life when it border-hops? Take ravioli: Little packets of dough bursting with any variety of fillings. Travel eastward, they become pierogi or pelmeni. Further on, along the silk road one encounters tiny Turkish manti, and onward to China, they take up residence in the guise of wontons. And all are seeking to answer, with imagination, a very universal kitchen question: making a little bit of meat, of fish, of something scarce, go further.
Another familiar combination? Egg + a vegetable or meat + maybe a starch to fill things out. This “turta” is similarly yet another riff on that basic formula. (Think quiche or omelet). Playing around a bit with proportions, though, yields something new: the egg modestly keeps its head down, quietly binding the components together into a cake with a varied, almost chewy texture.
The rice is boiled like pasta until al dente, and the greens are quickly blanched, just to soften them up a bit, and then sautéed with onions. (You can also just use defrosted frozen spinach to cut out a step–it worked beautifully!) A bit of nutmeg, one of spinach’s closest friends, and some obligatory handfuls of grated parmesan (our little turta hails from Italy, after all) rounds out the flavor for a light but substantial and satisfying dish, burnished by golden crunchy bread crumbs.
“Turta” di Spinaci e Riso (Spinach and Rice Torta) adapted from Marcella’s Italian Kitchen
- 2lb fresh spinach or chard, or 3 10-ounce packages of frozen spinach, thawed, or a mixture.
- 1 generous cup of long-grain rice
- 4T butter
- 1/4c olive oil
- 1/2c chopped onion or shallot
- 1/2c grated parmesan
- 1/8t ground nutmeg
- 4 eggs
- 1/4c bread crumbs
Note: While this recipe has many (easy) components, it is easy to split it up into multiple steps–I made the rice and greens the night before, and then baked it up the next day, for example. You might also just have leftover greens, or leftover rice, and this is a great way to use that up.
If using fresh greens, wash well and drain. Put the clean greens in a pot with only the water clinging to the leaves and cook over medium heat until tender and wilted. Drain, allow to cool, and coarsely chop. (If using frozen greens, you can skip this step, but make sure to squeeze out as much liquid as possible). In another pot, bring water to a boil and add the rice, cooking until al dente. (In other words, cook the rice as if you were cooking pasta). Drain and set aside. (Note: you can stop here and continue the next day).
Preheat the oven to 450F. Put 2T of the butter, the olive oil, and the chopped onion in a skillet and saute until tender. Add the cooked greens and the rice. Cook, stirring frequently, for 3-4 minutes, put into a bowl, and allow to cool. (Note: you can also stop here and continue the next day). Then add half the parmesan, the nutmeg, salt and pepper, and the eggs. Butter a springform pan and sprinkle with half the bread crumbs. Pour in the rice and green mixture. Mix the remaining cheese and crumbs and sprinkle on top. Bake for 15 minutes or until the crumbs brown on top. Allow to cool until lukewarm before serving.