While the British, at least in recent years, have favored meat for Easter, in Italy, torta Pasqualino, or Easter cake, makes the most of the new season’s greens… which, after all, is what most of us crave after six months of northern gloom. This Ligurian classic, now popular nationwide, is described by chef and writer Stefano Arturi as “one of the highlights of the Italian vegetarian canon – the quintessential spring dish,” and because it’s easy to prepare ahead of time, impressive to look at, and perfect for feeding a crowd, it’s perfect for Sunday dinner as well as an Easter Monday picnic.
Though it’s called a torta, this is essentially a pie – and as such, it’s susceptible to the usual pastry-based compromises that make it seem far more difficult than it is. According to Arturi’s Italian Home Cooking blog, the recipe calls for a “golden, shatteringly flaky olive oil crust,” with the pie customarily divided into 33 layers to reflect Christ’s 33 years on earth. “It has evolved in modern times to something that may or may not be 33 layers,” Fred Plotkin writes in Recipes from Paradise, “but it is still connected with its original inspiration.”
You could use pre-made puff pastry, as suggested by Yotam Ottolenghi and the Silver Spoon (though Arturi objects, calling it “untraditional, inauthentic, and plain incorrect”), but the filo Katie Caldesi suggests in her Italian Cookery Course is a superior alternative. The crisp texture and plain flavor of Rachel Roddy’s avowedly non-traditional butter and ricotta crust, as with the traditional flour-and-water pastry for which she also provides a recipe, provide a satisfying contrast with the filling; meanwhile, as delicious as Rachel Roddy’s avowedly non-traditional butter and ricotta crust is, we find it too soft and rich here.