Did you know that leafy green vegetables work in both sweet and savoury dishes? The city of Nice thinks so. It has two similar dishes that use the same main ingredient: chard!
Tourta de blea is a dish from Nice, France. Its name means ‘filled chard tart’ or ‘chard pie’ in the local Occitan dialect, and it comes in two types. The sweet type uses pastry crust with citrus elements, while the filling also uses alcohol-soaked raisins, pears or apples, savoury things like parmesan and pine nuts, and more. The savoury type has a thin floury crust with olive oil, and adds rice, eggs, cheese, onion, garlic, olive oil, and other things like pine nuts or nutmeg.
Nice is not the only region using leafy green vegetables in pies. If you head east to Ligurian Italy, you’ll find the Torta Pasqualina. Head further to Greece and you’ll encounter the spanakopita. Go even further and you’ll find yourself in Lebanon, enjoying a spinach fatayer. These three dishes are all savoury pies that use a spinach filling. They might have used chard too, if it weren’t for political influences.
Chard was grown as early as the second millennium BC. It grew in poor soil and spread easily throughout the Mediterranean region. Romans loved the plant. But in the Middle Ages, spinach started arriving by way of Persia. Chard lost its status as Catherine de’ Medici favoured the new arrival, and her influence took effect around the continent. Nice’s weather was too hot, however, and the soil too dry for spinach to grow, so the city stuck with chard. Tourta de blea might have been a spinach dish otherwise!
The sweet tourta de blea seems to be unique to Nice, born from culinary experimentation in the 15th century AD. The people harnessed their love of sweet and salty flavours to combine chard with local fruit, vegetables, and new ingredients from their active trading port. The dish became so well known, it joined other desserts to become part of an active Christmas tradition.
You can get your hands dirty with delicious savoury and sweet tourta de blea recipes, but the best way to enjoy them is in Nice. You’ll find them in all good bakeries and restaurants. Some people prefer the savoury variety because they find chard and sugar to be a weird combination, but give the sweet one a shot! You might be pleasantly surprised.
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Written by: Ariel Kaiser