I can’t imagine a more profound way of getting closer to Mother Nature, to reconnect with her rhythm, rather than growing your own food. With dirty hands, you lay the seeds in the soil. Carefully, you water the seeds while the sun kisses your cheeks, and you wait for the miracle of life to awaken. It breaks the soil’s surface, it reaches high into the sky, it grows, it matures, and finally it fruits providing us food, and seeds for future generations.
Soon we will be moving out from our Dutch home surrounded with a not-so-big garden. But, oh, what a magnificent place this garden has been. It has given us so many precious memories. Val’s tiny hands planting the seeds, running around with the watering pipe, us running in front of him, evenings spent outside admiring our efforts and planning future sowings, or reaching out for more rucola to refill the salad bowl. So many memories, so much gratitude.
Under the snow cover, the last chard of the season was peaking. Deep green in colour, with energy contracted into the core, and sweet juices concentrated. One last time I wanted to celebrate the tradition, the one I inherited by growing up in Croatia, and the one my life has created.
From garden, to table, this chard represents much more than a seemingly fragile plant. It reminds me of growth, patience, and the importance of letting go.
The traditional chard pie, called soparnik, is one of the specialities of the southern part of Croatia. Once a poor man’s food, soparnik is nowadays served as an irreplaceable delicacy on weddings and celebrations. Recently, the European Commission listed soparnik as a non-material national heritage of Croatia.
Traditional recipe stands for a very simple savoury pie filled with Swiss chard and was commonly prepared during winter when the chard is sweet and full of flavour. The divided dough would be rolled out onto two wooden boards, called sinije. A skilful cook wood enclose the filling by layering one circle of dough onto the other. The pie would then be baked on a well-heated hearth, called komin, covered directly with embers. There are so many “secrets” about the whole process of preparing the soparnik, from carefully selecting the wood to prepare the embers, to knowing the exact time to take the soparnik out of the embers, and swiping it clean with a brush. Recently, a competition in making the best soparnik in the region has been established to keep and celebrate this tradition.
This is the story about soparnik, but this is not the recipe how to make one at home. You simply can’t. You have to go to Croatia, to Dalmatia, and try it yourself. This is the somewhat soparnik-inspired pie I made with my son and I wanted to share it with you.
With tremendous gratitude I want to say Goodbye and Thank You, to our garden. This was the most delicious meal you have given us… And the collected seeds will sprout on another land, under the same sun.
Garlicky Swiss Chard Pie
For the dough:
- 330 g unbleached wheat or spelt flour
- 120 g rye flour
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons ajwain, or anise, or fennel seeds
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 250 ml pure carrot juice, lukewarm, can be replaced with water
For the filling:
- 600 g Swiss chard, best is older winter chard, thick and dark green in colour
- a pinch of salt
- dash of black pepper
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 red onions
- 1/2 cup fresh parsley or coriander
- 1/2 dl olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, finally minced
- chopped toasted almonds for garnish
- Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F), Gas 4.
- In a deep bowl combine the flours, ajwain seeds, salt and black pepper.
- Add olive oil followed by lukewarm carrot juice. Mix the ingredients with a spoon or using your hands and continue to knead on the working surface until a soft ball of dough forms. Wrap the dough in cling film foil and allow to rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. Meanwhile prepare the filling.
- Make sure the chard is clean and dry. I like to wash it in the evening, spread on the kitchen towel and leave it overnight. This will prevent the dough from drenching. Trim and discard any particularly large and tough stems. Chop the chard into 1-cm stripes. Chop the onions and coriander or parsley, as well. Mix the chard, onions and coriander, season with salt, black pepper and olive oil. Using your hands, mix and very gently squeeze the chard so that it wilts down a little.
- Divide the prepared dough in half. Place each halve on two separate parchment papers. Roll out the dough with a rolling pin into an approximately equally sized circles.
- Spread the filling onto the dough circle, leaving a 1-cm margin without filling.
- Carefully lay down the second rolled layer of the dough, making sure all of the filling has been covered. If needed use your fingers to spread the dough a bit more and start twisting and pressing the edges together inwards to enclose the filling.
- Transfer the pie onto a baking tray and prick the surface with a fork. This will allow the steam to escape during baking.
- Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until brown spots appear on the surface.
- Once baked, remove from the oven and while still hot brush the whole surface with olive oil. Sprinkle minced garlic and chopped toasted almonds on top.
- Cut into wedges and serve warm or room temperature. A glass of red wine would be the traditional companion to this delicacy. And that’s exactly how we did it.