Photo Credit: Cindy Swain
Erbazzone is a traditional savory pie that is popular in the province of Reggio Emilia. In Italian dialect it is known as Scarpazoun. Two other noteworthy variations include the Erbazzone Correggese (Scarpasot), which is prepared in a skillet and doesn’t include the pie crust; and the Erbazzone Montanaro, which is prepared with the addition of rice.
The recipe for erbazzone Reggiano has humble origins and is a product of the cucina povera or “poor cuisine” because it was traditionally made from ingredients found easily in the vegetable garden and on the farm. The original pie dough is made with flour, water, lard and salt; the filling consists of Swiss chard, spinach, onions, cured pig’s back fat, garlic, parsley, breadcrumbs and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. The following recipe is a lighter version that utilizes extra virgin olive oil. On a side note, for vegetarians who find themselves eating their way through Emilia-Romagna, always inquire about the ingredients used in the breads and seemingly vegetarian dishes, as lard (strutto), cured pig’s back fat (lardo) and Parmigiano Reggiano, which contains calf rennet, are commonly used.
Erbazzone is typically enjoyed throughout the day for breakfast, as a snack or, my favorite, as an appetizer with a glass of Lambrusco, a traditional Emilian sparkling wine.
In a large bowl, add the flour and salt; stir until combined. Now add the extra virgin olive oil and water and mix the ingredients together with your hands. You can also use a stand mixer. If needed, add more water, a spoonful at a time, until the mixture comes together in a ball. To test if the dough is the right consistency, press the dough with your finger. If it leaves an imprint that soon disappears, it’s ready; if the dough sticks to your finger, add a bit more flour and knead until combined. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and store it in the refrigerator for at least 1/2 hour.
In the meantime, bring a large pot of water to boil and generously salt the water. Add the Swiss chard stems and cook for a few minute. Now add the leaves and continue cooking for another minute or two until they are soft. Scoop the Swiss chard out and drain well, reserving the cooking water.
Throw the spinach into the water previously used and cook until wilted; about 2-3 minutes. Drain thoroughly and press out the extra water with a wooden spoon against the holes of the strainer.
In a large skillet, heat the extra virgin olive oil then add the garlic and cook over medium heat; about 1 minute. Add the onions and cook for 5-6 minutes, or until soft. Add the spinach and chard; cook until the water from the vegetables has evaporated. Transfer the vegetables to a large bowl.
Preheat the oven to 400°F (204°C) (static mode). Line a 20 inch (52cm or larger) rectangular pan with parchment paper. Divide the dough in two. Generously flour a large workspace and roll the sheets out thinly so they are about the size of the pan. To transfer the dough onto the pan, simply roll up the dough onto the rolling pin and carefully lay it in the pan.
When the vegetables have cooled, add the following ingredients to the bowl: Parmigiano Reggiano, parsley, salt and pepper; mix well. Put the filling on top of the dough and spread it out evenly, making sure to leave a bit of an edge. Roll the second layer of dough on top and crimp the edges together. Now prick the top layer all over with a fork; make sure to go all the way down, otherwise, the dough will puff up when baked. Use a pastry brush to distribute a layer of extra virgin olive oil on top of the pie crust.
Bake for 30 minutes or until the top is lightly golden. Let the erbazzone cool, then cut it into squares. Serve warm or cold for breakfast, a snack or an appetizer.
*For a vegetarian version, substitute the Parmigiano Reggiano with a vegetarian Italian hard cheese.