This year, due to rain and too many urban social engagements our vegetable garden in Todi, Umbria is way behind. It was only at the beginning of June that we were finally able to get stuff in the ground. But even though the rain dampened our planting (literally) it did wonders for all the things we have no control over. Foraging is one of the funnest things about being in the Italian countryside. Wild asparagus, dandelion greens, blackberries. My friend Jane, who often comes up with us from Rome, is maniacal about getting while the getting is good.
Mid June was really the first time we were able to come up to Todi to spend some time. Jane was all set to go looking for asparagus – or even dandelions – but it was already too late for that. The June sun was beating down and the asparagus had already turned ferny and the dandelions had long since flowered. Cherries, however, were quite another story.
I don’t think the cherry trees that grow on our property are indigenous. I guess a farmer must have planted one in the past, and they have since sprung up all over. But we never seem to get many cherries for two reasons. The birds usually pick off the cherries as soon as they ripen, meaning there are usually none to pick when we get up from Rome on Fridays. And the really beautiful ripe ones that are there, are way too far up in the highest branches of the tree to get to.
But not this year. For some reason – the intense rain I’m thinking– the five cherry trees on our property were just groaning with plump, dark ripe cherries. So Jane headed out, with her olive-picking basket strapped to her hip – and managed to pick over 10 kilos of cherries.
I ended up making tons of jam and quite a few jars of grappa-infused fruit. But Jane managed to pit about a kilo of fruit on the Saturday we were there, so that had to be dealt with immediately.
I thought I was going to make an old-fashioned cherry pie, but forgot to tell my daughter Sophie, to get extra butter and eggs at the store. But I did have a package of fresh ricotta from the mozzarella store in Orte (so glad they always stick that in as a free gift).
So, here’s what I made for dessert that night.
Ricotta and Fresh Cherry Crostata
1 ½ cups of flour
7 Tablespoons of butter (110 grams)
2 egg yolks
½ cup sugar
¼ tsp salt
Preheat oven to 350F (180c).
Place flour in a big bowl, and make a well in the center of the mound. Place cut up butter, sugar , salt and yolks in the dent. Gently start to mush it all together, eventually working in the rest of the flour. Give it a few good shoves with the heel of your hand to work it all together.
Line a 9 inch tart pan with removable bottom with parchment paper. Place the dough in the pan, spreading it out with the heel of your hand until it covers the pan and a bit up the sides. (don’t even try to roll it out)
Cover the dough with parchement paper and pie weights and bake the crust for about 15 minutes, until starting to turn golden.
Take out and let cool.
1 ½ cups whole milk ricotta
¾ cups sugar
2 ½ cups pitted fresh cherries
Whip the ricotta with a fork till smooth. Add sugar and eggs, and stir till smooth, Fold in cherries.
Fill tart shell with ricotta mixture, place back in oven and cook for about 25 minutes, until set.
Let cool to room temperature and serve.
(When I don’t have cherries, I happily substitute chocolate chips!)