Torta rustica: A savory Italian pie that harbors a fizzy secret
“For me, baking is an almost magical process,” says Gennaro Contaldo in Panetteria: Gennaro’s Italian Bakery (Interlink). If I hadn’t become a chef, I’d have chosen to be a baker like my uncle, because I love the lengthy rituals of bread making, and “it never ceases to amaze me that a few simple ingredients mixed together and placed in the oven produce such incredible mouthwatering delicacies.”
But there are also shortcuts. Pasta matta is an easy-to-make Italian pastry used in both sweet and savory dishes. Its name means “crazy pastry,” and it’s made by letting sparkling mineral water do the work that yeast typically performs. I use it for a ricotta and zucchini torta that’s great for a picnic or paired with salad for a light lunch. Grilled ribbons of zucchini are used to create a lattice, producing “a very pretty pie indeed.”
Recipe of the week
Scant 3¼ cups all-purpose flour, sifted
Pinch of salt
7 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
²?³ cup sparkling water
3 large zucchini
1½ oz pancetta, cut into small cubes
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 cup ricotta
Handful of basil leaves, roughly torn Scant ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp milk
Combine flour and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center, add 6 tbsp olive oil, and gradually add sparkling water, mixing to form a soft dough. Shape into a ball, wrap in plastic, and leave to rest at room temperature about 20 minutes. Cut 2 zucchini lengthwise into ¼-inch-thick slices. Heat grill pan over high heat and grill slices on each side until they soften. Remove and set aside.
Preheat oven to 375. Line a 9½-inch round pie dish with parchment paper. Slice remaining zucchini into thin rounds. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a pan, add pancetta and onion, and fry over medium heat, stirring until pancetta is nearly crisp and onion has softened. Add sliced zucchini, reduce heat to low, cover, and cook until zucchini has softened, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, drain any liquid, and leave to cool. Combine ricotta, 1 egg, basil, Parmesan, and pancetta-zucchini mixture in a bowl. Season with salt and black pepper to taste.
Prepare an egg wash by whisking together 1 egg yolk and milk. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out pastry to about ¹∕16-inch thick; place in pie dish, making sure you have some excess pastry around the edges. Add filling. Arrange zucchini strips in a lattice pattern over filling, then fold excess pastry over to create a deep edge, pinching it at regular intervals to seal. Brush pastry and zucchini lattice with egg wash; bake pie about 25 minutes, until golden. Remove from oven and allow to rest 5 minutes. Serves 6.