torta verde with jack by the hedge

I’ve been taking a tip from resourceful Italians again, adding foraged greens to the first meagre pickings from the garden and adding them to ricotta and parmesan for a tasty pie.

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I have to admit that I didn’t actually venture far from the garden in ‘foraging’ for this pie though. While gardening I keep noticing Jack-by-the-hedge springing out everywhere. It obviously says a lot about my shoddy weeding that it’s more a case of Jack-by-the-compost heap, Jack-by-the-ox-eye-daisies and, more annoyingly, Jack-by-the-raspberries.

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With so many ‘weeds’ about, I’ve decided the best approach is to eat them. No point fretting about all those pesky weeds, best to just bake a pie with them. So I set to enthusiastically picking the top leaves of some of the Jack-by-the-hedge, adding them to the ever-trusty chard, cavolo nero, leaves of the perpetual spinach that is fast going to seed, rocket, a few tender nettles (they’re mainly too big now though) and some of the beet tops that soon need pulling up. Soon I had quite a pile of healthy greens in the kitchen.

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Jack-by-the-hedge is also known as poor man’s mustard, hedge garlic and wild mustard and has a high Vitamin A & C content. The leaves, white flowers and seed pods are all edible but I use mainly the upper leaves. They have a bitter taste, but like kale, nettles and rocket are great with parmesan and ricotta in pasta sauces, pesto and pie fillings.

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I made a jar of pesto, mainly with the Jack-by-the-hedge and the rocket, with pumpkin seeds, olive oil and parmesan, using the same sort of quantities as in wild garlic pesto or the kale pesto I made here.

I love this sort of green mixture in a wild greens filo pastry pie too, but maybe a week including children’s parties and a fair bit of indulgent eating had me craving the healthy option of a Torta Verde, where the dough/pastry base is made from olive oil and flour. I wrote about Torta Verde here for Smallholder magazine, when describing how we can learn a lot from Ligurians in foraging our way out of the hungry gap. This version was crammed full of greens, yet as usual when ricotta and parmesan are involved, scoffed happily by my 5 year old. Despite still viewing greens with suspicion in lots of dishes, Ruby loves pesto too, hence my passion for making it with whatever greens are seasonal.

Leftovers are proving very handy for lunches, slices transport easily and so are great for picnics. So I’d like to enter it in the lovely seasonal Four Seasons Food Challenge hosted by Anneli of Delicieux and Louisa of Chez Foti.

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And as this makes use of very seasonal weeds, would love to enter it for Ren Behan’s June Simple and in Season.

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Recipe for Torta Verde

Pastry/dough base:

200g strong white bread flour

3 tablespoons olive oil

Pinch salt

80 ml warm water

For the filling::

400g of greens (any mixture of jack-by-the-hedge, nettles, chard, cavolo nero, spinach can be used)

100g ricotta cheese

1 large egg

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

8 tablespoons grated parmesan (or

similar hard English cheese)

To make pastry, sift flour into large mixing bowl and make a well in the centre. Add the oil and salt and mix well, adding warm water a little at a time to form a soft, not sticky dough. Wrap in clingfilm and pop in the fridge while you make the filling.

Wash the greens well and barely cook in the water left clinging to them until they wilt. Drain and squeeze out excess water. Chop finely (I find this easy to do with scissors) then add to ricotta, mix with egg and nutmeg. Mix in half of the parmesan and season with salt and pepper to taste.

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Roll the pastry out to fill a well-greased deep cake tin or pie dish, fill the middle with green/ricotta filling and crimp around the edges – I do this very clumsily, but then this is a very rustic pie. Sprinkle with the remaining parmesan and drizzle with olive oil. Bake for 40 mins in an oven preheated to 180 C.

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This was scoffed happily by all of us. Even if Guy now eyes me suspiciously when he sees me with a bucket of weeds on an evening. Not realising I’m heading for the compost heap, he wonders if I’m harvesting dinner.

Obviously, if you’re using wild greens for this pie, make sure you have a good book for identification or are with an experienced forager. You can of course fill Torta Verde with completely home-grown cultivated greens too.

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