I asked my friend Gigliola who comes from near Milan if she had ever heard of Tourte Milanese (or Torta Milanese) and she began to describe a sort of sweet Christmas fruitcake with vanilla sauce so I'm pretty sure this pie is not Milanese but a French invention. I've been meaning to make this savory pie for years now because the photo of it in the cookbook was so stunning, but I never got around to it because 1. it takes a lot of advance preparation and 2. the homemade puff pastry dough is such a monumental chore that I only do it once a year for Gabriel's birthday Napoleon cake. The recipe comes from French chef, Michel Richard in the "Baking With Julia" cookbook. Once I decided that a good, homemade pate brisee (pie crust) would fit this pie just fine, it came together right away. The advance preparation is 90% of the job. You have to have the pate brisee; 2 fritatta-style disk-shaped omelets cooked and cooled; roasted, peeled and seeded red bell peppers and washed and boiled spinach. Once that is done, all you do is assemble and bake. The dish takes time but the looks and the flavor are really outstanding. This would impress any Sunday lunch guest (even though this version is really different from, simpler than, the original.) Here's the dish:
2 10-inch pastry shells (see recipe here and omit sugar called for)
10 large eggs
1 tablespoon of fresh chives, minced
salt and pepper to taste
2 teaspoons of olive oil
2 large red bell peppers, roasted, peeled and seeded
1 lb spinach, washed and wilted**
8 ounces provolone cheese, sliced thin
8 ounces cooked deli ham sliced thin
1 beaten egg for egg wash
Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Roll out the pastry dough into 2 circles, one larger for the bottom and the other smaller for the top. Line a deep pie tin with the bottom layer. Press the dough into the edges. Begin filling it with 1 of the omelets, then half the spinach, half the cheese, half the ham, all the red peppers, and then continue in the reverse order with the other half of the ham, the cheese, the spinach and the omelet. Make sure that everything is as flat and even as possible. Top the pie with the smaller pastry shell then pinch and fold the bottom and top shell edges together making a decorative design. Cut holes in the top crust to let out steam. You can do the traditional one dime-sized hole in the middle or any other design you like. Finally, brush on the egg wash with a pastry brush (this will give the baked pie a shiny-brown finish) and place in the middle rack of the oven. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Turn pie halfway through cooking to ensure even browning. Let pie cool for several hours until it is just warm or room temperature. Slice and serve.
**To wilt spinach: wash it well, drain it and place it in a large frying pan with a bit of olive oil. Salt the spinach to taste and stir turning the wilted bottom leaves over and on top of the raw upper leaves. The water that clings to the leaves after draining will be enough to wilt it. Music to wilt spinach by: Me First and the Gimme Gimmes "Are a Drag" Their punk-rock formula covers of Broadway musical hits will either have you singing to the rafters or laughing your head off. Either way, they're a lot of fun.