AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Today's Found Recipe takes us to Tuscany and it's in advance of Easter. Because chocolate eggs, chocolate bunnies, jelly beans, all those sugary holiday treats, I mean, they're just so predictable. You know what's not predictable?
FRANCINE SEGAN: Torta co'bischeri agli spinaci.
CORNISH: Spinaci in a pie. And no, it's not a quiche. The spinach is boiled and chopped, then mixed with finely ground almonds, sugar and eggs. It's baked in a distinctive pie crust, one where the dough isn't pinched at the edge, but shaped into a chubby, round points. We'll let Francine Segan tell us some more.
SEGAN: That chopped spinach gives it a beautiful green color, gives it a wonderful earthy tone. And more importantly, it became very synonymous with Easter time, with spring, with new green buds bursting out of the ground.
CORNISH: Francine Segan is a food historian and recipe collector, two qualities that make her cookbook, "Dolce: Italy Sweets" both fascinating and delightfully tempting. Here's how she first stumbled upon the improbable sweet spinach pie.
SEGAN: I rented a home for the month in Camaiore, a little town on a hilltop in the province of Lucca in Tuscany. Walking about beautiful cobblestone streets and I noticed on a side street a long line outside a bakery. When I got to the window and looked in, I noticed something bright green. It's so surprising because the Italians don't generally use food coloring, but it was so green. What kind of a green (unintelligible).
I walked in. And I said, what is that? And she looked at me as if, don't you know? Then she explained it's torta co'bischeri agli spinaci, a sweet spinach pie. So I kept asking her, excuse me, this is dessert? (Foreign language spoken) Yes, of course, yes. And it was so strange to imagine spinach for dessert.
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SEGAN: The history of Tuscany sweet spinach pie is very interesting. During the Middle Ages and Renaissance, the Italians didn't so much divide courses the way we do. There was more of a mixture. You might have something sweet at the beginning of the meal and they wouldn't necessarily have only sweets at the end. They thought balance with every course to keep the appetite interested throughout the feast.
So the name had something interesting. What is bischeri? It's the tuning part of a violin or a guitar. And so that is why the crust has that kind of round ovalish shape to mimic that. But there's another part of the story.
Nowadays, the word bischeri means in Tuscany, a fool. And it came because when the Duomo was being built in Florence, big cathedral in the center of town, the people that were building it wanted to acquire the land for it. And so they were paying people who owned the land a wonderful fee for the properties.
One family, the Bischeri family, kept holding out. They wanted more money and more money. And at a certain point, the town planners decided to change the angle of the Duomo and to leave the Bischeri family out of it and not buy their land. And so that was such a foolish decision that from the 1300s on, the name Bischeri became the name for a fool, especially about money.
Torta co'bischeri agli spinaci, it's so simple to make and it's so rewarding because the flavors are so unique and surprising. And it's even healthy. You get some of your vegetable servings in dessert.
CORNISH: That's Francine Segan. You can find out how to make sweet spinach pie and see a picture of it in all its bright green glory on our Found Recipe series page at NPR.org.
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