There’s always something strange about crossing the equator and being propelled into the opposite hemisphere, season and time zone. I tried to explain it to my four year old while we were on the long plane ride from Italy to Australia a couple weeks ago: it’s like the land of opposites – when it’s night here, it’s day there, when it’s winter here, it’s summertime there. She seemed to think that sounded fine, especially the summertime part.
It’s taken about a week to get completely adjusted (after a few torturous wake up calls by a jetlagged child at 3am) and it’s amazing how, from winter, walking right into an Australian heatwave I seemed to have needed to thaw out and rather enjoyed what I’d normally complain about. There’s another heatwave headed to Sydney this week and I’m reverting back to my summertime cooking procedure, a must for surviving the long, hot, humid, non-airconditioned summers that Tuscany also has. The plan is this: no turning on the stove during the daylight hours (this is also the time to keep all those shutters drawn, so as not to let the pesky sun into the apartment). Living off summer fruit, gelato, granita (particularly this one), salads and leftovers cold from the fridge. Cooking, only as a necessity, at night when things cool down.
I generally don’t bake during a heatwave, but sometimes on a bearable night, I leap at the chance to make a tart or a cake that can be enjoyed throughout the week or for a special occasion. This tart is one is one of those.
It’s made with baby pears, known as pere coscia, that can be found in the summertime in the markets in Tuscany. Yellow-skinned, a little firmer than regular pears, but ripe and sweet, they make great child-sized snacks that cause minimal mess, which is one of the many reasons we love them.
It’s a very simple dessert, not overly sweet and pretty enough to present to guests. The whole baby pears are briefly poached in water with a squeeze of lemon juice until just tender but not too soft. The pie dish is layered with the shortcrust pastry dough and smooth ricotta filling and the poached pears are carefully pushed one by one into the filling. Once baked, it’s best when left to settle overnight in the fridge and eaten the next day, chilled, in the summer, and room temperature otherwise.
The recipe comes from my new cookbook, Acquacotta, a book that celebrates a beautiful corner of southern Maremma. These photographs above of our adopted home, Porto Ercole, were taken for it. I’m a little bit old fashioned so I took these with film (not all of the location shots were taken with film, but many were, for the colour and the feel that you can only get with film. I used Kodak Portra 400 35mm film mostly and they were scanned by the lovely people at Carmencita Film Lab in Valencia, Spain). I developed and tested most of the recipes for the cookbook during the summer of 2015 when we lived in Porto Ercole, Tuscany’s longest, hottest summer in living memory. It was so hot, we didn’t leave the house except before 9am or after 6pm and laying low and cool was a priority so the oven never went on. Except for this tart.
I’m about to launch my cookbook and if you’re in Melbourne, Sydney or Canberra I’d love to see you! I will be at Books for Cooks in Melbourne on the evening of February 28 for a talk, some nibbles and wine, at the Canberra wine bar-bookshop Muse on March 5 in conversation with the wonderful Barbara Sweeney from Food & Words, then again at Potts Point Bookshop in Sydney on March 8 for a similar event with Barbara again. I will be adding on a picnic event in Canberra too.
See my events page for more details and the links for booking.
Crostata di ricotta e pere coscia (Ricotta and baby pear tart)
If you can’t find baby pears, you can of course use regular pears, though you’ll have to peel and slice them. Choose firm rather than ripe pears, which hold their shape better. Peel and slice into quarters and remove the core (if they are particularly large pears, you can slice into eighths). Slide them into a saucepan of simmering water with 50 grams (¼ cup) sugar to add a touch of sweetness to them. Cook for 15 minutes or until they are just tender. Remove pears and let drain/cool. Use them as described in the recipe but arrange them in a radiating pattern in the crostata. If you’re looking to use other summer produce, this also works nicely with uncooked, halved and seeded apricots or plums or whole fresh figs.
Makes one tart – serves 8
For the pastry:
- 250 grams of flour
- 120 grams of caster sugar
- 125 grams of cold butter, chopped
- pinch of salt
- 1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
For the filling:
- 500 grams of ricotta
- 120 grams of caster sugar
- zest of 1 lemon
- 1 teaspoon of vanilla essence (or scraped seeds of half a vanilla pod)
- 2 eggs
- 7 baby pears, peeled and poached until just tender
- powdered sugar, optional
Combine the flour sugar and butter together in a bowl and rub together with fingers until there are no more visible pieces of butter (or you can pulse in a food processor). Add salt and egg plus yolk and combine until it comes together into a smooth ball. Place in fridge to rest 30 minutes then roll out on a lightly floured surface to about 3mm thick. Lay over a pie dish (about 22cm diameter) and trim the borders (you can freeze any leftovers or roll them out and cut out shapes like sugar cookies). Prick the surface gently all over with the tines of a fork.
To make the filling, combine all the ricotta, sugar, lemon zest, vanilla and eggs and mix until smooth. Pour over the dough-lined pie dish and smooth over. Carefully push the cooked pears (or other fresh fruit) into the ricotta filling then bake at 180ºC for 45 minutes or until the top is firm and slightly coloured golden brown and the pastry crust golden.
Let cool completely before serving (as mentioned above, I recommend baking this at night and letting it cool overnight, chilled in the fridge before serving) and, if you like, sprinkled with some powdered sugar – this will mostly sink into the surface of the ricotta and the pears so you won’t see much of it but it will add a hint of sticky sweetness. Store this tart in the refrigerator and eat within 3 days.