People constantly ask me why I’m so crazy for everything Italian. I try best to explain all the wonderful things about the country (history, art, architecture, design, the people, the incredibly beautiful language, the way of life and of course, the food) and usually when I see their eyes glazing over as I go on and on, I just say “go, go to Italy and see for yourself-you’ll see what I mean”.
I guess I come by my obsession naturally. My grandparents emigrated from a tiny hill town in the Campania region of southern Italy and settled in New York. I grew up in my grandmother’s kitchen, watching her work, assuming that every kid ate pasta made by hand. Our weekly Sunday lunches included all the cousins, aunts and uncles and lasted for hours and I was more than happy to be at the table until the last course was served.
Everything that my grandmother made was incredible and I miss all of her specialties. I’ve done my best to recreate her dishes, but it’s never quite the same as hers. The one dish I do feel like I’ve done a pretty good job with is her Torta Rustica. This is something that was traditionally only served around Easter and is well known in the southern part of Italy. I can remember my nonna packing up a piece for me to eat on the train trip back to college. I never seemed to have enough and knew I wouldn’t be eating it again until the next Easter holiday.
Now I defy tradition and bake a Torta Rustica whenever I’m in the mood for it. With that first bite I’m right back in my grandmother’s kitchen. You’ll love the combination of the creamy ricotta, the salty prosciutto and the slightly sweet crust.
Pasta Frolla (Crust)
- 2 cups flour
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 cup cold, unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- 2 large eggs
Combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in bowl of food processor and pulse to mix. Evenly distribute the butter over mixture and pulse until very finely powdered, about 10 times. Add eggs and continue to pulse until dough forms ball. Remove dough and press into disc. Wrap and chill.
- 1 pound whole milk ricotta
- 3 eggs
- 1/4 cup grated pecorino cheese
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated black pepper
- 1/4 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into cubes
- 1/4 pound chopped prosciutto
- 1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
- 1 egg beaten with dash of salt (for egg wash)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the ricotta in a mixing bowl and stir in the eggs, one at a time to make a smooth mixture. Stir in pepper, cheeses, prosciutto and parsley.
Butter 9 inch springform pan. Cut off 1/3 of dough and roll into a disc and set aside. Roll remaining dough into large disc (about 14 inches) and ease into prepared pan. Spoon in ricotta mixture and spread evenly. Top with smaller piece of dough and fold down edge of dough to seal. Brush crust with egg wash.
Bake on bottom rack of oven for about 45 minutes until filling is set and top is golden. Cool in pan for about 10 minutes before unmolding. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.
Makes about 10 servings.