Hello darlings! We are in Italy, which you probably - if you follow me on Instagram - already know. The boys and I arrived a week ago. It has been filthy hot and we have been doing the usual things: going to the beach, attempting to play badminton in the shade without collapsing from heat stroke, buying our weight in tomatoes and peaches from the market. Yesterday afternoon, while we were visiting a friend's baby rabbits and talking about the fox that stole her rooster a few weeks ago, a cold front finally came in. Last night we were able to sleep under coverlets again and not wake up with damply sweating skin. The air is clear and crisp today and I feel like gulping it in like a puppy dog.
This year, the boys are in day camp for the first time. They ride horses and play Italian games and eat two-course lunches every other day (there are sandwiches and French fries on the alternating days). Max arrives tomorrow and then it will really feel like we are on vacation. After having skipped the annual tradition of coming here last year, I am especially alert to all of the beauty and wonder of this place. Am I really here, I keep thinking. Is this really real?
When we are here, I share cooking responsibilities with my mother. This is lovely. She'll make things like lentil and calamari stew, or baked guinea fowl with peppers and potatoes. I end up relying heavily on the Sicilian cookbook that she mail-ordered from a newspaper once. It may seem improbable, but it is an impeccable source of recipes and I have rarely made a misstep cooking from it.
This torta di bietole (or Swiss chard tart) is something I make every summer. I buy a disc of tart dough at the grocery store (this particular one is gluten-free and perfect - Italians suffer in great numbers from celiac disease and the gluten-free options available at the grocery store are amazing, look at the blistery flake!), and a big bunch of the most tender baby chard. I get a quivering pile of ricotta from a cart at the market in Urbino, plus fresh eggs from our friend with the missing rooster. There's not much to the tart besides cooking the chard (first boil it, then sauté it with oil and garlic to dry it out and flavor it a little more deeply), then mixing it with the ricotta, eggs and some pecorino for more flavor.
The delicate chard I can get here in summer has thin, tender little stalks. The chard I get back in Berlin (and that you may find wherever you are) has much thicker ribs, but as long you chop them after boiling, it'll be fine in the tart. The original recipe calls for sheep's milk ricotta, which is a rich delight, but not always easy to find out of season or out of Italy's borders. Of course, cow's milk ricotta is fine too. You could also swap out the pecorino for Parmigiano if you had to. (Sicilians rely more heavily on sheep's milk.)
All that's left to do is to fit the tart dough into the pie plate, scrape the savory filling into the pan, fiddle with a lattice crust with the leftover dough scraps and into the oven it goes. The tart is as good eaten fresh from the oven as it is the next day, when it's had a bit of time to settle, making it wonderful picnic fare. You could do the usual and serve this with salad alongside, or, if it's hot as hell where you are, just eat a wedge of it and call it a night. I love how simple it is, easy to whip up with the ancient whisk and plastic bowl in my mother's Italian kitchen, and how it isn't too rich and queasy-making, like quiche can be.
One final note: the metric quantities below are the ones I used when making this. I translated the U.S. quantities using Google and not my own equipment. I think they're all fine, but just wanted to make sure you knew.
Sicilian Savory Swiss Chard Tart
Makes one 9-inch/23-cm torta
550 grams/1.2 pounds Swiss chard
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, halved
300 grams/1 1/4 cups ricotta (preferably sheep's milk, but cow's milk will do, too)
4 large eggs
70 grams/3/4 cup grated pecorino
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 sheet/circle store-bought or homemade flaky tart dough (unsweetened)
2. Place the ricotta and eggs in a mixing bowl and whisk until smooth. Add the grated cheese and salt and pepper and whisk again. Stir in the chopped chard.
3. Place the tart dough in a 9-inch/23-cm pie plate or cake pan. Trim off any excess dough and set aside for the lattice. Crimp the edges. Scrape the filling into the dough and smooth the top. Top the filling with the excess dough cut into strips.
4. Put the torta in the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the dough is browned and crisp and the filling has puffed and set. Cool on a rack for at least 15 minutes before serving.