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Onion and Herb Tart (La Tiella di Gaeta con le Cipolle)

Tiella is a southern Italian word for a baking pan and, by extension, its contents, often a savory pie or tart. The town of Gaeta, near the border of Campania, has earned recognition for its tiella, a particular kind of torta salata (savory tart). Once a whole meal for the poor, today such dishes are fixtures of antipasto buffets. The tiella di Gaeta comes in many forms with, among other fillings, anchovies and tomatoes, escarole and salt cod, or, as here, onions and scamorza cheese. This recipe calls for a 12-inch cake pan, but the size and shape of the pan for this rustic dish are not crucial.

Ingredients:

  • For the pastry:
  • 1/2 cake fresh yeast or 1 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
  • 2 Tbs. plus 1 1/4 cups lukewarm water
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour 
  • 2 cups semolina flour 
  • 1/2 tsp. salt 
  • 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil 

  • For the filling: 
  • 3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing 
  • 4 large white onions, thinly sliced  
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste 
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese, preferably fresh 
  • 6 oz. smoked scamorza or other mild smoked cheese such as Gouda, shredded 
  • 1 Tbs. each minced fresh flat-leaf parsley, marjoram, thyme and sage 
  • 3 eggs 

Directions:

To make the pastry, in a small bowl, stir the yeast into the 2 Tbs. lukewarm water. Let stand until creamy, about 3 minutes.

On a large work surface, sift together the all-purpose flour, semolina flour and salt into a mound, then make a well in the center. Pour the yeast mixture, olive oil and 1/4 cup of the lukewarm water into the well. Using the fingers of one hand, swirl the liquid in a circular motion, gradually incorporating flour from the sides of the well. Slowly add the remaining 1 cup water to the well at the same time, and mix until all the ingredients are well combined and a rough dough has formed. Knead vigorously, stretching and pressing and striking the dough against the work surface until it is soft and smooth and comes away cleanly from your hands and the work surface, about 10 minutes. To check if the dough is sufficiently kneaded, cut off a piece. The cut surface should be pocked with small air holes.

Shape the dough into a ball. Lightly flour a large bowl, place the dough in it, cover with a damp kitchen towel and let stand in a warm place until the dough has doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, make the filling: In a large fry pan over medium heat, warm 2 Tbs. of the olive oil. Add the onions and sauté slowly, seasoning with a little salt and pepper. When the onions are just starting to brown, after about 8 minutes, remove the pan from the heat.

If using fresh ricotta, spoon it into a colander or a piece of cheesecloth and suspend over a bowl. Cover it and leave it to drain in the refrigerator until it is quite dry, which can take up to 24 hours. (If using commercial ricotta, skip this step.)

In a bowl, combine the ricotta and scamorza cheeses and add the herbs, a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well with a wooden spoon after each addition until fully incorporated. Add the onions and their oil to the cheese mixture and mix well.

Preheat an oven to 375°F. Have ready a 12-inch round cake pan with 2-inch sides (or any large metal baking sheet). Oil the pan with olive oil, even if it is nonstick.

Punch down the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough into 2 pieces, one slightly larger than the other. Using a rolling pin or your fingers, stretch and press the larger piece into a round about 16 inches in diameter and 1/16 inch thick. Transfer the round to the pan and press it into the bottom and up the sides, leaving at least a 1- to 2-inch overhang. Fill with the onion-cheese mixture, spreading it evenly, and drizzle with the remaining 1 Tbs. olive oil.

Roll out the remaining dough into a 12-inch round about 1/16 inch thick. Carefully lay it over the filling and trim to size with no overhang. Bring the overhang of the lower crust up over the edges of the top crust and press against the top.

Prick the top in several places with a fork and brush lightly with olive oil. Bake until golden brown and quite firm, 40 to 45 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool. Serve the tart at room temperature, cut into wedges. Makes one 12-inch tart; serves 8.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Foods of the World Series, Rome, by Maureen B. Fant (Oxmoor House, 2005).