I originally made this crostata to use up a bowl of quickly-ripening tiny baby pears known as pere coscie in Italian, that you find all over the local farmer’s markets around southern Tuscany. Yellow-skinned, a little firmer and crunchier than regular pears, they make great child-sized snacks that cause minimal mess, which is one of the many reasons I love them.
Ricotta crostata is a favourite dessert in these parts – sometimes you’ll find it dotted with chocolate chips or layered with jam or compote made from wild sour cherries, something that creeps in from a tradition more notably found in Lazio and, especially Rome, where it is a well-known dessert of the Jewish Ghetto. In the southernmost part of Tuscany, which is closer not only to Rome than Florence, but also home to villages with a strong Jewish history like Pitigliano, it’s easy to find these influences.
It’s a very simple dessert, not overly sweet and pretty enough to present to guests. If you can’t get whole baby pears, you can use regular pears, peeled and sliced then poached the same way, but this works also very nicely with halved plums or whole figs (with figs I tend to use a little less sugar as they are so sweet).
Once baked, the crostata is best when left to settle overnight in the fridge and eaten the next day – chilled, if it’s warm weather, or brought to room temperature otherwise.
IngredientS (MAKES ONE TART, SERVES 4)
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)
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. 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 pears into the ricotta filling then bake at 180ºC for 45 minutes or until the top is firm and lightly golden brown, and the pastry crust golden.
Let cool completely before serving and, if you like, just at the last moment sprinkle over 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 2-3 days.
This recipe is an edited extract taken from Acquacotta by Emiko Davies, published by Hardie Grant Books RRP AUD$50 and is available in stores nationally.