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Spinach, Ham, and Cheese Pie from Milan

Updated February 23, 2016
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This image courtesy of JosephDeLeo.cookstr.com

In 1988, when I was in Italy doing research for my book Great Italian Desserts, my friend Miriam Brickman joined me for some of the travel and visits to pastry shops. We were in the Via Montenapoleone neighborhood, Milan’s fashion center. I happened on Gastronomia Montenapoleone, a fancy prepared food shop, and was immediately seduced by a slice of this exquisite savory pie. My memory of it has remained so intact that I think my version is very close to the original.

If you want to save time and effort in preparing this, use the prewashed baby spinach that comes in a sealed bag; it makes the whole process much easier.Don’t be surprised at the use of boiled ham, rather than raw ham (prosciutto), and Swiss cheese in this Italian pie; both are common ingredients in Italian cooking, especially in the area around Milan.

This makes an excellent first course, or the main course of a light meal, accompanied by a tossed salad. It’s also great for a picnic. Keep the pie at a cool room temperature on the day it is baked. Refrigerate leftovers in plastic wrap.

Cooking Methodbaking

CostModerate

Moderate

Total Timeunder 4 hours

Make Ahead RecipeYes

Kid FriendlyYes

One Pot MealYes

OccasionBuffet, Family Get-together

Recipe Courseappetizer, main course, snack

Equipmentfood processor

Five Ingredients or LessYes

Mealbrunch, dinner, lunch, snack

Moodadventurous

Taste and Texturebuttery, cheesy, rich, savory

Type of Dishsavory/pot pie

Ingredients

  • 3½ cups all-purpose flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold, cut into 20 pieces
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 2 pounds baby spinach
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sliced yellow onion
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 pound whole milk ricotta
  • 4 ounces (about 1 cup) parmigiano reggiano, finely grated
  • 6 large eggs
  • 12 ounces boiled ham, thinly sliced
  • 12 ounces Emmentaler cheese, rind removed and sliced thin
  • One 12-inch round pan, 2 inches deep, buttered

Instructions

Set a rack in the lowest level of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.

For the dough, combine the dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse several times to mix. Add the butter and pulse again to mix the butter in finely. Add the eggs and yolks and pulse again, until the mixture forms a ball. Empty the bowl out onto a floured work surface and carefully remove the blade. Form the dough into a thick cylinder and keep it cool, but not necessarily in the refrigerator, while preparing the filling.

For the filling, pour ½ inch of water into a large pan with a tight-fitting cover and bring to a boil. Add the spinach, cover, and place over high heat. Remove the cover and stir occasionally as the spinach wilts and cooks; this will take only a few minutes. Once all the spinach is cooked and reduced, drain it in a colander and let it cool enough so that you can touch it. With your hands, wring out any excess water. Place the spinach on a cutting board and chop it fine with a stainless steel knife. Set aside.

Melt the butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat and add the onions. Cook until the onions wilt and begin to color, about 5 minutes. Add the spinach and stir it in thoroughly with a wooden spoon. Cook to evaporate excess moisture from the spinach, about 1 to 2 minutes, then season with salt, pepper, and just a hint of nutmeg.

Scrape the spinach mixture into a large mixing bowl. Use a large rubber spatula to stir the ricotta into the spinach mixture. Stir in the grated cheese. Taste for seasoning at this point, before adding the eggs. The mixture should taste slightly oversalted. Stir in the eggs, 2 at a time, and set the filling aside.

Cut two-thirds of the dough off the cylinder and, with the palm of your hand, flatten it into a thick disk. Lightly flour the work surface and the dough and roll the dough to a large disk, about 16 inches in diameter. Fold the dough into quarters and place it in the prepared pan so that the point is in the center of the pan. Unfold the dough to line the pan, pressing it firmly against the bottom and sides. With a bench scraper or the back of a knife, trim the dough even with the top of the pan.

Spread a third of the spinach filling in the dough-lined pan. Arrange about half of the slices of ham on the filling, making an even layer. Repeat with about half of the slices of cheese. Spread another third of the filling over the cheese and cover with the remaining ham and cheese. Finally, spread the remaining spinach filling over the cheese.

Roll the remaining dough to a 12-inch disk and place it on the filling, folding and unfolding it as above. Use a table knife to detach from the pan the dough from the bottom crust at the top edge of the pan. Fold over the sides of the bottom crust that extend above the top crust. Cut 6 vent holes in the top crust with the point of a sharp knife.

Bake the pie until the dough is baked through and deep golden and the filling is set and firm, about 50 to 60 minutes. Cool in the pan on a rack.

. Invert the pie onto a large platter or cutting board and lift off the pan. Reinvert the pie so that the top crust is uppermost.

VARIATIONS

I have prepared this for large parties when I wasn’t sure if everyone would want to eat meat, so I just left out the ham and used a little more cheese on each layer. There was no drastic change in quality, although the ham offers a nice contrast.

You may use a 9 × 13 × 2-inch pan instead of the 12-inch round pan, or a 12 × 18 × 1-inch half sheet pan. In the half sheet pan, make only one layer of the sliced ham and cheese between halves of the filling. This is a convenient size if you want to cut the pie into small squares for hors d’oeuvres.

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