In earnest, I didn’t know what it was going to feel like. Dispatching a book into the world, I mean. I thought, perhaps, that it was going to feel like a piece of you leaving your body and starting a life of its own – as if one day your arm decided to stop responding to your commands and became a thinking entity. And, in part, that’s how it felt. But it also felt like the gnome in the movie Amélie. Have you seen it? If you have, you might remember how, at one point, the gnome starts sending Polaroids from the places he visits. It’s funny, but that’s what the book did to me, too. Not only did it breach into the world, it also began to send me postcards from places like Milan, London, Zürich, Venice, Paris.
This, of course, is all thanks to you. It is you who send me pictures of Veneto in your kitchen, in bookshops, in cafés and any other place in which a book feels at home. It is you who turn it into a living thing – by using it, splattering it, reading it and, hopefully, loving it. So thank you for this, from the depth of my heart. Thank you for buying the book and for filling my heart with warm pride. Thank you also for the many sweet notes, emails, messages. I am beyond humbled and so, so glad you are enjoying reading and cooking from it. Please keep them coming, please keep sharing. It truly means the world.
Meanwhile, summer has, like every year, been slipping in between my fingers. Heat and humidity have been relentless, which means that I, in turn, have been spending quite a lot of time laying down, catching a breather. But there was also a small creative gathering with four wonderful talented girls in Venice, which left me hugely inspired. And a few day trips here and there to some of my favourite places in the region. But mostly, I’ve been enjoying the quietness and domesticity and the sense of comfort that comes with spending a slow summer in the house in which I grew up, surrounded by what’s familiar and reassuringly unchanged.
Predictably, meals have been stripped back, as they always are in the summer. We have been living off of whatever has been growing in the garden. Cooking came down to almost zero, swapped with much salad tossing. We turned off the stove and lighted the barbecue, bought an ice-cream maker that has been churning sorbet since the day it arrived. I love this sort of eating: easy, full of bold flavours, colourful. I miss it all year.
The oven went on very rarely, but there were days in which I missed baking. One of my biggest weaknesses is baking with seasonal fruits, because there is something so fleeting about summer fruit, and so precious, that I always feel guilty not worshipping it. So whenever I turned the oven on this past month, it was to bake a fruity dessert. Something we could have the following morning for breakfast – as the Italians do – or mid-afternoon with some iced coffee (did I mention Jesse bought a new contraption to make cold brew? We love it!).
This tart is the result of a collage of inspirations. First, Rachel’s crostata di visciole, a Roman classic from early summer. Visciole are sour cherries. As per the traditional recipe, they are turned into compote and then spooned onto a shell of sugar pastry, and finally topped with a generous layer of sweetened ricotta. I followed a similar concept for this tart, except I used wild plums (amoli) instead. We had harvested a ton from some forsaken trees dotting the countryside around my family home, and we were eager to use them up. Crostata came to mind right away.
Just like visciole, amoli have an infectious sour note that gives sharpeness to anything sweet. For the sake of this recipe, though, know that any kind of plum will do, as long as they have a vague tart edge. Otherwise, good plum jam is also nice. As for the pastry, I was tempted to try this spelt version from Emiko. It worked a charm and rolled so easily I couldn’t belive it. Also, the slight rusticity of the wholegrain produced a welcome contrast of textures with the smooth filling…That said, if you have a favourite sugar pastry recipe, use that.
Wild Plum Ricotta Tart
For the plum compote:
500g wild plums (or other cooking plums), stoned
100g caster sugar
For the spelt sugar pastry:
250g spelt flour, sifted
125g cold butter, cubed
60g icing sugar, sifted
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
For the ricotta layer:
500g ricotta, drained
50g caster sugar
Icing sugar, for dusting (optional)
Put the plums in a saucepan along with the sugar and 60ml of water. Set them over a medium heat. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the plums are very tender. Press the compote through a sieve to remove the skins. Place the pulp back into the saucepan and reduce to a soft, jam-like texture over a medium heat, stirring occasionally but keeping an eye on it so it doesn’t stick and burn. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.
To make the pastry, rub the cubed butter into the spelt flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar and the eggs and work it all together into smooth ball of pastry. Wrap it in cling film and chill for at least 1 hour – it should be firm and cold as it’s easier to work with.
Meanwhile, make the ricotta layer by whisking together the ricotta with the eggs and sugar until fully combined.
Preheat the oven to 180°C | 350°F. Take the pastry out of the fridge. Roll two-thirds of the pastry out to a disc about 2 to 3mm thick and large enough to line your tart tin. Press it lightly to adhere to the bottom and edges, then trim any excess pastry falling off the edges. Pierce the bottom of the pastry shell with a fork. Spoon the plum compote on top and spread it even. Next, spoon the ricotta mixture to cover.
Roll out the rest of the dough into another disc and cut out strips to make a lattice over the top of the tart, securing the edges together by pressing gently. Set the tart on a rack in the centre of the oven and bake for about 45 minutes, or until the lattice is golden and the ricotta layer appears puffy and airy. Remove from the oven and let cool and set completely before cutting it. If you like, you can dust it with icing sugar before slicing it.
Find out more and buy your copy of Veneto here.