I’ve been anxiously awaiting my first harvest of Swiss Chard so I can make a snack from one of my favorite parts of Italy – Emilia Romagna. Known as Spuntino Reggiano (a “snack in the Reggio Emilia style”) it is a good munch or light meal that takes its name from the city of Reggio Emilia between Parma and Modena. The region is populated with some of Italy’s most famous foods and tastious salami and cheeses including a savory cake made with spinach and chards called erbazzone.
Erbazzone is a traditional contadino dish often baked in a wood-fired oven with a rich double crust eaten as a hearty mid-day meal of waste not want not. In certain dialects it was referred to as scarpazzone (scar-paz-zó-ne) from the Italian word for shoe, scarpa meaning that peasant families would use the whole chard not just the tender green leaves but the white sides (the shoe) of the chard as well.
A flavorful herb sandwich or torta di verdura (savory green pie), erbazzone is made in the spring and summer as a snack or a picnic lunch to be enjoyed in the countryside with a bottle of Lambrusco wine. Cut in smaller pieces it makes a perfect appetizer or breakfast buffet dish especially when served with grilled mortadella wedges. Found throughout Northern Italy there are of course regional variations with different ingredients (ricotta* to replace parmigiano, sometimes raisins, nutmeg and sugar added to make it sweeter) sometimes Swiss Chard mixed with spinach leaves or beet greens, sometimes adding pine nuts or almonds. There is a mountain version made with rice originating in the Emilian Apennines near the commune of Carpineti, that follows the historic food itinerary of the land of Matilda of Canossa with a food festival dedicated to “hundred years of historic moments” celebrating the food culture of the region.
*a Tuscan version uses broccoli rabe and ricotta