Erbazzone, also known as scarpazonne, a rustic pie or torta of foraged greens from Emilia Romagna in Northern Italy, is one of the first things I'll be making again this year.
This is a traditional, Italian recipe with lots of modern and unique localized variations that may or may not share the same name.
Modern versions call for spinach or chard, but if you look closely at the descriptions, you can see few hints about its origin as a vehicle for edible wild plants.
Erbazzone is often described as a peasant dish, or something made with large mixtures of greens and herbs. If I've learned anything, it's that dishes calling for mixtures of leafy green and herbs almost always have their roots in people gathering whatever they can from the landscape.
If you look at a modern recipes for erbazzone, you'll see mentions of chard, spinach, or beet greens. In the Mediterranean, one of the most commonly wild food plants I see listed is Beta vulgaris maritima, or wild beet / sea beet greens.
As with so many wild foods, people seem to shift away from harvesting the traditional wild plants used in a dish for convenience.
How to Make it
Some erbazzone have a thin crust similar to flat bread, some modern recipes call for puff pastry, and then there's rustic ones using very lean doughs similar to pasta dough.
I tried a number of versions, and, while a lean dough is probably more frugal and traditional, subbing your favorite pie crust makes the finished pie durable, portable.
This is a great place to use a big batch of Spring greens at their peak, and a perfect way to dress up bitter greens. If you love dandelions, sow thistle, garlic mustard and other strong-tasting greens but your family doesn't, this will prove they can be addictive.
Spring onions, herbs, meat and cheese can all be added. Some recipes call for ricotta cheese, but that seems like filler to me. Here I use wild herbs like ramp greens for their oniony kick, along with a handful of parmesan and slab bacon I make, but you can adjust the recipe to your taste. Beef bacon is another good alternative smoked meat.
Erbazzone: Italian Foraged Greens Pie
- 1 baking sheet
- 1 Rolling Pin
- 8 ounces (225 g) unsalted butter, chilled
- 2 cups (240 g) flour
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- Cold water as needed to bring the dough together
- 2 ounces (55 g) slab or thick-cut bacon diced in ¼- inch (6 mm) dice
- 3 ounces (85 g) green onions or ramp leaves sliced in ½- inch (1.25 cm) slices
- 1 ½ lbs (680 g) mixed wild greens washed and dried
- Kosher salt and pepper to taste
- ¼ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice, nutmeg, or equivalent
- ½ cup (50 g) grated Pecorino Romano cheese or parmigiano reggiano cheese
- 3 egg yolks
- 1 beaten egg, for brushing the top
- Cut the butter into small pieces, then mix with the flour and salt using a pastry blender, until the mixture looks like coarse meal. Gradually add water until the dough can be gathered into a ball.
- Divide the dough into 2 two equal pieces, flatten into disks, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate to firm (at least 20 minutes or overnight). The dough can be made days ahead of time and kept refrigerated.
- Sweat the bacon on medium heat until the fat renders, about 5 minutes. Add the onions to the pan and, cook for a minute. Meanwhile, coarsely chop the greens, add to the pan, cover to help steam them, and cook, stirring occasionally, adding a tablespoon or two of water if needed.
- Cook the greens until they’re tender and taste good to you (about 10 minutes for me), then transfer to a mixing bowl and cool for a few minutes. Press on the greens with a towel to remove any remaining liquid, then mix in the cheese, egg yolks, and spices. Taste the seasoning for salt and adjust until it tastes good to you.
Rolling out the dough and cooking
- Roll out the bottom pastry crust and use it to line a baking dish or pie pan, —or, roll out the dough into a square about 10 to 11 inches” (26 – 28 cm) on a side. If you make a square, line the baking pan with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
- Pack the greens mixture into the crust, pressing down to remove air, then roll out the top crust, lay it over the top, crimp the edges, brush with beaten egg, cut a few slices in the top to let air escape, and bake for 15 minutes.
- Then turn down the heat to 350°F (180°C) and bake for about 30 minutes more, or until the top is golden brown.
- Cool a bit before slicing into servings. The Erbazzone holds heat, travels well, and is good at room temperature.
- Some recipes use ricotta cheese in the filling as well.
- Some of the recipe testers recommended making it into hand-pies for more portable portions.
- Instead of the bacon, you can cook the onions and greens with extra virgin olive oil.
- If you don't have wild onion greens, you can add a few chopped garlic cloves, and substitute the weight of the greens in spinach or chard.