This recipe for Tuscan leek pie comes from the Florentine chef and food historian Giuliano Bugialli. He is one of my favorite Italian cookbook authors but is relatively little known, particularly as compared with his near contemporary Marcella Hazan. Bugialli produced a number of wonderful cookbooks, some beautifully illustrated, some not, but all grounded in solid scholarship and a deep knowledge of his subject—a rarity among ‘celebrity’ chefs. His definitive work was also his first: The Fine Art of Italian Cooking. He originally wanted to call the book The Fine Art of Tuscan Cooking, but his publisher rejected the title, because at the time (1977) it was considered too esoteric. Times have certainly changed since then!
His books do suffer a bit from excessive chauvinism and a related anti-French undercurrent. But we should remember that, at the time Bugialli was first writing, ‘gourmet’ food was equated more or less exclusively with French cuisine. Italian food was still very much under-appreciated. Most people outside of Italy did not realize that Italian food went beyond pizza and red-sauce pasta. I can remember one Francophile friend in law school telling me, with total confidence, that while Italians had some good cooking, they did not have anything you could rightly call a cuisine. This dismissive attitude was pretty much the consensus view at the time. So I can understand Bugialli’s desire to trumpet Italian cooking and his resentment towards our Transalpine cousins.
This recipe is adapted from my dog-eared copy of Bugialli’s masterwork. He calls this dish porrata—the Italian for leek being porro—although I would venture that torta di porri is the term more commonly used by Italians today. It is a very typical example of the Italian approach to savory pies. You may notice an uncanny similarity here to the Neapolitan pizza di scarola (escarole pie) we featured some time ago, and while escarole is a favorite Neapolitan vegetable, leeks are particular appreciated in Tuscany.
Makes one large pie, enough for 4-6 as an antipasto or snack
For the crust:
- 400g (3 cups) flour
- 2 eggs
- 15g (2 oz) active dry yeast
- 250 ml (1 cup) warm water
- 2 Tbs olive oil
- A large pinch of salt
For the filling:
- 500g (1 lb) leeks, trimmed, split and cleaned
- 100-150g (4-6 oz) pancetta, cut into small cubes
- 3 eggs
- Olive oil and butter
- Salt, to taste, and lots of pepper
Dissolve the yeast in the warm water and add to the flour, along with the rest of the ingredients for the crust. Knead until you have a uniform, smooth ball of dough. Set inside a large bowl, cover well and let sit for an hour or more.
Meanwhile, take the leeks, trim off their bottoms (and any roots) and cut off their dark green tops. Remove any tough or dried out outer leaves. Split each leek in half and check to see if there is any grit between the leaves. (NB: Leeks grow partially underground and naturally have a lot of soil lodged in them. These days, leeks are often sold pre-cleaned, but you can never tell for sure unless you look.) If you see any grit at all, wash the leeks well in several changes of water.
Cut the leeks crosswise into thin strips. Let the cut up leeks simmer gently, covered, in abundant olive oil and a pinch of salt, until they are soft and much reduced. Uncover the pot and stir the leeks from time to time; if you notice them coloring at all, add a tad of water to keep them from browning. When the leeks are done, transfer them to a large bowl and let them cool completely. Mix in the eggs and season with a bit more salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper. (Bugialli advises that the filling should be very peppery.)
After the dough has rested, lay it on a well-floured surface, flatten it with a few bangs of your rolling pin, then roll it out into a thin disk.
Lay the dough in a well greased springform mold about 24 cm/10 in across, letting any excess ends hang over the sides.
Sprinkle the pancetta over the bottom of the mold, then pour over the leek and egg mixture, using a spatula to spread it evenly on top of the pancetta. Now fold the ends of the dough back over the filling. (Bugialli tells you to trim the dough so it is perfectly round, but as you can see, I didn’t bother. I rather liked the rustic, quirky appearance.)
Bake the mold in a hot (200C/400F) oven for about 45 minutes, until the filling is complete cooked through and the crust nice and brown.
Let the pie cool for at least 15-20 minute before unmolding and serving. It can also be served at room temperature—to my mind, it’s even better that way.
Bugialli’s cookbook The Fine Art of Italian Cooking is sadly out of print, but used copies of the updated 1989 Random House edition are still available here on amazon.com.
This recipe is adapted Bugialli’s Porrata found on 114. The addition of olive oil to the dough is mine—I couldn’t abide the idea of a completely lean crust! I’ve converted the amount of leek—his recipe calls for 5 bunches—and reduced number of eggs a bit (his calls for a total of six, two in the crust and four in the filling). I also used less pancetta than he calls for. Truth be told, most of these adjustments had more to do with what I happened to have in the kitchen than any personal preference, but I liked the result! Bugialli’s recipe for Tuscan leek pie calls for a crust made from leavened dough enriched with egg, as described here, but I’ve also tried the recipe with an unsweetened pasta frolla, and it is equally delicious.