A Leafy Sweet Pie from Provence (Tourte de Blettes)

CHARD-Tourte-INGR---Piece1-This is an unusual dessert from Provence where chard leaves are the main ingredient, complemented by pears and raisins or currants, soaked in Pernod, the anise-flavored liquor. The pastry has yeast, olive oil and eggs, and is scented with lemon zest.

My recipe is based on the Tourte de Blettes posted by Camille Oger. In her very interesting blog Le Manger she collects recipes from France and from Asia. She is an anthropologists interested in the roots and history of the dishes. Her introductions to the recipes are often fascinating, but unfortunately only some of them, the ones from Asia, are also in English while those from France are only in French.

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Chards are used in sweet pies or turnovers in Catalonia and also on the Greek island of Tinos. In my book The Foods of the Greek Islands I have a recipe for the delicious Seskoulopita, the fried chard turnovers. In my head-note I write: “Cooks on the island of Tinos use the leaves of Swiss chard the way Westerners use rhubarb, tucking them into these festive turnovers. Traditionally made for Christmas, these turnovers are fried and sprinkled with confectioners’ sugar.”

Camille Oger in her introduction to the recipe from Nice –which she characterizes as ‘la vrai’ (the real or authentic)– she explains that since at least Roman times, chards have been thriving in the dry climate of the Mediterranean countries, unlike spinach that needs much more humidity and less sun. This is the reason why in Provence, where chards are abundant, they, are used in a variety of dishes both their green leaves as well as the crunchy stems. I can attest to that; we still harvest tender green chard leaves –like the ones in the picture– from our Kea garden in mid-June, long after our spinach has become totally inedible.

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The pie crust is wonderful –my husband said it reminded him of Pasta Flora, the Greek version of Pasta Frolla topped with apricot jam— although this one is made with olive oil, not butter, and rises with yeast, not baking powder as the later versions of all tarts do. “We had not butter {in Provence} until recently, so we used olive oil,” Oger writes, dismissing the newer “far too greasy versions” that have appeared in both French and English blogs and books. She also insists that traditionally pears and not apples are is the fruit complementing chard leaves, together with pine nuts and raisins or currants which she soaks in Pernot (the anise-flavored drink, similar to Greek Ouzo). The dried cheese –Oger suggests Parmesan— is a common addition that enriches the filling of traditional sweet as well as savory pies, much like in the Squash Pie from Lesbos.

I followed Oger’s recipe, but decided just to chop and rub the tender chard leaves with sugar, instead of adding plenty of salt and letting them wilt for two hours, then rinse and squeeze dry, as she suggests. The result, after adding the somewhat brothy pears, and the Ouzo from the currants, was too much liquid, so together with the eggs, I added breadcrumbs to thicken the filling.CHARD-Tourte-Sugar-dust-Sw

When I dusted with sugar and tasted the finished pie, still warm –Oger writes that it needs to be absolutely cold, and tastes better the next day– it seemed a bit bland, so I sprinkled it with orange blossom water, taking the idea from Roger Vergér’s recipe in his unsurpassed book Lègumes de mon Moulin (Vegetables in the French Style). By the way, Vergér uses butter and baking powder for the crust, and apples in the stuffing.

Both Costas and I loved the taste of the pie the next day, even without extra dusting of sugar, as the recipe suggests.

RECIPE: Chard and Pear Tarte from Nice (Tourte de Blettes)

 

 

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