The meeting spot is Villa Pamphilli, behind the swings and umbrella pines where the the ground slopes down towards the wild bit. It is a picnic, so everyone will bring something to eat and at least one rug. The children will take their shoes off and run in the green damp springtime grass. Someone will pick daisies. There will be lots of torte rustiche, simple savoury pies bakes into throwaway aluminium trays, spinach and ricotta, mixed vegetables, maybe one with mushrooms and pancetta.
Mum’s egg and bacon pie (whole eggs, chunks of bacon, lots of parsley) and Cornish pasties featured regularly in the hamper lunches of my childhood, so it was a given that I would gravitate toward all forms of the Italian equivalent. A torta rustica is the just that; what people take along when they go to a picnic or out into the countryside for a springtime scampagnata. Even those Roman friends whose Femminist mothers didn’t teach them how to cook can throw one together.
Bought pastry is certainly an option, never to be frowned upon, but home made pastry is better thanks mainly to the butter, and after many years shying away from anything other than home made shortcrust, I finally realized how easy Brisée and Rough Puff really are.
All sorts of different vegetables are suited to a torta rustica, something seasonal, made special with good ricotta, a little Pecorino, maybe a little cured meat and definitely some fresh herbs. But first, the pastry.
Brisée pastry – for 1 large or 2 small Torte Rustiche
250 g plain 00 flour
125 g chilled butter
90 ml chilled water
Sift flour and salt into a large mixing bowl or food processor. Cut very cold butter into 8-10 big pieces and add to the flour. Unlike a shortcrust pastry the butter does not need to be fully rubbed into the flour. Swiftly rub the butter into the flour using the tips of your fingers leaving some large chunks of butter in it. If you are using a food processor or stand mixer take care not to over mix.
Add the cold water and quickly mix well until the pastry is a shaggy bowlful. It may seem dry but try and avoid adding extra water. Turn it out onto a cool clean work surface and pull the pastry together, pushing it away from you on the workbench to lengthen out the remaining chunks of butter. This helps give you a flakier pastry. Don’t overwork. Wrap in baking or butter paper and rest in the fridge for at least an hour.
Torta rustica con zucchini, ricotta e menta (filling for 1 roughly 20cm tart)
Mint is not used a great deal in the Italian kitchen but is such a happy partner to small summer zucchini in dishes like zucchine alla scapece. Calamint (mentuccia in Roman dialect, nepitella in Florentine) is a variety of mint that has a sweeter, nuttier accent and works beautifully with this rustic tart. If you can’t find calamint then regular mint is fine. (A stall holder at a market once told me that mentuccia only grows spontaneously in areas with volcanic tufo stone in the soil mix, which explains why it grows profusely in the garden at Lubriano).
Brisèe pastry as above
700 g small summer zucchini
3 tbs extra virgin olive oil
250 g fresh firm ricotta (better from a delicatessen rather than a tub)
80 g pecorino romano or other salty, sprightly cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Handful of mint
This tart is good made without a tart tin so that the pastry has maximum contact with the hot air of the oven. Preheat oven to 180°C.
Prepare the zucchini by washing and patting dry, slicing finely, salting lightly and then sautéeing quickly in good extra virgin olive oil. They only need to be cooked lightly as they will cook further later. Remove zucchini from pan, let cool and then mix with fresh ricotta and pecorino. Season to taste.
Lightly flour a large flat baking tray. Roll out the pastry to the size of a large pizza, about 40 cm diameter and place it on the baking tray. The pastry should be about 1/2 cm thick. Spoon the filling out onto the pastry, leaving a border of 7-8cm around the circumference. Then fold the border over, making little pleats as you move around the tart. Bake in a 180°C fan forced oven for 30-35 minutes or until the pastry is well cooked.
Classic spinach and ricotta rustica (filling for one roughly 25cm tart)
Brisée pastry as above
350 g fresh, drained sheep’s milk ricotta
375 g spinach leaves (roughly 200 g wilted)
1/2 small brown onion
1 clove garlic, left whole and lightly crushed
Salt and pepper
60 g grated pecorino o parmigiano
1 egg for egg wash
Wash the spinach leaves well and while they are still wet wilt quickly in a frypan over a low-med heat. Wilting without oil makes it easier to squeeze all of the liquid from the cooked spinach. Drain the spinach well and then chop roughly. Dice the onion and fry off in a teaspoon of olive oil in the same pan as the spinach. Combine the spinach, ricotta and pecorino and add a good grind of black pepper and roughly a quarter of a nutmeg, grated. Dip a clean teaspoon in and taste, and adjust seasoning if necessary.
In the photo above I made the tart in a quiche pan with a lid, but you can bake this filling any which way, including the rustic galette style described in the zucchini recipe.
Preheat the oven to 180°C.
Lightly flour a quiche tin. Divide the pastry into one third for the lid, and two thirds for the base. Roll out the pastry – to about half a centimeter- and line the base, pushing pastry into the corners and leaving a few centimeters having over the edge. Fill with spinach and ricotta mix and top with the remaining piece of pastry rolled into a fine disc. Pinch the corners together, folding over with the right hand while holding pinched with the left (that’s hard to put into words). Brush quickly with a egg wash and put into the oven, bake for at least 35 minutes, until the ricotta mix is clearly cooked and the pastry brown. To be perfectly honest the photograph below is a little on the under-done side (in my opinion).
Spring rustica with artichokes, broad beans, spring onions and speck
This recipe is one I wrote for Ci Piace Cucinare magazine – the pastry was store bought
400 g fresh fava beans (150 g podded)
2 medium sized fresh artichokes
2-3 spring onions
3 tablespoons of olive oil
50 ml white wine
1 quantity of brisée or rough puff (or packet of bought puff, as used in the photo below)
4 slices of speck
80 g stracciatella
Preheat the oven to 180°C.
Pod the beans. Clean the artichokes by removing the tough outer leaves so that only the soft pale inner leaves remain. You will know when you see the paler more tender leaves emerge. As you work spritz with lemon to stop discoloring. Cut the stalk to 3cm and strip off the tough outer layer. The top of each artichoke should be cut off because the tops of the petals remain too tough to eat. Cut in half, scrape out any spiky choke with a teaspoons and slice finely.
Clean and slice spring onions into rings and sauté gently in 3 tablespoons of olive oil, over a low heat, for a five minutes. Add the slices artichokes and stir well to coat in oil. Add 50 ml of white wine, cover and let cook for another 10 minutes. Add the broad beans and a pinch of salt, toss well and let cook for another couple of minutes. Take off the heat and let cool, take the outer skin off some of the broad beans if you wish.
Whisk 4 eggs with salt and pepper.
Lightly grease an open tart tin, an enamel plate plate works well, and line with pastry, rolled to roughy 0.75cm. Fill with the egg mixture, cooked vegetables, speck and half the stracciatella.
Put into the oven for approximately 30 minuti or finche il ripieno risulta cotta e la pasta ben dorata. Aggiungete il rimanente stracciatella e le foglie di marjorana. Tagliate in pezzi e servite.
Parmigiano crust with oven dried tomatoes and basil ricotta
This pastry is a savoury shortcrust with the addition of parmigiano, which makes for a more decadent version of a torta rustica. This is a tart to bake in a traditional quiche pan with a removable base.
250 g plain 00 flour
125 g chilled butter
100 g parmigiano or grana padana – grated
1 large egg
500 g ripe cherry tomatoes
1 bunch basil
Extra virgin olive oil
50 g grated parmigiano
Extra virgin olive oil
300 g fresh ricotta
The oven roasted tomatoes can be prepared beforehand, they keep well in fridge for a day or two. Cut each cherry tomato in half and lay on a baking tray. Sprinkle cut tomatoes with a little fine sea salt, and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil Place in a 160°C oven for about 40 minutes. Because they will then bake in the tart they should not be fully roasted.
Sift flour, grated parmigiano and salt into a large mixing bowl or food processor. Dice butter and add to the flour. Rub the butter into the flour using the tips of your fingers (or using food processor) until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the egg and mix well until the pastry comes together, use extra water – by the spoonful – if the mixture is still crumbly. Work the pastry a little on a clean cool surface, wrap in baking paper and rest in the fridge for at least half an hour.
Make a ‘cheats’ pesto by blending clean dry basil leaves (1 medium bunch, about 3 handfuls) with 50 g parmigiano and a steady but very thin stream of EVO. Blend the ricotta with the pesto and then season to taste.
Roll out the pastry and line a lightly floured tart tin with a removable base. If the pastry tears simply patch the rough bits with the extra pastry. Make sure the edges are full and well pressed into the tin. Blind baking this tart crust will help the base to cook well. Line the pastry with baking paper. Fill with baking beads and bake in a 180°C oven for 10 minutes. Remove the beads and the paper and bake for a further 5 minutes. Let the case cool a little before filling with the pesto ricotta mix and pressing the semi roasted tomatoes into the top. Bake for 20-25 minutes in a 180°C oven, until the ricotta pesto is firm. Serve at room temperature.