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Anna Del Conte 26 Jul 2006
'Italian food' doesn't really exist as an entity, since every region of Italy has its own recipes and ingredients. But if anyone can make sense of the rich food traditions of her country, it is Anna Del Conte. She's been researching and writing on the subject for nearly 30 years and is universally considered the best Italian food writer in the English language. She joins Jenni to discuss the secrets of real Italian food, including how to make a Spinach Tourte from her native Lombardy, which is one of the recipes from her new book Amaretto, Apple Cake and Artichokes.
Spinach Tourte
Spinach Tourte
(Scarpazzone Lombardo)
Serves 8


100g (3 ½ oz) good quality stale white bread, crusts removed.
450ml (3/4 pint) full fat milk
1.5 kg (3 ¼ lb) bunch spinach or young leaf spinach or 600g 1 ¼ lb) frozen leaf spinach
Sea salt and pepper
45g (1 ½ oz) sultanas
Juice of ½ organic orange
150g (5oz) unsalted butter
5 free range eggs
60g (2oz) digestive biscuits, crushed
45g (1 ½ oz) pine nuts
45g (1 ½ oz pine nuts
45g (1 ½ oz) almonds, blanched, peeled and chopped
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp fennel seeds, crushed
½ tsp nutmeg
9 tbsp freshly grated parmesan
Butter and flour or dried bread crumbs for the tin

Put the bread in a bowl, cover with the milk and leave for half a hour and so. Then break it up with a fork and beat to a paste.

Meanwhile pick over the spinach; if you are bunch spinach, remove the roots or if you are using leaf spinach remove the thicker part of the stem. Wash in several changes of col d water until no more soil settles on the bottom of the sink or basin. Bunch spinach has a much better taste then the leaf variety but it d oes need more careful washing.

Put the spinach in a saucepan with no more water than that which clings to the leaves. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and cook, covered until tender. Drain in a colander and set aside. If you are using frozen spinach, allow to thaw.

Heat the oven to 200c (400f) mark 6.

Put the sultanas in a bowl cover with the orange juice and set aside. Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the bread and milk mixture and cook over a very low heat for 5 minutes, stirring constantly.

Squeeze all the water out of the spinach with your hands. Chop coarsely by hand and add to the bread mixture. Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly, and then transfer to a bowl and allow to cool a little.

Beat the eggs lightly and mix thoroughly into the spinach mixture. Add the sultanas and all the other ingredients. Taste and add just the seasonings.

Butter a 25cm (10 inch) spring-clip cake tin. Line the bottom with greaseproof paper and butter the paper. Sprinkle with a little flour or bread crumbs and then shake off the excess. Spoon the mixture into the tin and cover with foil.

Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for a further 25 minutes or so, turning down the heat to 180c (350f) mark 4. The tourte is ready when a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out dry. Allow to cool and then remove from the tin and serve at room temperature, set in a lovely round dish.
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