Artichoke and Ricotta Pie
Torta Rustica di Carciofi e Ricotta
I’m going to make a sweeping generalisation here and say that like most Italian migrants, I grew up with a wood fired oven in my parent’s backyard. Certainly, many of the people from the same villages as my family baked their own bread and would occasionally bring some around to our place as a little gift. It was always interesting to try bread made by other hands as it could be lighter, saltier, more dense, crispier or darker than the bread my parents would usually turn out.
Regular bread making would always happen in the shed at the very back of the garden. Most of the hard work of mixing and kneading by hand happened in the small hours of the morning while I was tucked away in bed. This was a good time to get the oven up to temperature, making most of the smoke before neighbours woke up and began hanging their washing out. By the time I was up and about there would be at least twenty loaves already baked and the neighbours would have already been handed a couple of loaves over the fence by my folks.
On bread baking days there was always the pitta (flat loaf) the filone (high loaf) and my favourite, the pitta tjina. (filled flat loaf). Filled with anything you desire and dead easy to make, or at least to watch being made. It closely resembles a calzone but presentation is not a concern so the dough is flattened, ingredients placed in the middle and then covered by the outer edges of the dough. It’s not important that the ingredients are totally covered as they sometimes peek though the baked crust.
This recipe is insprired partly by the pitta tjina and the calzone as it really ends up being a savoury cake. I have outlined the traditional recipe using a large cake tin and probably should have stuck to that, but I made little pies instead which worked out a treat too.
If you can’t bother making your own leavened dough, try sweet-talking your closest pizza maker into giving you two dough balls. If that fails, you may decide to use a pre-prepared frozen, savoury pastry, but be sure to follow the baking instructions on the packet as they will differ from this recipe. If you want to make your own dough, it’s probably one of the simplest doughs to make and you will find the dough recipe here. You’ll need a rolling pin and enough bench space to roll out your dough.
You can choose whatever kind of ricotta you like. I prefer the sheep’s milk ricotta over the cow’s milk, whereas goat’s milk ricotta might be a little too overpowering for the other flavours in this dish. You’ll notice parsley comes up regularly in artichoke recipes so if you find that boring, try a little thyme, marjoram or even mint here. Essentially it is a pie so you can throw whatever you like in there but this recipes allows the artichokes to subtly come through.
Ingredients ( serves 8 )
500 g / 1.1 lbs bread dough
1 garlic clove
1 small bunch of parsley(finely chopped)
300 g / .6 lbs ricotta
Extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons parmiggiano cheese (grated)
enough flour for dusting
enough butter for greasing a cake tin.
Put the artichokes on to blanch for a few minutes. Drain well.
Gently heat a generous drizzle of olive oil in a large pan and begin by frying off a squashed clove of garlic.
Remove the garlic once browned sufficiently and then add the artichokes.
On a moderate heat keep tossing them gently until they are tender.
Remove them from the heat and place in a bowl to cool.
Push the ricotta through a sieve and add to the cool artichokes.
Add the beaten eggs, parsley, grated parmiggiano and season with the salt & pepper.
Grease a 22cm/ 8.5 inch cake tin with some butter and dust with some flour.
Preheat the oven at 200 degrees C / 390 degrees F.
Divide the bread dough into 2 unequal parts.
Roll the larger one out on a flour dusted bench. Use this to line the base and sides of the cake tin.
Place the ricotta mixture into the lined cake tin and level it out.
Roll the remaining dough out on a flour dusted bench.
Use this dough as the cover for the tort.
Pinch the dough together around the entire border of the cake tin and trim off any excess.
Brush the top surface with some olive oil and allow to leaven again for about half an hour.
Bake at 200 degrees C /390 degrees F for about 4o minutes.
DO NOT open the oven in the first 25 minutes as it can ruin the leavening.
Reduce the temperature to 175 degree c /345 degrees F after 10 minutes.
A little aside on bread
There is a tradition of bringing bread to church on the closest Sunday to the 13th of June to celebrate the day of Saint Anthony, who was, no less, the patron saint of my father’s home town in Calabria. In older times people would bring home baked bread to church, leave it at the alter before the service and at one point the priest, accompanied with the figure of the saint, would pass by and bless all the bread that was left by the parishners. Then at the end of the mass everyone would go and collect some bread to take home and it wouldn’t necessarily be the same one they brought. This is what really stuck in my mind beccause I remember that my parents would always bring home bread that was obviously made by others. This custom is still practiced but in more recent times people tend to just pop by a baker open on a Sunday morning and roll into church laden with flimsy, fluffy, soulless bread. It’s becoming rarer to see the home made bread filled with mamma’s love.