Friday, January 2, 2009
Torta di Ricotta
Cheers to January 2009! January always presents us with the myth of Janus, the Roman god of gateways, of the beginnings and endings symbolized by the thresholds in our path. We often spend this time reflecting back on what has been and also looking forward to what will be and what we will make of the opportunities ahead.
It seems it’s right about this time that I begin to miss the bounty of fruit that the spring and summer provide. Despite all the fabulously beautiful desserts and pastries of fall, for me, it’s the introduction of fruit that always adds to the seduction of the pastry table. The anticipation of the quality and quantity of the coming new crops adds to the excitement of what lies in store. So it was a bit of a pleasure for me to dip into the jars of homemade preserves of seasons past held in my pantry for just such an occasion in order to bring a little spring reminder to this wonderful Italian Torta.
I love Italian pastries for their forthright simplicity and their rustic call to earthy artisan values. This tart begins with a delicious classic Pasta Frolla crust, which crumbles with the buttery loveliness of a shortbread, only lighter. It’s filled with a very simple ricotta just slightly dressed up with lemon zest and a touch of vanilla. The gorgeous color and jammy lusciousness of fruit preserves fulfill that desire for a quick look back and a longing look forward to the grand gestures of nature. This is an exquisite taste of Italy and a preview of the excitement and satisfaction that await in our kitchen as we shift into our hopeful New Year.
- Look for the best quality preserves with low sugar as well as good creamy ricotta. I used blackberry but other fruit would also be great, such as plum, fig or orange marmalade. Or maybe a little combination.
- When rolling dough that has been chilled, let it sit for a few minutes to warm up a bit. As you begin to roll it out, if it’s cracking, it’s still too cold. Wait a couple more minutes and try again. It should still be cool but roll out smoothly without resistance.
Torta di Ricotta
Serves 10 to 12
2 3/4 C flour
1 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
1/2 C sugar
1 T lemon zest
6 oz chilled butter, chopped
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 C fresh ricotta
1/3 C sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
zest of 1 lemon or orange
1 C of quality fruit preserves
For the Pasta Frolla, place the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar and lemon zest in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to combine ingredients. Add the cold butter pieces and pulse just until the butter is the size of small peas. Add the egg, egg yolk and vanilla and pulse just until the dough starts to clump near the center. Remove from the bowl and place on a piece of plastic wrap. Knead the dough gently just enough to pull it to together. Divide the dough into two pieces in 2/3 and 1/3 proportions. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.
Remove the larger piece of dough and let it sit for a few minutes to warm up a bit. On a lightly floured piece of parchment or a work surface, roll out the dough to about an 1/8” thickness. Line a 9” tart pan, pressing gently into the base of the pan. Trim the excess around the edge. Chill the lined tart pan.
Roll out the remaining dough to about an 1/8” thickness, using flour as necessary to prevent the dough from sticking. Cut the dough into 1” strips and chill.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the rack in the lowest third of the oven.
If necessary, heat the preserves very briefly just to loosen up to a spreadable consistency. Cool.
For the Ricotta Filing, place the ricotta in the bowl of a food processor and process until it becomes smooth. Add the sugar, vanilla, citrus zest and eggs and process just until combined. Pour the filling into the chilled tart. Gently spread the preserves over the ricotta filling.
Take the chilled strips of dough out of the refrigerator and lift carefully, using a small spatula to loosen if necessary. Place the strips on top of the filling in a lattice pattern. Press and firmly seal the edges. Trim any excess.
Place the tart on a baking sheet and bake on the lowest shelf of the oven for about 45 minutes or until the tart is golden. Cool and serve.