From my experience, the Italian restaurants in America give us a biased point of view on Italian food :: cibo. Either it’s an Ital-american version run by an American who doesn’t even know what pasta “al dente”* is or it’s runs by a genuine Italian but who may only offer the most popular range of Italian food that Americans have come so accustom to: pizza, pasta, meat platters and cheese :: formaggio. Unfortunately, often missing from these menus are all the common dishes made in Italian homes that are eaten regularly.
*Cooking pasta “al dente” means that the pasta is slightly hard when you bite into it, not mushy.
One of my favorite hidden italian recipes is the “torta salata”, or in English, “savoury pie”. This is a very typical appetizer :: antipasto that can be eaten straight out of the oven or made the a day ahead and stored in the fridge. It can also be served as a main dish for dinner :: cena. The beauty of these savoury pies, is that there are endless limits to new flavor creations. Here is one that I just invented because I had a craving for grated zucchini (yah, kind of random, I know) and Philadelphia Cheese but you can play around with this recipe to include any of your favorite cheeses, meats and/or vegetables to create your very own savoury pie masterpiece.
- I also try to pack my meals with additional health foods, like flaxseeds :: semi di lino which taste great, look great on top and are high in fiber and Omega-3 essential fatty acids. What are your favorite savoury pie flavor combinations?
- ½ tablespoon salt
- 1 eggplant, diced
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 scallion, finely chopped
- ½ cup chopped parsley
- 2 carrots, grated
- 1 medium-sized zucchini, grated
- salt and ground black pepper, to taste
- 6 ounces light cream cheese
- Whole wheat store bought pastry dough
- Flax seeds (optional)
- Preheat oven to 400°F
- Add the diced eggplant to colander, add salt and toss well with your hands. This will take the bitterness out of the eggplant and prevent it from soaking up oil. Set in the sink as the liquid will drain, for at least 20 minutes.
- Add the scallion to a large sauté pan coated with olive oil. Sauté over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally for 5-10 minutes. Stir in the grated zucchini and carrots to the pan along with a pinch of salt and black pepper to taste, cook for 10 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Drain the eggplant, rinse with ice cold water then blot dry with a paper or tea towel. Add the eggplant to the pan and sauté for 10 minutes. Add the cream cheese, stir well and remove from heat.
- Keeping the wax paper attached, place the pastry sheet in a 8 x 11 x 2 inch pan. Cut off the extra pastry dough that is hanging over the edge with cooking scissors. Cut the extra pastry dough into strips. Fill the pan with the vegetable and cheese mixture and place the pastry dough strips diagonally on the top from both angles to create a checkered image. Sprinkle flax seeds on top (optional).
- Bake for 30-40 minutes in a ventilated oven, checking frequently. Once the top strips have turned golden cover with aluminium foil and continue baking until time has finished. (Check to make sure that the bottom is well cooked and continue baking a few minutes if needed.) Cool for 10 minutes, cut into squares and serve.
- This recipe can also be made up to a day ahead and stored in the refrigerator; just take out the savory pie 15 minutes before serving. This savory pie can be served as an appetizer or as a main dish accompanied by a side dish or two.