Torta di farro della Garfagnana (emmer savoury pie from Garfagnana) – Italian home cooking

Torta di farro della Garfagnana (emmer savoury pie from Garfagnana) – Italian home cooking

A savoury pie typical of Garfagnana and Lunigiana, those mountainous areas in between North Tuscany, South Liguria and west Emilia Romagna, sparsely populated, traditionally poor (hence their rather sombre style of cooking), thickly covered in chestnut tree woods (hence the many dishes based on chestnuts, once called “the bread of the poor”, because they were free and highly nutritious) and where mushrooms and wild boars are still abundant. It is farro, however, or emmer (Triticum dicoccum), a type of wheat, that is perhaps the most celebrated produce of this part of Italy.

Farro is a cereal that goes back a thousand years or more, and it has a creamy and lightly nutty flavour when cooked. In Garfagnana, north of Lucca in Upper Tuscany, they make a lovely soup with it, pairing farro with beans (borlotti, cannellini or red beans), more or less thick, sometimes with chopped lard or with a ham hock, sometimes entirely vegetarian, flavoured with whatever herbs are available: sage, rosemary, thyme, basil. Zuppa di farro has over the years become known throughout Italy: you will spot it on restaurant menus, in cookery magazines and on line. There is, however, another good dish featuring farro that is still relatively unknown outside these territories and that is torta di farro, a savoury pie.

I tasted this pie last November, at Osteria Vecchio Mulino in Castelnuovo di Garfagnana, one of the main towns of Garfagnana. The day was cold, misty and rather miserable. We were hungry. As soon as we opened the door, we felt we had reached a safe refuge and a sense of wellbeing immediately perked us up. It was warm and with an air of genuine, old-school osteria: a long marble counter ran along the whole front of the room; an imposing wood dresser full of bottles of spirits stood behind it and shelves were piled high with wines, jams, locally made pastas, chestnut flour, beans and farro. Hams hanging from the ceiling and a fridge-counter storing different types of pecorino cheese, confirmed that we had indeed stepped into a “good” place. In the middle there were a few tables for the hungry and thirsty visitors.

It soon became clear that this was not your average place: we spotted some serious wine labels and the food offer was limited but well curated. The charcuterie and cheeses were impressive but it was the torta di farro that stole the show: the crust was made with olive oil as is customary here, not too thick but not insubstantial either; the filling was cooked emmer, ricotta, pecorino and eggs. Before tasting I thought it was going to be stodgy but I was soon proved wrong: the pastry was tender, the filling was creamy yet substantial at the same time. This was one I had to replicate at home.

So this is my version of torta di farro: the pastry is richer because I use a mix of olive oil and white wine. The filling is the one used in the restaurant but, inspired by books I have read on the local cuisine, I have added parsley, plenty of black pepper and nutmeg. If u cannot find emmer, use spelt, which is very similar.

Torta di farro della Garfagnana
6-8 portions

The filling:

250 g of emmer grains, rinsed and soaked in cold water for approximately 12 hours. This is not essential, but it shortens the cooking time and I think it makes for creamier grains
250 g ricotta, drained and left to rest in between sheets of kitchen paper that soak up any excess – it must be thoroughly dried
2 eggs
100 g pecorino cheese, grated
a handful of chopped parsley
one clove of garlic, mashed to a paste
black pepper and nutmeg
olive oil, a drizzle

The pastry:
100 g semola rimacinata, durum wheat flour
70 g 00 flour or plain flour
30 g fine wholemeal flour (or just sift some regular wholemeal flour to remove some of the bran)
50 g olive oil
50 g dry white wine

I generally cook the emmer the day before I want to make the pie, because it must be cold when it is time to use it. I cook it in my pressure cooker as this dramatically shortens the cooking time, but you can obviously cook it in a regular pot. Drain it, transfer it into your pot and barely cover it with cold water, add some salt and simmer until tender. I prefer my emmer really well cooked and creamy tender, with the grains having burst opened, but there are also versions where it is just cooked, without having burst. The choice is yours, but no al dente farro, please. Leave the cooked farro to cool in the pot: by the end the water should have been absorbed completely – if that is not the case, drain the farro.

Mix it with all the other ingredients for the filling, which should be on the peppery side and with a clear nutmeg taste.

Make the pastry. I use a food processor but you can make it by hand. Place the flours and salt in the processor and whisk to mix. Gradually add the liquids and process the dough using the pulse button. When a dough has formed and all the flour has been incorporated, let it rest in the processor for about twenty minutes. Now process it again, still using the pulse function, just four or five pulses. Check the dough: it should be soft, malleable but not sticky. Adjust it if necessary adding a little flour or a few drops of wine.Transfer it onto a floured surface, knead it into a ball and let it rest for half an hour, covered.

Preheat the oven to 200° C – medium rack.
Roll the pastry in between two sheets of parchment paper into a circle of about 30 cm. Fill the dough with the farro mix, leaving a border of about 5 cm all around. Cut eight slits into the border, from the outside to the filling. You will have divided the border into eight segments. Flip the cut segments onto the filling, each one slightly overlapping the next one. Compact the pie using your cupped hands.
Drizzle both pastry and filling with oil. Scatter a few grains of salt on the pastry.
Bake for about one hour and a half, lowering the temperature and covering the pie with some tin foil towards the end, if you see it is taking too much colour.
Eat warm. The pie can be reheated in a non-stick pan, giving it about five minutes per side.

On farro/emmer: use spelt grains if emmer in unavailable.

La cucina di Versilia e Garfagnana, di Mariù Salvatori de Zuliani
Cucina di Lunigiana, di Salvatore Marchese

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