Readers, forgive me. I first told you about the wonderful torta di carciofi my uncle made over New Year's in January, promising you the recipe soon, and, well - uh - it's Tax Day. Okay, so consider this my Tax Day present to you! Or a belated Easter gift! I finally converted his recipe from metric to Imperial (and from scribbled down on a piece of paper while watching his every move to an actual, usable recipe) and I'm so happy to present it to you.
Eagle-eyed readers will notice that my torta doesn't quite look like his torta. I think this may have something to do with the difference in store-bought puff pastry - his Belgian pastry came already rolled out into a large, thin circle, while mine was in thickish rectangles and had to be patchworked together. His tart tin was bigger than mine, too, so his torta is flatter. And, lastly, my uncle - as I think I've mentioned before - is an artichoke whisperer. He closes himself into the kitchen with a sharp paring knife and a bowl of acidulated water and, and meditates or something, goes into a fugue state, cleaning big mountains of thorny little artichokes, transforming them into silky, delicious dishes that make me want to park myself with a fork at his table and never, ever leave.
Me, I'm not so gifted. Also, there are no baby artichokes available here right now. So I made do with frozen. (Stop screaming! They're not so bad, in a pinch. Yes, this torta will taste even better with fresh artichokes, it's true. But it's darn tasty with frozen, too.)
What you do is cook the frozen artichoke quarters in olive oil, plain, no garlic, no nothing, until they get browned in places and the kitchen smells delicious. If you're my uncle, you cut the cleaned artichokes into little slivers before cooking them in olive oil. Let them get nice and brown, even browner than in this photo. That means high-ish heat, and monitoring. If things start to stick to the bottom of your pan, you can always deglaze with a little water and keep going. Brown bits stuck to the pan are a good thing! They mean flavor.
When you're almost done with the artichokes, you season them and sprinkle with parsley, then let them cool chopping them up. You add them, fragrant as can be, to creamy, nutmeg-scented ricotta, season this a bit more and then pile the filling into a puff-pastry lined cake tin.
If you're cooking in America, store-bought puff pastry comes in rectangles, so you've got to do a little craft work. It's okay if your resulting lined tin doesn't look very pretty - this is rustic and rustic is good. I used a combination of pinching, a water-dipped finger, fork-work, and plain old-fashioned cursing to get the puff pastry bits to stick to each other in the tin. If you happen to live elsewhere, your store-bought puff pastry might come already rolled out into a lovely circle. Lucky you! You should make two of these, just for kicks.
Right, so pour in the filling, fold down the pastry over the filling, brush with an egg wash which will make the torta look so pretty and burnished and bake it in a hot oven until the pastry browns and rises and the filling is set and your house smells amazing and the people coming for lunch trip over themselves to peek into the oven and hang about your kitchen, getting in the way like the adorably hungry people they are. I mean, do you blame them? You shouldn't.
This torta is simply delicious. The pastry is light and crackly, the artichokes are nice and savory, but with that haunting, sweet top note, and there's something very pure and clean about the taste of it, not mucked up with strange herbs or too much garlic or whatever else makes vegetable pies a sometimes dubious presence on a lunch buffet.
Pietro says you can use different vegetables in the filling, it doesn't always have to be artichokes. He recommends trying broccoli with sundried tomatoes (use only the broccoli florets, not the stalks, and boil them before sautéing in olive oil - and chop the tomatoes up nicely), or, of course, zucchini. I haven't tried those yet, but you probably all know by now that if Pietro recommends something, it's going to be good.
Now forget about the fact that it took me four months to get this to you and go shopping! Start working on your artichoke-cleaning skills! Or be a lazy bum like me and buy frozen! Whatever you do, don't wait as long as I did to make this. Buon appetito!
Torta di Carciofi (Artichoke Torta)
Serves 10 to 12
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 9-ounce box frozen artichoke hearts OR 10 to 13 fresh baby artichokes (cleaned and cut into slivers)
3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 cup parsley leaves, minced
2 large eggs
1 pound ricotta (about 500 grams)
20 strokes freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano
Freshly ground black pepper
1 package prepared puff pastry
1. Heat the olive oil in a 12-inch skillet until hot but not smoking. Add the artichokes and cook over medium-high heat for about 20 to 25 minutes, stirring occasionally and constantly monitoring the heat. You want the artichokes to brown but not burn, to sauté but not steam. You can periodically deglaze the pan with a spoonful or two of water, scraping up the browned bits at the bottom of the pan. When the artichokes have taken on color and are fully cooked, add 1/2 teaspoon salt and the minced parsley and mix well. Remove from heat and let cool until you're able to transfer the artichokes to a cutting board, scraping the pan well. Using a large knife, roughly cut the cooked artichokes into small pieces.
2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a 10- or 12-inch cake tin (or springform pan or pizza pan) with parchment paper and then with puff pastry, making sure that the pastry lines the sides of the pan with plenty of hang-over.
3. In a mixing bowl, combine 1 egg, the ricotta, the nutmeg, Parmigiano, the remaining salt, and pepper to taste. Add the chopped artichokes and mix well. (If you're secure about your egg quality, taste the filling at this point and adjust if it needs more salt.) Pour the filling into the prepared pastry. Fold the pastry that hangs over the sides of the pan over the filling and press down gently where the dough overlaps. Beat the remaining egg in a small bowl and brush the beaten egg over the pastry (not the filling).
4. Put the torta into the oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes. The pastry will brown and the filling will set. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack before using the parchment paper to remove the torta from the tin. Set it on a serving plate, cut into slices, and serve. Tastes best cooled but not cold.