Sometimes the best meals come from digging around in the refrigerator to clear things out just before a trip. A few days before leaving on a recent trip to London, I roasted a piece of butternut squash that had been hanging out in my fridge for a while, and combined it with some other flotsam and jetsam on the shelves, including a leftover piece of fontina cheese, half a container of ricotta and a bit of heavy cream. The combination of ingredients turned out to be an inspired match, and I won’t be waiting for leftovers to make this again. Start out by cubing the squash and roasting in the oven with olive oil and seasoned salt at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes or until softened. Note: I used only about half of this in the tart.
Make sure you blind bake (prebake) the crust so you don’t end up with a soggy bottom.
Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and gently pour into the tart shell, then bake it for almost a half hour.
The results are creamy, cheesy and wickedly good. It’s nearly the same as a quiche, but the ricotta brings it some extra oomph. Serve with a salad on the side for a complete meal.
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With all sorts of berries coming into season right now in the Eastern U.S., it’s time to make this tart. Two extra containers of blackberries were unexpectedly included in my last food delivery, so I had plenty to make this tart. I actually made it twice — the first time with a purchased puff pastry shell, and the second time with this dough recipe, from Domenica Marchetti. We liked the crostata made with puff pastry well enough, but the texture of the crust with Domenica’s recipe was so far superior, retaining its crispness on the bottom after baking, that I doubt I’ll use the puff pastry again for a crostata. Plus the flavor, with its touch of lemon, is better with Domenica’s recipe. Her recipe makes enough for two crostate, tarts or pies, so keep one tucked away in the freezer. By the way, a crostata in Italy is generally presented as a tart with a lattice crust, as in this recipe for fig crostata, but many recipe writers use the term interchangeably with galette, the French word for a rustic, open-faced tart. If you’re inclined to call it a galette, go right ahead, but I gravitate to the Italian word whenever given the choice.
Roll out one half of the dough to a diameter of about 16 inches. Don’t worry if it’s not a perfect circle, just get it close enough, then slide it onto a Silpat- or parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. I put the cookie sheet in the refrigerator in the 15 minutes it took to prepare the fruit, to help the butter bits chill and solidify, making for a flakier crust.
Sprinkle the toasted almonds over the center of the pastry. It helps as a barrier to keep the crust from getting soggy, but also adds more flavor and texture. Mix the berries with sugar, lemon juice and cornstarch.
Carefully place the fruit in the center of the crust, over the almonds, leaving a border of about two inches all around. Flip up the border, pinching it together all around the perimeter.
Brush it with a liquid like beaten egg yolk or milk. I had buttermilk in the house, so I used that. Press some almonds all around the edges.
Placement in the oven is very important in order not to have a soggy bottom. Place the crostata on the bottom rack of a 375 fahrenheit degree oven for a half hour. Then remove it to the highest rack for another 15 minutes. You may get some spillage of the liquid, as I did, if any of the edges had a split, as happened when I poked my nail through the crust. Don’t worry about it though, there will be plenty of other juice within the crostata.
After it has cooled, carefully slide it off the Silpat or parchment paper onto a serving dish. The fruit has a “dull” appearance when it comes out of the oven, but to give it a “glistening look,” melt a bit of quince or apple jelly and spread it on top of the fruit.
Here’s a photo of the bottom crust to show you how well baked it should be if you follow the directions exactly.
Sprinkle the edges with some confectioner’s sugar and dig in.
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A few weeks ago, my friend Lilli dropped off a piece of this savory tart in a “quarantine package” that also contained some of her biscotti — a recipe I posted more than a decade ago in the early days of my blog. It’s my favorite biscotti recipe of all time. Lilli hails from Salerno and is one of the best home cooks I know. Anytime she makes something, it’s always a hit, including this delicious tart. I made it myself over the weekend and my husband and I loved it. I can’t wait to make it for my Italian chit-chat group, when we can once again meet face-to-face for a “chiacchierata.”
The tart is easy to make, especially if you use a packaged pastry as I did. I chose to use puff pastry, but a regular pie pastry would also work just fine. Start by boiling a couple of large potatoes. Peel them, mash them with a fork and add some parmesan cheese and a beaten egg.
Remove the skin from some Italian sausage and fry, then drain of any residual oil.
Crumble the sausage into the unbaked shell. You could choose a round tin, or pie plate if you prefer.
Cover with shredded mozzarella cheese.
Then take the potato mixture and using two teaspoons, place dollops on top of the mozzarella cheese.
Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, on the bottom rack of your oven, then turn on the broiler for a couple of minutes until the top is nicely browned.
Slice and serve with a salad for a complete meal. Or cut into smaller slices and serve as an appetizer.
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If you’re a chocolate and hazelnut fan, this recipe is for you. It’s got a bottom layer of Nutella, covered with a ricotta mixture and drizzled with more Nutella on top. The first time I made the recipe, I used a ready made crust and it crisped up nicely, browning perfectly on the bottom. I loved the flavor combination but thought it could benefit from a doubling of the ricotta layer.
So the next time I made it, I doubled the recipe for the ricotta layer.
The filling tasted great, but the problem was that the crust was undercooked on the bottom, even though I left it in the oven a little longer than the recipe called for. It could be because in addition to doubling the amount of ricotta, I also baked two tarts in the oven at the same time, which may have caused the pastry to bake unevenly. Or was it because I forgot to prick the pastry before smearing on the Nutella? In any event, it’s worth making this tart, but be warned – bake only one tart in the oven at a time for best results.
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It’s fig season here in the Northeastern U.S., and if you don’t have your own fig, there are plenty of markets selling different varieties of these luscious fruits. I had about a dozen that were ready to eat and decided to make a free-form crostata for dessert, poaching the figs first in port wine, honey and cinnamon. They’re delicious poached in red wine too, but if you have port wine, it’s a perfect match accompaniment to figs.
The figs become a little moister after poaching, which could make the pastry soggy, so I scattered a layer of sliced almonds as a bed for the figs, to act as a barrier and also give more texture and flavor.
Drain the figs from the poaching liquid and place them carefully over the almonds.
Gather the pastry around the edges, pinching to form a border. Brush with beaten egg, or some milk.
After it comes out of the oven, spread some of the reduced glaze over the top.
It’s delicious just as is, but a bit of ice cream always makes things better.
Serves two to four people (easily doubled to serve eight)
10 to 12 figs, cut in half
½ cup Port wine
¼ cup honey
3 Tablespoons sugar
1 cinnamon stick
¼ cup sliced almonds
For the Pastry:
½ cup flour
4 Tablespoons butter
1 Tablespoon sugar
a pinch of salt
3 or 4 tablespoons ice water, as needed
Bring the Port wine, honey, sugar and cinnamon stick to a boil in a saucepan.
Lower the heat and add the figs. Let the figs simmer for about 5-10 minutes, depending on how ripe the figs are.
Don't let them poach so long that they lose shape.
Drain the figs and set aside.
Meanwhile, turn the heat to high and let the Port wine mixture reduce to about half or until about the consistency of honey.
Don't forget the solution will be runnier when it's hot, but thickens when cooled.
Mix the flour, sugar, salt and butter in a food processor, until it resembles coarse sand. Add the ice water until it starts to hold together. Bring it out onto a board and roll into a ball. Flatten the ball, wrap in plastic and put it in the refrigerator for about a half hour to an hour.
Remove from refrigerator and roll over a floured surface to a circle with a circumference of about 10-12 inches.
Scatter the almonds over the center of the dough, leaving a border of about two inches.
Place the poached figs over the almonds, then fold the pastry over the figs, pinching toward the edges to form a border.
Brush the border with either beaten egg, or milk.
Bake at 400 degrees for about 25-30 minutes or until browned.
Remove from oven, and brush the reduced port wine glaze over the figs.
If the glaze is too thick, put it back on the heat for a few minutes, adding a bit of water if necessary.
I wish I had thought to post this before Easter, because it would have made the perfect meal to serve on Fridays during Lent. But it still is a good one to keep in your back pocket for those nights when you want a meatless meal.
I made this using a store bought pie crust, making it easy to get on the table in a snap, but use your favorite homemade crust recipe if you have time.
The recipe comes from “Blue Plate Special,” a memoir by Kate Christensen, read by my book group nearly a year ago. It’s a passionately written account of her unorthodox childhood and relationships as she navigates her way through adulthood. Through the sometimes painful, sometimes joyous, and frequently tumultuous events, food is the sustaining thread throughout. It’s well worth a read.
And if you have a food, travel or family story you’ve been wanting to write down for posterity, now is the time to start. We’ve got only a couple of spots left for our memoir writing retreat on Lake Como, Italy. Join us for an unforgettable week in this enchanting location in late September. Get more information by going to www.italyinotherwords.com
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Sauté the onion in the olive oil. Add the spinach, the herbs and spices. Beat the eggs, then blend in the ricotta cheese and the cheddar cheese, plus the sauteed onion and spices. Stir. Turn everything into a store bought or homemade pie shell. Bake at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes until golden brown on top.
Sometimes friends ask me if I really cook all the things I post on Ciao Chow Linda. Well, yes, I explain, and lots more too. Some of the things I cook turn out to be less than blog-worthy though, and that included a tomato ricotta tart I made a couple of weeks. It looked lovely, but the crust wasn’t cooked all the way through, as you might be able to tell from the photo below:
I tried again with the same crust, this time rolling the dough really thin, using a freeform, crostata shape instead of the removable bottom tart pan. I decided to skip the ricotta cheese in favor of caramelized onions, gruyere and parmesan cheese. And I went with cherry tomatoes, since I still had so many ripening in the garden. (OK, I admit it, aside from the crust, this is an entirely different recipe from the first tomato tart.) The cherry tomato variety I’ve been growing – “black cherry” – has a darker hue and a sweeter taste than the bright red ones more commonly seen in the markets. But any cherry tomato variety will do for this recipe – even yellow ones. You can cut the tomatoes in half if you like, but this time around, I left them whole.
Caramelized onions – one of my very favorite foods – are a key component of this dish – . I’ve always thought that the next time I put my house up for sale, I’d ignore that advice from realtors to infuse the house with the smell of freshly baked bread or chocolate chip cookies. Nope, for my money, you can lure prospective buyers better with the intoxicating aroma of onions sautéeing in olive oil or butter. Bake this crostata for the open house and you might be able to seal the deal.
The crust is really special too – it’s imbued with the goodness of parmesan cheese, fresh herbs and cracked black pepper. Roll it out thinly, then layer the cheeses and caramelized onions on top, leaving about two inches all the around the perimeter for crimping.
Scatter some fresh herbs (in this case, oregano and thyme) and place the tomatoes on top.
Bake at high heat (425 degrees) but keep an eye on it near the end, covering the edges of the pastry with aluminum foil if it looks like it might burn.
I served it as a main course, along with romano beans and fresh sweet corn. But this would work great as an appetizer too, cut into smaller pieces.
1 cup flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
1 T. finely minced fresh herbs (thyme, oregano or sage)
1 t. salt
1/2 t. freshly cracked black pepper
1 stick cold butter
1 large egg yolk, beaten with 3 T. ice water
Place the flour, cornmeal, parmesan cheese, salt, pepper and sage in a food processor and pulse until mixed well together. Add the butter in small pieces until the mixture looks like coarse sand. Add the egg yolk and water and mix it just enough until it starts to hold together. If it looks too dry, add more ice water as needed. Shape the dough into a disk and wrap in plastic, then place in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes. (It freezes really well too.)
1 large, sweet onion (about two cups sliced thinly)
1 T. olive oil
1 cup freshly grated gruyere cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 dozen cherry tomatoes (more or less, depending on how big they are)
Cook the sliced onions in the olive oil – slowly – until they turn golden brown. This will take at least 1/2 hour, maybe 45 minutes. Let them cool slightly.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a thin round – about 1/8th inch thick and about 14 inches in diameter. If the dough is too thick, it won’t cook all the way through. Transfer to a large cookie sheet or baking dish.
Spread the cheeses onto the dough, excluding about two inches all around the circumference. Place the caramelized onions over the cheese, then scatter bits of the fresh thyme and fresh oregano over that. Top with the cherry tomatoes, then bring the edges toward the center and crimp together as you go. Bake in a preheated oven at 425 degrees for 1/2 hour. If crust gets brown too quickly, lower the heat to 400, and cover the edges with strips of aluminum foil.