The year was 1921, the place Ellis Island. My maternal grandmother, single, arrives into port from Napoli on the ship Patria to be with her sister...
Italians have a way with vegetables. Whether it’s a slow stovetop sauté or a hot roast in a fast oven, Italian vegetable cookery shows off the genius of the cuisine. Try this savory twist on the crostata, the classic free form, open-face tart.
I’ve combined whole wheat flour and all-purpose flour along with olive oil to produce a light, but flavorful crust that is a dream to roll out. Fresh ricotta, dabbed with sautéed pancetta and green onions, flecked with lemon zest and delightfully fragrant lemon or lime thyme forms the base for a topping of thinly sliced coins of zucchini.
A generous dribble of one of Abruzzo’s finest olive oils, Agrumato Lemon, keeps the zucchini moist as it roasts while adding the bright flavor of citrus, and a light egg wash imparts a bit of sheen to the pleated crust. This savory offering is delicious for lunch, an afternoon snack, or as part of an antipasto platter.
The Agrumato Lemon oil, an Abruzzese specialty, is produced by the Ricci Family (www.agrumato.it). The oil is pressed at the end of the raccolta (olive harvest) when newly picked olives are pressed together with organic lemons between granite stones, producing an exceptionally beautiful yellow-green oil, its fresh, clean flavor redolent of lemon and bursting with the fruity taste of olives. In years past this oil was shared only with family and friends, but now it is being produced on a commercial scale. It is available from Olio2Go (www.olio2go.com).
Crostata di Ricotta e Zucchine
Zucchini Crostata with Ricotta Filling
serves 4 as a main dish, 8 as an antipasto or snack
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
¼ cup whole wheat flour
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
⅓ cup plus 3 tablespoons cool water
12 oz. whole milk ricotta, drained for at least 4 hours
2 medium zucchini, about 9 oz., thinly sliced into 1/16 to ⅛-inch coins
3 oz. pancetta, cut into ¼-inch dice
2 bunches green onions, white parts only, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon lemon or lime thyme leaves, chopped to yield about 1 teaspoon, plus whole sprigs to garnish
Grated zest of 1 organic lemon
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
Extra virgin olive oil
Lemon Agrumato Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 large egg
1 tablespoon water
Drain the ricotta: place the ricotta in a sieve set over a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator to drain at least 4 hours.
Make the crust: place the flours, ½ teaspoon fine sea salt, baking powder, and nutmeg in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse to combine. In a measuring cup combine olive oil and cool water. Remove the feed tube from the processor, and with the machine running, slowly add liquid. Process until ingredients are well combined, and the dough gathers around the blade, adding more water if necessary. Remove the blade, and turn the dough out onto the counter. Knead briefly, and form the dough into a disk. Wrap in plastic, and set aside to rest 30 minutes.
Prepare the oven: place the oven rack with a baking stone in the lower third of the oven. Preheat to 375 degrees F.
Make the filling: pour 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil into a 9-inch skillet. Over medium heat sauté the pancetta until lightly browned, about 4 minutes. With a slotted spoon transfer the cooked pancetta to a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Add the sliced green onions and a pinch of sea salt and sauté over medium heat until softened and translucent, but not browned, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl.
Place the drained ricotta in a medium bowl, discarding accumulated liquid. Combine the ricotta with chopped thyme, lemon zest, ½ teaspoon fine sea salt, ½ teaspoon black pepper and ground nutmeg.
Roll the dough: Cut a round of parchment 16 inches in diameter, and dust generously with flour. Unwrap the dough, placing it on the center of the parchment. With a floured rolling pin, roll the dough into a 14-inch circle. Transfer the dough and parchment to a large baking steel or baking sheet.
Assemble the crostata: Dab the ricotta filling over the rolled dough, spreading it evenly, leaving a 1-inch border. Sprinkle the green onions over the ricotta, followed by half of the pancetta. Arrange the sliced zucchini over the ricotta. Top with the remaining pancetta.
Carefully fold the border over the zucchini, pleating it to make a circle. Make an egg wash by lightly beating the egg and water together. Brush the egg wash over the pleated border. Dribble about 2 tablespoons of Agrumato Lemon Extra Virgin Olive Oil over the zucchini to moisten it uniformly, and sprinkle a few twists of black pepper over the zucchini.
Transfer the crostata on the baking sheet to the preheated baking stone. Bake until lightly browned and zucchini is cooked through, about 45 to 47 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool 15 minutes. Garnish with sprigs of thyme. Cut and serve.
To view a step by step photo essay, visit AdriBarrCrocetti.com