Silverbeet made irresistible

Polpettone di bietole, and Italian silverbeet and potato pie.
Polpettone di bietole, and Italian silverbeet and potato pie. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

The recipes this week are for two Italian vegetable dishes made from a big bunch of silverbeet and a few other basic ingredients. The first uses the green part of the leaves and the other the white stalks and spines. I like to serve them together.

The polpettone di bietole or silverbeet and potato pie is a traditional dish from Liguria that could be served for a light meal or packed up and taken on a picnic. There are a few variations after the recipe. Vegetable pies or torta are popular in the north of Italy. It is only in Liguria they are called polpettone, which is the Italian word for meatloaf. In other parts of Italy they are called torta.

The silverbeet stalks braised in tomato sauce make a surprisingly delicious dish. Enjoy as a vegetable side, piled onto bruschetta for lunch or as a tasty sauce on pasta. Whichever way, serve it sprinkled with freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Silverbeet stems in tomato sauce.
Silverbeet stems in tomato sauce. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

Diana Lampe is a Canberra writer, dlampe@bigpond.net.au

Polpettone di bietole - silverbeet and potato pie

Serves 6

1 bunch silverbeet (about 1kg)

sea salt and ground black pepper

3 medium potatoes (about 500g)

1 onion, thinly sliced

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2-3 tbsp olive oil

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 tbsp dried breadcrumbs

3-4 free-range eggs, lightly beaten

100g freshly grated parmesan

1 tbsp fresh marjoram or thyme, chopped

Trim and discard the coarse stems from the silverbeet. Strip the leaves from the stalks and spines and wash thoroughly in a couple of changes of water. Keep the stalks in water to use later for the silverbeet stalks braised in tomato sauce or another dish.

Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil and add salt. Plunge the leaves into the water and cook for a couple of minutes. Drain leaves and spread out to cool. Squeeze as much water from the leaves as you can and chop fairly finely. You need about 500 grams of cooked silverbeet leaves for this recipe.

Place the whole potatoes in a pan of cold water with salt and cook until tender. Drain and, while still hot, peel and mash or pass through a food mill. Do not use a food processor as it will make them gluey.

Fry the onion gently in two tablespoons of olive oil until soft. Add the garlic and cook briefly, then add the silverbeet and stir and fry for a few minutes to combine.

Brush a 22.5-centimetre spring-form tin or similar size ovenproof dish with olive oil and coat with dried breadcrumbs. Preheat the oven to 160C fan-forced or 180C regular.

Mix the prepared vegetables together in a large bowl and add the beaten eggs, parmesan, marjoram and seasoning. Tip into the prepared tin or dish and spread evenly. Sprinkle the top with breadcrumbs and spoon a little olive oil around the edge and over the top.

Bake for about 50 minutes until golden and slightly puffed. Leave to settle in the tin for 10 minutes before removing. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Variations:

Porcini mushrooms: Soak 20 grams dried porcini mushrooms in hot water, chop and add to the pan with the onions.

Button mushrooms and ricotta: Saute 500 grams sliced mushrooms and use in place of the potato. Add 125 grams ricotta cheese.

Tuna: Add a small tin of tuna in oil (drained) and 2 chopped anchovy fillets.

Green beans: For polpettone di fagiolini, replace the silverbeet with 500 grams well-cooked and chopped green beans.

Silverbeet stalks braised in tomato sauce

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1 bay leaf

1 x 400g can tomatoes with juice, chopped

sea salt, sugar and freshly ground black pepper

stalks and spines from 1 bunch silverbeet

¾ cup vegetable stock or water (half a can)

freshly grated parmesan cheese to serve

Heat the olive oil in a saute pan with the onion and gently fry for 10 minutes until soft. Add the garlic and bay leaf and cook for a minute. Then add the tomatoes and season with salt, sugar and pepper. Simmer, partly covered, for about 20 minutes until it becomes a thickish sauce.

Meanwhile, string the backs of the silverbeet stalks with a peeler as you would for celery. Cut the stalks into little finger-size lengths or cut across into slices so they cook evenly. Add them to the tomato sauce with half a can of water or stock to cover.

Partly cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until the stalks are tender then turn the heat up and reduce the sauce if necessary.

Serve with freshly grated parmesan as a vegetable side or pasta sauce.