I fell in love with erbazzone the first time I tasted it in Reggio Emilia with my sister-in-law Isanna. It was her habit to buy a slice mid-morning of this flaky savoury pie as she did her daily shopping round to keep her going until lunchtime. I didn’t need any encouragement to join in!
2 Tbsp butter
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
400g (14 ounces) frozen spinach, thawed and cooled
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
2-4 sheets pre-rolled puff pastry, rolled out a little thinner, or better still, 400-500g (about 1 pound) block puff pastry, also rolled thinly
2 medium (size 6) free-range eggs
1½ cups freshly grated grano padano or parmesan cheese
½ cup fresh white breadcrumbs
Extra virgin olive oil
1 Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a medium-sized frying pan (skillet) over a low-medium heat. Drop in the butter and while sizzling, add the onion. Cook for about 12 minutes, until lightly golden, stirring often.
2 Squeeze the spinach to get rid of most of the water (it should feel moist but not sloppy), then chop it finely. Add garlic to onion in pan, cook for a minute or two, then stir in the spinach. Blend well then take off the heat and leave to cool.
3 Preheat oven to 200°C (400°F). Line a baking tray with a long piece of baking (parchment) paper. If using pastry sheets join two of them together (dampen one of the pastry edges with a little water to help them stick). The pastry will hang over the sides of the tray at this stage, but it will fit the tray nicely once it is folded over the filling. See further information in Recipe notes.
4 In a bowl mix the eggs, ½ teaspoon sea salt, parmesan cheese and most of the breadcrumbs together, then add the cool spinach mixture. If the mixture seems too moist (plops easily off a spoon), add more breadcrumbs; it should be loose, but fall reluctantly from the spoon. (If there is room, you can simply mix everything together in the pan.)
5 Spread spinach filling over the middle of the pastry, leaving enough pastry around the sides to fold over and enclose the filling, and spread it to within 1cm (about ½”) from the top and bottom of the pastry. Bring the sides of the pastry to the centre and seal them by dampening one edge with a little cold water and pressing the two pieces together to seal. Press the top and bottom edges together. Trim to neaten if necessary, or crimp, but ensure the pie is completely sealed. Prick lightly with a fork. Brush the top liberally with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle generously with sea salt.
6 Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes, popping any air bubbles that form during baking with a skewer. Serve the pie hottish or warm, cut in slices.
While you can use pre-rolled pastry sheets, you’ll get a better result if you use a product made with butter. Best results, I think, come from well made flaky or puff pastry, sold in a block or a roll. I use Paneton’s 500g Flaky Puff Pastry roll, and roll it a tad thinner. It makes a pie with a lot of luscious flakes of pastry! If you use pastry sheets, you’ll get an erbazzone with more filling than pastry. You could divide the filling in two and make two thinner pies with extra pastry sheets.
Cooking the onion gently in butter until it is lightly golden gives the erbazzone a gorgeous sweet flavour. Uncooked onion will end up tasting like boiled onion and you’ll wonder why there’s all the fuss about this pie. You’ll have missed the point. It is sweet, earthy, savoury and salty, with contrasting textures of moist filling held between flakes of buttery, salty pastry. Heaven.
Brushing the pastry with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkling with sea salt are important steps. The oil stops the pastry from becoming dry, flattens it a little but makes it flakier. The salt, well … the salt delivers delicious little bursts of intense flavour which gives the pie bags of taste.
Another thing worth mentioning is how easy it is to make. Like my sister-in-law Isanna, I always use frozen spinach and ready-made pastry, and I prefer parmigianno reggiano rather than its cheaper cousin grana padano. Up to you.
You can use other fillings, just keep the proportion of filling to pastry the same, and ensure the filling is not too moist.
Other dishes to include in an Italian feast
Photography Aaron McLean http://www.aaronmclean.com