If given the choice, I use to always stick with what I knew. I would buy the same shirt in multiple colors, if I really loved it. You couldn't tell me there was something more delicious than brownies. But after being confronted with so many new ingredients, culinary traditions, and foods during my European adventure this summer I began to wonder why should I stick to the tried and true? Isn't life an adventure? Yes, there have been epic disasters in my kitchen. More than one concoction ending its sad, short life in the trash can, or oozing out of it's pan onto the floor. Some desserts have even been left in the fridge for weeks, going unnoticed.
Yes, attempting new recipes often leads to disaster, but somehow something Italian is always sure to please even the naysayers, the unwilling to try, those who are skeptical and suspicious of something new. Even me. After visiting a number of cities in Italy this summer, everything about this diverse, extraordinary yet humble cuisine never ceased to surprise and delight me. Simple but rich, intriguing and flavorsome, something to please everyone. How could I say no?
On one occasion I strolled into a bakery and, to my delight, was greeted by new delicacies and local treats. Rather than an array of chocolate or red velvet cupcakes, I was standing before a number of tarts, cakes, and brioche breads, mostly flavored with chestnuts, almonds or pine nuts, sweetened with the occasional handful of chopped fruit. Local oranges, cherries and figs were among the favorite fruit found in torte, crostata or foccacia, adding a flavorful, fruitful kick to an otherwise plain backdrop of dough. Sweetened dough in all of its variations, baked, fried, twisted, filled, made for a simple array of cookies, cakes and pies. Oh-so-simple but infused with that traditional home-baked goodness.
The Pinolata, or Pine Nut Tart, is a homey Italian favorite that can take a few variations. This version is an almond and pine nut frangipani (almond-flavored paste) smoothed into a sweet pastry crust over a thin layer of tangy jam. It keeps for several days, and the flavors improve as they meld together, so it is best to make it at least two days in advance. It is the perfect dessert to bring to any holiday parties this session, or use marmalade instead of jam and serve it christmas morning for breakfast with coffee.
For the Sweet Pastry Crust:
- 1 1/4 cup flour
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 7 tbs. unsalted butter, cubed. Can be room temperature.
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
Sweet Pastry Crust Directions:
- Combine sugar and flour in mixing bowl. Using thumbs and fingers, rub butter into flour and sugar mixture until it reaches the consistency of damp sand and there are no more pieces of butter. Vigourosly stir in the lightly beaten egg until dry ingredients are moist and can be pulled into a ball shape. Place on a lightly floured surface. Knead the dough using the heel of your hand for until the flour is blended in well and you have completely smooth dough.
For the Filling:
- 1 cup finely ground blanched almonds
- 1/2 cup fresh pine nuts, lightly toasted and finely ground
- 8 tbsp. + 2 tsps. butter, softened to room temperature
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 whole large eggs and 2 egg yolks
- 1 tbs. + 2 tsps. flour
- Very fresh pine nuts for the top of the tart, lightly toasted
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 5 tbs. jam of your choice. I used cherry, but I'd also suggest apricot or even marmalade.
Directions for the tart:
- Prepare the tart dough and refrigerate for 15-30 minutes. Roll out and line a buttered tart pan, fitting the dough in and making sure all sides and corners are pressed in. Trim edges to be level to the top of the pan. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Prepare the filling. Lightly toast the pine nuts in a pan, over medium low heat and shaking the pan constantly. Do not over-toast the nuts. Toasting the pine nuts really brings out the nutty flavor, but watch the pan carefully to keep from burning.
- Place almonds and pine nuts in a food processor and blend until finely ground.
- Place softened butter in a mixing bowl with sugar and beat until fluffy and smooth. Beat in the whole eggs and yolks and vanilla extract. Add the ground almonds and pine nuts, and about a third of the whole pine nuts and beat on low setting until smooth.
- Remove chilled pastry from the fridge and spread marmalade or jam evenly over the bottom. Spread the almond and pine nut filling over the jam, leveling the filling with the top of the tart. Sprinkle the remaining pine nuts over the top of the tart.
- Bake the tart for 30-35 minutes, until the top is slightly puffed and golden. The filling should be set but have a slight give. Remove the Pinolata from the oven and set it on a cooling rack (still in the tart pan.) Serve at room temperature lightly dusted with powdered sugar. Cut into bars and serve.
Recipe adapted from The Huffington Post.