The sweet dessert torta coi becchi, made with Swiss chard, was born in Lucca, Tuscany thanks to locals’ knowledge and expertise about the many herbs that grow spontaneously throughout the area. Chard is categorized as a sweet herb, along with nettle and borage, opposed to bitter herbs such as dandelion or chicory. It is a perfect example of the Italian art of making do with what you have, and what the season offers in abundance at a certain moment.
It might sound off-putting, but once you get past the green filling, which may immediately remind you of a savory preparation, you’ll be surprised with a delicately sweet, spiced dessert. The predominant flavors are those of pine nuts and raisins—typical of Italian desserts—candied citron or orange peel, and a waft of cinnamon and nutmeg. The chard, cooked down and mixed with milk-soaked breadcrumbs, creates a creamy texture and leaves just a faint, herbal note.
The word “becchi” in the name is the same as the word for the tuning pegs of a guitar or violin, and here refers to the decorative pastry pattern around the rim of the tart. It’s the same decoration that adorns the torta coi bischeri from Pisa, which, however, has a different, more classic filling of rice and chocolate, enriched by raisins, candied fruit, and pine nuts.
For the Shortcrust
- 2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour
- 2/3 cup (125 grams) sugar
- Pinch of salt
- Zest of 1 organic lemon
- 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon (125 grams) unsalted butter, softened but still cold, cubed
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon aniseed liquor, or maraschino
For the Filling
- 9 ounces Swiss chard
- 1/3 cup (50 grams) raisins
- 2 tablespoons vin santo, or maraschino
- 1 cup (100 grams) soft breadcrumbs
- 1 cup whole milk, warm
- 1/3 cup (50 grams) pine nuts, divided
- 1/3 cup (50 grams) candied citron peel, diced
- 1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
Prepare the shortcrust: In a large bowl or on a wooden board, mix together the flour, sugar, salt, and grated lemon zest. Add the cubed butter and use your fingertips to rub it into the other ingredients, until they form fine crumbs, similar to grated Parmigiano Reggiano. You can also use a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment to do this.
Add the beaten egg and the aniseed liquor, and use your hands to quickly incorporate all the ingredients, until the dough just comes together. It will still be slightly sticky and not completely homogeneous, but the flour should all be incorporated, with no visible streaks. Flatten the dough into a disc and wrap it in plastic wrap, then stash it in the fridge to rest for a few hours, or better, until the next day.
Prepare the filling: In a large pot, boil the Swiss chard until soft and cooked through. Drain and let cool.
Put the raisins in a small bowl, add enough warm water to just cover, and stir in the vin santo. Let stand for 10 minutes. In another bowl, soak the breadcrumbs in the milk and let stand for 10 minutes.
Squeeze the chard to wring out excess water, then finely chop and transfer it to a large bowl. Drain the raisins and the breadcrumbs, squeezing them dry, and add to the bowl along with half of the pine nuts and all of the candied citron peel, sugar, and spices. Finally, add the beaten eggs and stir to combine.
To assemble: Remove the crust from the fridge and leave it at room temperature for about 20 minutes. This will make it easier to work with.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom.
On a floured surface, take 2/3 of the dough and roll it out with a rolling pin into a 1/4-inch-thick round. Gently lift the dough, with the help of the rolling pin, and lay it into the bottom of the tart pan. Use your fingers to press the dough into the pan and about 1/2 inch up the edges. Trim the excess dough with a sharp knife, saving the scraps.
Scrape the filling into the shortcrust shell. Decorate the rim with the becchi design by making diagonal cuts in the dough along the rim and folding each tab of dough in on itself.
Knead the excess dough scraps into the remaining 1/3 of dough. Roll it out to a 1/4-inch thickness, then cut into 1/4-inch-thick strips (or as wide as you like!) and use them to decorate the top of the tart.
Bake for 30 minutes, then scatter the surface with the remaining pine nuts and bake for 10 more minutes, until golden brown. Let cool before serving.