When I ask Tommaso what he wants for dinner, his usual answer is a quiche, with some eggs, milk, maybe sautéed zucchini or prosciutto cotto. This is because his mum used to make it often for dinner, a quick, weeknight meal made with store bought puff pastry.
It’s the same feeling of when I crave for my mum’s potato cheese savoury pie, something she would make every week, from September till May, just to substitute it with a tuna loaf during the summer months. Comforting meals, as you always know what to expect, their flavour, the reassuring smell wafting invitingly from the kitchen, saying: you’re home, you’re safe now.
In these days of lockdown, when you are forced to cook with a limited amount of ingredients, a savoury tart is the answer to use whatever you have left in your fridge, or in the pantry. And it’s a way to bring a little comfort in the kitchen.
As I told you in the last post, a buttery pie dough is what you can use to make your tarts, or savoury galettes, as you can simply prepare it with a few basic ingredients: butter, flour, salt and water. After an overnight rest in the fridge, you can fill it up with your favourite ingredients, or with what you have to use not to waste it. In my case, it was fresh artichokes, some ricotta left from a video recipe, some milk close to its expiring date and fresh herbs.
A few words about the ingredients of this artichoke and ricotta tart
If you cannot find fresh artichokes, don’t panic.
You can use frozen artichoke hearts. Use about 10 hearts, and cook them with a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and a splash of white wine to give them some flavour, then let them cool down and add them to the ricotta just like in the following recipe. Same can be said for canned artichoke hearts.
This recipe works with zucchini, broccoli, carrots, butternut squash, fresh peas, cubed and fried eggplants, wedges of caramelised fennel and so on and so forth: this is how versatile it is, so no excuse, you can make it with whatever you have in your fridge.
As for the cheeses used in this recipe, the ricotta gives texture to the filling, almost like in a quiche.
If it is difficult for you to find good ricotta, you can substitute it with the same amount of cottage cheese, or even sour cream. I grated some Parmigiano Reggiano, too, as I like to add a sharp cheese along with the ricotta to give an extra kick. If you have Pecorino Romano, or an aged pecorino Toscano, that would work, too.
Now, fresh herbs.
I tend to use fresh herbs in most of my recipes, even when I am baking or preserving, as I grew up with lavish bushes of rosemary and sage just outside the kitchen door, or patches of delicate parsley and the most intoxicating basil growing in the vegetable garden in the summer. It was my task, as a child, to run outside to fetch sprigs of fresh herbs for my mum when she was cooking. This is why now I almost give fresh herbs for granted when I cook, and why you can find them in every other recipe I share.
This said, if you do not have fresh herbs, opt for dry mint, but halve the quantity, otherwise it might be overpowering. Calamint, known in Italy as nepitella or mentuccia, is incidentally my favourite herb, something in between mint and oregano, an herb that we use for artichokes, eggplants and mushrooms. It can be omitted altogether. If you have fresh parsley, you can use that, too.
How to clean the artichokes
Start with a large bowl of acidulated water—that simply means squeezing the juice of a lemon into it. This will prevent the artichokes from browning, as they are rich in iron and oxidize quickly once cut. Leave the two lemon halves in the water to use to rub the cleaned artichokes, and your hands, too.
First, remove the outer leaves, until you reach the pale softer ones. With a sharp knife, remove the spiky tip of the artichoke, then cut it where the base meets the stalk. Set the stalk aside. Rub the artichoke heart all over with a lemon half and plunge it into the bowl of acidulated water. Keep going until you finish all the artichokes.
Then, tackle the stalks. Peel them until you reach the whiter, softer part inside, rub them with half a lemon to prevent them from browning, and add them into the bowl of water, too. Artichoke stalks are flavourful, perfect to use in a risotto or pasta sauce, or stewed along with the hearts. There’s a video here showing you how to clean artichokes.
Artichoke and ricotta tart
This spring artichoke and ricotta tart is made with a buttery pie dough crust and a custardy filling of ricotta, milk and eggs. Herbs like mint and calamint add a fresh herbaceous note.
Artichoke and ricotta tart
Ingredients for the pie dough
- 250 g (2 cups) all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon of salt
- 160 g (5 2/3 ox) butter, cold
- 100 ml (1/2 cup) ice cold water
Ingredients to cook the artichokes
- 5 fresh artichokes
- 1 lemon
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 1 clove garlic
- 2 cups water
- 1 teaspoon salt
Ingredients for the filling
- 4 medium eggs
- 1 cup fresh ricotta
- 1 cup whole milk
- 2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ½ tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint
- ½ tablespoon finely chopped fresh calamint
- Let’s start with the pie dough. Add the flour with the salt to a large bowl, then add the butter. Coat the stick of butter with flour in the bowl, then using a bench scraper cut the butter lengthwise in half, then lengthwise in quarters, coating each newly cut side in flour. Dice the butter and cover each piece in flour, then with a pastry cutter press the mixture as you would mash potatoes.
- Add the ice-cold water little by little and mix quickly with your hands just enough to create a ball of dough. Work the dough as little as possible.
- Wrap the ball in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour, better overnight.
- The day after, prepare the filling. Start with the artichokes.
- Fill a bowl with water and squeeze a lemon into it. Clean the artichokes by removing the hardest external leaves, then cut them in quarters, rub them with half a lemon and dip them into the acidulated water. Clean also the artichoke stalks, peeling them until you reach the whiter, softer part inside, rub them with half a lemon to prevent them from browning.
- Place artichoke hearts and the artichoke stalks, thickly sliced, in a saucepan, add one clove of garlic, the water, white wine and extra virgin olive oil. Season with salt.
- Cook the artichokes, covered, for about 15 to 20 minutes, over medium low heat, until soft. Set aside to cool down.
- Now prepare the filling by whisking the ricotta with milk, beaten eggs, grated Parmigiano Reggiano, salt, pepper and the finely chopped fresh herbs. When the filling is thoroughly mixed, add the artichoke stalks.
- Take out the pastry dough from the refrigerator and roll it out with the help of a rolling pin on a floured surface to line a 28 cm (11 inches) round pie pan, previously greased with butter and dusted with flour. Roll the dough into a larger circle so that there is enough crust to go up the edges of the dish.
- Now pour the ricotta and egg mixture into the crust, and place the artichoke wedges on top.
- Trim the excess dough with a knife or a pair of scissors, but don’t discard the pie dough left, you can reuse it.
- Heat the oven to 220°C (425°F).
- Bake the artichoke and ricotta tart for 10 minutes, then lower the temperature to 190°C (375°F) and bake for 40 more minutes.
- Leave the artichoke and ricotta tart on a wire rack to cool down slightly before serving.
- Leftovers can be kept in the fridge for a couple of days. It can be reheated in the oven, in the microwave or even on a hot pan.
An apple galette
I bet you have leftover pie dough after making this artichoke and ricotta tart. Press together the scraps and roll them out with a rolling pin and some flour. Remove the excess flour with a brush. Thinly slice an apple, then arrange the apple slices on top of the pie dough. Sprinkle with cane sugar and with a few slivers of butter. Bake the apple galette for 10 minutes at 220°C (425°F), then lower the temperature to 190°C (375°F) and bake for 20 more minutes.
Your afternoon snack is ready (and it is so good that the next time you’ll want to prepare the pie dough just to make a dozen of these!).
More artichoke tarts or savoury cakes from the blog archive
Probably because artichokes are one of the most representative Spring vegetables, and because when Spring comes I start thinking about savoury cakes and pies for picnics, I have many recipes for artichokes pies and tarts here on the blog. Sadly, this year we won’t be allowed to enjoy a picnic due to the lockdown, but you can still organise an impromptu picnic in your living room, laying a checkered tablecloth in between your couch and your TV, baking this artichoke and ricotta tart, or one of the following ones.
- Artichoke and pecorino pie. The crust smells of olive oil and white wine. As for the filling, artichokes, but also semi aged Tuscan pecorino, cut into thin slices, which melts softly in the oven, and a few tablespoons of taleggio.
- Artichoke and stale bread cake. You cook down the artichokes with a good extra virgin olive oil and a clove of garlic. In the meantime, soak the stale bread until soft, then you squeeze it just like when you make panzanella. Squeeze it well, remove the excess water, then mix into the already cooked artichokes. Now comes the time of giving flavour to this cake: Parmigiano Reggiano for some saltiness, fresh herbs like parsley and mint for colour and freshness. A few beaten eggs will bind everything together and help you create a golden crust. The result after one hour of baking is beyond imagination: crisp on the outside, it keeps a moist and almost melting centre, where all the flavours have perfectly mingled.
- Artichoke tart. An old recipe from the blog archive, but still memorable, with pecorino, artichokes and breadcrumbs.
Bonus recipe. An onion strudel made with ingredients you might have in your pantry
This is to show you that you can make savoury pies, tarts and strudels without buying ready-made puff pastry, just by using what you have in your pantry.
In this case, I made a strudel dough – which requires just flour, extra virgin olive oil and water – and filled it with my Aunt’s stewed onions, with tomato sauce, anchovies and oregano. This strudel has an intense and bold Mediterranean flavour, thanks also to a handful of black olives and some scamorza cheese (which you could substitute with mozzarella, or just omit it).
I’ll be sharing the recipe in the upcoming newsletter, so do not miss it. If you are not subscribed yet, you can do it here.
- I thoroughly enjoyed this podcast episode from Radio Cherry Bombe: Alison Roman and Aran Goyoaga in Conversation. In these days when we are at home, podcasts really open your mind. Alison and Aran talk about the freelance hustle, California vibes, the cookbook creation process, and their least favorite word. (Spoiler alert: it’s “influencer.”). Very inspirational, especially as you understand how Alison Roman works with a different approach on her cookbooks and on the recipes she develops for the New York Times.
- Probably because I finally started working on a new cookbook (or should I say cookbooks?), but I am extremely fascinated by how other authors are dealing with this creative and exhausting process. This is David Lebovitz writing about The Making of Drinking French (and this is a book I immediately added to my wish list).
How can I help you?
Whether you are in Italy, somewhere else in Europe, in the US, in Canada or in Australia, you might be experiencing what we just lived here in our country. The fear, the confusion, the feeling of being helpless and powerless.
I’m not a doctor, a nurse, or a politician. I can’t tell you how you should behave, or when this situation will be over, but I cook. I’ve been cooking and teaching for a living for over a decade now, so if I can help you with recipes, with pantry staples, with fresh pasta or a basic bread loaf, ask me, send me an email, find me on Social Media. This is the time to share, to support each other and to find joy and solace in honest, home cooked food.
How to support our business?
When the lockdown of Italy began, I was worried because I didn’t know what the future would bring to small businesses like ours. You asked us how you could support our business now that all classes have been cancelled for months and that most of our projects are in standby.
Thank you for your words of encouragement and support: they helped us immensely, as you gave us many ideas and tips on how to get through this difficult moment.
So, if you want to help us, you can do one of the following things.
- Share our cooking classes and edible experiences with your friends, as when this absurd time will be over, we’ll be ready to welcome you all back to cook up a storm in our studio. As a plus, in these days of lockdown, I’m working on so many new recipes that I can’t wait to share with you (think about sourdough focaccia!).
- Share our recipes and our podcast, Cooking with an Italian Accent, with your family, your friends and on Social Media. Our recipes are simple, seasonal ideas, often based on all those ingredients that you have already in your pantry. This might be an interesting post right now: A Tuscan pantry – Staple ingredients, recipes and a tuna sauce.
- Buy and review our cookbook, From the Markets of Tuscany. If possible, purchase it from small independent bookstores, as to support their business, too.
- If you think that our Podcast is interesting and relevant for Italian food lovers, you can leave a review. How to do it? At the moment, just Apple users can leave a review, but it is very simple and straightforward. Open the Podcast App, click on our podcast and scroll to the bottom of the podcast main page. There, you can rate and review the show. This will help us enormously to be more visible, so that new people can discover us and share the same passion for Italian food.
- If you are dreaming about a future trip to Italy and you are planning to include Tuscany in your itinerary, you can buy from us a gift certificate to attend a cooking class. Just send us an email and we’ll give you all the info.
Why don’t you join an olive cooking class?
- To shorten the distance, in a time of social isolation, and to bring some Tuscany in your kitchen, we also launched a Udemy virtual Tuscan cooking course. With this course you will join me in my kitchen, attending step-by-step cooking demonstrations to show you exactly how to prepare each recipe. We’re going to use simple, affordable ingredients. Stock up your pantry and be ready to start cooking like an Italian and Tuscan home cook. You’ll learn recipes to make antipasti (appetisers, like focaccia, chicken liver paté and sausage crostoni), primi(fresh pasta from scratch like tagliatelle and ravioli, risotto, gnocchi, and all the dressings for your pasta), secondi(traditional meat and fish dishes), contorni (seasonal side dishes from stewed artichokes to grilled eggplants) and dolci(my famous olive oil cake, but also crostate, almond biscotti and tiramisù). There will be also a chapter on preserves, so that you’ll be able to replicate my spicy tomato jam for a cheese platter, my limoncello or the summer tomato sauce.