Grandmother’s Tart (Torta della Nonna)
This deceptively simple dessert—a rich, creamy custard filling topped with pine nuts and lined with a rich pasta frolla, or short pastry—has long been a fixture of the Roman trattoria menu. Delicate ivory pinoli, the seeds of the stone pine, native to the Mediterranean, are encased in hard, dark shells attached to the outside of the pine cones found in profusion in the pineti (pine woods) around the city. This recipe, which adds the finely grated zest of a whole lemon to the custard, is, like the Ricotta Tart, inspired by the dolci of gifted pasticciere Enrico Licata at La Piazzetta.
- For the Pastry dough:
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 6 pieces
- 2⁄3 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
- 1 tablespoon honey
- Dash of vanilla extract (essence)
- 1⁄2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
- Pinch of salt
- 2 large egg yolks
- 13⁄4 cups cake flour, sifted
- 1⁄2 teaspoon baking powder
- For the Filling:
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 4 egg yolks
- 1⁄8 teaspoon vanilla extract (essence)
- Grated zest of 1 lemon
- 1⁄4 cup pine nuts
To make the pastry dough, in a bowl, combine the butter, confectioners’ sugar, honey, vanilla, lemon zest, and salt. Using your fingers, quickly and lightly work the ingredients together just until mixed. Using a wooden spoon, quickly work in the egg yolks. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder. Gradually stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture. As soon as the ingredients come together, pat into a rough mass. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough for at least 2 hours or for up to 24 hours.
Have ready a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Work the dough briefly to form a smooth mass. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough into a round about 11 inches in diameter and 1⁄4 inch thick. If the dough becomes too soft, return it to the refrigerator to chill until firm. Drape the round over the rolling pin and carefully ease it into the pan, gently pressing it into the bottom and up the sides. Trim off any excess dough, using the scraps to patch any holes and build up the sides of the tart if needed. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate while you prepare the filling.
To make the filling, in a saucepan over medium-low heat, combine the milk and 2⁄3 cup of the granulated sugar and heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Continue to heat until bubbles appear along the edges of the pan. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly. Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk together the remaining 1⁄3 cup sugar and the flour. Whisk in the egg yolks until well blended. Slowly pour about 1⁄2 cup of the hot milk into the egg mixture while stirring constantly. Pour the mixture into the saucepan. Place over low heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 5–10 minutes. Remove from the heat and pour through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. Stir in the vanilla extract and lemon zest. Let cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally to prevent a skin from forming. Alternatively, place plastic wrap directly on the surface and refrigerate until cool, at least 30 minutes or up to 24 hours.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Pour the cooled filling into the pastry-lined pan and sprinkle the pine nuts evenly on top. Place the tart pan on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until the top is just set and the crust is golden brown, about 35 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely. Remove the pan sides and slide the tart onto a flat serving plate. Serve at room temperature.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Foods of the World Series, Rome, by Maureen B. Fant (Oxmoor House, 2005).