24 September 2010

Savory Cherry Tomato Tart or Torta Salata con Pomodorini Ciliegini

The hurried I go, the behinder I get. Don't you just feel that way sometimes?
Just when you think things are easing off, there are still plenty of fruits to put up, herbs to dry and get the garden ready for the winter since it looks to have been somewhat abandoned here at the end of summer at the height of the go, grow, go season. Well, the good news is that that produce overload will be oh so appreciated in the not so distant future. 
I have loads I want to write about and just not enough presence of mind to get it on the blog, and blah, blah, blah....
Ok, having said that, before tomato season is over and all of those luscious little red jewels are but a lingering  taunting memory, I suggest you make this oh- so- tasty tart. Torta salate is a general term for any savory pastry crust filled with any sort of vegetable, cheese, or combination that is in season and suits you. Baked in a large shape or individual servings it lends itself to many combinations and interpretations.  The one I'll leave you with today is simply filled with ricotta and cherry tomatoes and baked to a brown perfection that will only be too easy to eat at one sitting, but it holds well in the fridge and reheats easily enough   the next day or so with out being soggy and that is always a plus. I used a super simple olive oil crust, but you can use whatever pastry crust you like to make or buy for that matter. I especially like the grape sized  tomatoes, that are so sweet, but any great tasting tomato will do, but the smaller cherry tomatoes look nice all lined up. I would avoid juicy large tomatoes as they will give off too much liquid and make for a soggy tart. Then again, it might not make it past the first sitting when it's warm from the oven and fragrant with herbs and cheesy tomatoes taunting you on. 

Savory Cherry Tomato Tart
Torta Salata con Pomodorini Ciliegini

Serves 4 to 6     (1 large tart or 6 individual tarts)                                                              

·       500 g (1 1/4 pounds) cherry tomatoes
·       60-90g (1/2 c) Parmesan cheese, grated, adjust to your taste
·       250 g  (8 oz) ricotta
·       1 egg, beaten
·       8g (3 T ) fresh thyme or basil, chopped if using dried cut back  as it will be stronger
         I use the thyme when fresh basil isn't available or I use it in the crust and the fresh basil in the tart.
·       Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, freshly grated nutmeg about 1/8 tsp

·        1-22-26 (10") pastry crust, I used an olive oil pastry ** recipe below**
·       1 egg  whisked together with 10g (1 T) milk , cream or water depending on how dark you want your crust to color. Water being the lightest

  -Make your crust first, or if you are using a pre-made one then, go straight to the filling.

  -Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to a 33 cm (13-inch) circle, about 1 cm (1/4-inch) thick.
  -Transfer to a 22-26cm (10-inch) pan with sides or pie plate that has been lightly oiled.  
  -Refrigerate until cold, if you have time, about 20 minutes.
 -Preheat oven to 190*C (375 *F).
 -Mix your ricotta with a fork breaking up into a smoothish consistency. 
 -Add your parmesan and mix.
 -Add the beaten egg.
 -I like to add the fresh torn basil leaves to the ricotta mixture, if they are fresh. I don't like or use dried basil so I wouldn't suggest adding them to the ricotta unless you are a fan. I think it overwhelms the delicate ricotta flavor. by all means add other varieties of stringer flavored cheese for a bit more of a punch. Goat cheese is a nice addition
 -Season with salt, pepper and fresh grated nutmeg. You want to taste the nutmeg faintly in the background so that it comes through when baked.
 -Another nice note if you want a bit more bite from your ricotta without adding more cheese, is to add a tablespoon of brown mustard to the mix for a nice subtle bite.
 -Slice your tomatoes in half into a small bowl. Drizzle a small amount of oil over them. Add a tablespoon of thyme, fresh or a bit less dry, if you like and lightly toss to coat and mix.
 -Spread the ricotta filling over the bottom of the  crust.
 -Cover the top of your tart with your  tomatoes, cut side up.
 -Sprinkle a small amount of coarse or regular salt and fresh cracked pepper over the top of the tomatoes.  Or you could sprinkle more parmesan on top instead of the salt.
 -Fold in the overflow of crust, slightly overlapping when needed. 
 -Whisk egg with your liquid in a small bowl. Brush crust with egg wash. 
 -Bake pie on a baking sheet until crust is golden brown and juices are bubbling, about 45 minutes.

**Olive Oil Pastry Crust**

Serves 6-8
1 large  crust  22-24 cm (10”)

200g  plain flour  (1 ½c I use the scoop and smooth method) or all plain flour  if desired. 
70g (1/2c) Farro/Spelt  gives a nutty flavor without being too heavy
1            dash salt
100g     olive oil, light flavored (1/2 c)
75 g       very cold  water (5 T )
10-20g fresh herbs, (1-2 T)  chopped  If using dry,  use 10g (1 T), Thyme is one of my favorites
20 g or so (2 T) sesame seeds

·       Measure the flour  in a medium-sized bowl. Add the dash of salt and stir  with a fork.
·       Pour the oil in and stir and "cut" it with a fork until you have clumps varying between pea and large bean size.
·       Distribute the cold water over the mixture.  Stir with the fork just until it  comes together, using your hands to help it along if necessary.
·       Wrap dough and chill for half an hour to one hour.

·       Wipe your countertop with a damp cloth and spread a piece of  parchment paper, wax paper or cling film, on it. The paper should not slide -- if it does, dampen the counter a little more. I find cling film the easiest to use.
·       Place your dough on the paper or cling film and cover it with another piece of wax paper.
·       Roll the dough with a rolling pin from the center out in all directions, keeping it as circular as possible.
·       Periodically do the following:.
·       Peel off the top piece of paper/film, then lay it gently back on top of the crust, using the bottom piece to lift it, turn the crust over, peel off that piece of paper, lay it back down again and continue rolling.
·       Continue the peel-replace-flip-peel-replace technique until your crust is about two inches bigger than your pie pan.
·       Peel off one sheet and place crust into a lightly oiled pan and peel off the cling film. If it should stick because it has become too soft. Place the pan and crust in the refrigerator and chill a few minutes until it is easy to remove the paper or film
·       Fill with your favorite filling  Curve the edges inward to make a nice rustic looking tart.
·       Brush the top crust with milk or egg wash 
·       Bake  normally at a 190*C or 350*F  till golden brown.

Serve warm or room temperature. 
I reheat the second day by putting it on a cast iron skillet for non stick pan, turn on the heat and cover with a lid. It usually warms through nicely without burning or turning on the oven.

13 September 2010

Occitan Dancing at Usseaux Festa

Playing the Ghironda and fishamonica

This time of the year we are starting to have the local sagre and feste for everything under the sun that is harvested or gathered in the woods. We have the Porcino, the polenta, chestnut, truffle, potato, honey, apples, and, and, well, you get the idea. However it is just starting to get into gear and I still have one fun summer festival that I didn't quite get posted before we officially went to autumn harvest festivals, so I'm putting it in here to tantalize.
All join in

All of you that enjoy folk music and dancing do put it in your diary to make plans to join us next August for a bit of dancing in the high alps of Val Chisone.
Town ovens and wash basins looking up towards Ossiera Park

This particular village festival of Usseaux, that we found ourselves kicking our heels up and joining in on a bit of two stepping and twirling around the village piazza, is in upper Chisone valley, just up the road from us.  I've written about Usseaux on more than one occassion as it is one of my all time favorite villages. You can read those posts here and here. Chisone valley has a rich and varied history being known as one of the Valdesian or Waldensen valleys, where the first Protestants, long before the reformation,  ended up in to avoid persecution back in the 11th century. These valleys were then part of France and the Savoy kingdom, and later became known as part of Italy's alps. They were, and still are, the western most edge of what was known as Occitania. Most people, if they are familiar with Occitania, think of it as a language particular to France, but it seems that it is a dialect of Catalonia. There are so many dialects in this area, that it is hard to keep up, especially as I struggle along in my grasp of Italian. Fabrizio, who also speaks French, understands Occitan, but doesn't speak it, although there are people here who do. Our friend Enrico Bernard, of "Bernard Elixirs" , who lives across the Chisone river from us and whose family are Valdesian, speaks a Patois dialect in their family and also speaks Occitan. See what I mean about a lot of dialects going on? Sheesh!  Mountain people seems to have a strong affinity with the essence of Occitan  and it's history. It seems to represent a sort of special designation of pride, independence and fierce individualism that strikes a cord with many people and very much so with the mountain dwellers.  
Occitan flag with Usseaux' cow bell awards collection displayed in the town library.

We took a friend along with us that was keen to check out the festivities. We did our favorite Usseaux tour, that commences with a stroll around the utterly charming hamlet. Tiny though Usseaux may be, a meander  though the village over  the well maintained gray stone streets, will be rewarding indeed whilst taking in  the various hand painted murals and vertical meridians that decorate the mostly all restored buildings. The large slate roofs are extremely impressive espcially when you consider the cost of restoring them, let alone the fact that if you are restoring an exisiting roof and trying to match or patch, the stones must be hand cut to fit in place. We observed on older artisan plying his craft one day as he worked to replace part of the roof on the local church. Hard work indeed. The mural painting is an old tradition that has only more recently been revived though out our valleys. You get a sense of Usseaux's former prominence in the valley before most people drifted away due to the myriad of reasons small towns shrink and sometimes disappear. This years celebration honored the local mayor that has made it her legacy to see Usseaux bulidings restored and not left to completely decay. The windows are filled with overflowing flower boxes, that compliments the prolific murals scattered through out the village walls.

We also made sure to have a snack on the sunny patio of the traditional trattoria "La Placette" that has been serving up polenta with wild game stews in addition to an excelent selection of the hearty local cheeses and tempting creamy desserts, just to name a few of their offerings, for the past 30 years. Mountain air brings on a hunger and thirst that will be readily satisfied by this family's friendly care.

And of course we had to have a nosey into the local cheese shop that if you aren't persistent, you might just miss if you don't ring their doorbell. This lovely old cantina, which was a barn in previous lifetimes, stores and doubles as a selling point for the family's hand crafted cheeses, in which Toma and Plaisintif are the main stars.
Hmm,  choices, choices.

Then on to the music and dancing. The music was provided by two musicians who with 4 other musicians make up the group, Airondassa, but for this day they brought their fisharmonica, ghironda and oboe and kept us breathless for a few hours. I love this kind of dancing because all can join in even if you don't know all the steps and there is always some willing to help you twirl around the dance floor. It was such fun. I captured a small bit of their traditional Occitan music and will leave you with a small taste of the fun. But don't just take my word for it. Come and join in the fun sometime. We'll help you find your way.

03 September 2010

Spaghetti con Zucchini

When I started this post it was spring and the tiny tender zucchini were a delight to find after the winter vegetables had been a round for so long. Then it was hot, hot, hot, but since then things have cooled down a bit and still I find this simple recipe a three season pleaser. When the weather heats up and the siren song of the outdoors calls I think everyone starts to think in terms of simpler ways of cooking. The heart of Italian cooking itself relies on seasonality and  robustness of flavor so your ingredients flavors sing out with mimimal and simple preparation. Sounds perfect for the time of the year when you just want to be outdoors and cooking other than grilling doesn't hold much appeal. This simple pasta dish makes for an ample main or side dish that's satisfying without overdoing it.

Fingerling zucchini
I tracked down a lovely, out of print cookbook this winter from a a used bookseller and have been enjoying each of these very easy "Top One Hundred Pasta Sauces,"that Diane Seed assembled in the late 80's from her time spent living in Italy. I'm glad I tracked it down almost just for the vibrant pastel illustrations by Robert Budwig.  I must say this simplistic approach has given me an appreciation for letting the various pasta shapes and vegetables work their magic and strut their stuff without the subtleties being overwhelmed by the addition of many ingredients. It's so easy, at least for me, to think if a little garlic, basil or whatever you have is good, then, a bit more is even better. Sometimes it is, but sometimes a lighter hand makes for a stand alone flavor that shouts out it's goodness and lets you know just exactly what  you are eating. I tweaked it a little as I think it was a very large batch to manage. It's a great dish as it, and really needs no other adornment when you have small mild flavored zucchini. However it does lend itself to the usual suspects as well as garlic sauteed in with the zucchini with basil and finely chopped tomato tossed in as you toss it all together. Traditionally it is served without parmesan, with maybe a drizzle of flavorful olive oil on top just as you serve it,  but you could, of course, add some freshly grated parmesan when you serve it.  Course you can. You knew that though didn't you?

Shoe string zucchini

Spaghetti con Zucchini
  6 or so large servings

500g/1 lb spaghetti
1 kg/ 2 pounds small zucchini, thinly slivered
100 ml/  6T olive oil
salt and black pepper, coarsely ground is very nice

I love to repeat the shape of the spaghetti with the cutting of the zucchini on a mandolin or shredded as thinly as you can, so you have a long strip of zucchini resembling the pasta. You can hand cut them as well and if you have long zucchini, then just cut them into more manageable lengths. You can also simple cut them into half moon shapes, but I really like the thin strips.
Heat your oil up in a large saute pan so that the zucchini and pasta will all fit into one pot later when the pasta is cooked.
Slowly cook your zucchini until they are soft and much of their liquid has disappeared.
Cook your pasta al dente, while the zucchini are simmering.
When your pasta is done drain and add to the zucchini and serve with a light drizzle of flavorful olive oil.

*A useful tip for pasta sauces is to reserve perhaps a cup of your pasta water to add a few tablespoons as needed, if you find your pasta is a tad too dry. This is called lengthening the sauce and can be useful when making any pasta dish. You just need to be careful in how much you add, as it can easily add more salt than you might want if you are not careful.
This recipe works well making it in half portions and the two of us found that as a main course with a salad for lunch, that the half portion could have easily serve 2 more people.

Served with a chiffonade cut chicory salad with datarini tomatoes and chives, 
made for a delightful lunch. 

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