Inspired by Meredith, her family, her lifestyle, and blueberries. Enjoy!
Ricotttta time. The first time I ate fresh ricotta was in Italy at the weekly farmer’s market near my school, called Mercato di Campagna. The market was inside a drafty warehouse room, with about 50 stalls. I remember wheels of cheese, mozzarella tied in knots, bags of hazelnuts and walnuts, people shuffling madly to order eggplants, cherries, bags of spring greens, prosciutto, sausages. There was a man who sold wild mushrooms from outside the city, and another who made pressed juices from currants, apricots and raspberries.
My friend Rosa and her father took me to the market and bought me a sample of their favorites: a dark thick honey, pan di noce, and fresh ricotta in a plastic box. I can vividly recall sitting at home, spread honey and ricotta on the bread, and then, when the bread ran out, eating plain spoonfuls of honey and ricotta.
Alas, I could not take a plane over to Rome on a Sunday morning and bring back the fluffy ricotta. This tart is light and barely sweet, and the whipped ricotta is hardly noticeable when buried underneath piles of blueberries and melt-on-the-tongue pumpkin. Eat for breakfast, brunch, or even a slightly savory dessert. If you would like something more sweet, just add more honey or serve with whipped cream.
Also I am trying a new format: pictures, then recipe and instructions. Comment on what you prefer. For the crust, which can be finicky if you don’t follow the directions, I thought it would be easier this way. I’ve added a few notes here and there among the pictures to help you follow along.
By adding the thyme with the butter, the thyme becomes more incorporated into the dough. I used dry herbs, but fresh works as well, just use 3x as much. The ratio for dry:fresh herbs is roughly 1:3.
Once the dough has formed a condensed mass, it is ready to be cooled, then pre-baked.
You usually cook with pumpkins in a pureed form, from a can. Personally, I love that. Pumpkin pie is my favorite holiday dessert and graham cracker crust deserves an electronic applause as well. But, we can all agree that using a real pumpkin, while more timely and dangerous, offers a more beautiful and satisfying flavor.
Make sure to use a sharp knife so that the skin comes off easily, take time and cut it into smaller sections if necessary. At first I used a peeler but to no avail, just go slowly and keep you hand steady. No sudden movements! And, save the seeds if you like them roasted!
I cut the pumpkins in a crescent shape, on my mother’s recommendation, for beauty’s sake. Make sure that the slices are equal size and not too big, so that they cook evenly and in a relatively short time.
and, meanwhile, make the whipped ricotta.
Beat until the honey is mixed, and is smooth. A hand mixer works just as well.
Add the ricotta in spoonfuls on the tart crust so that its not too heavy.
This is a picture of an unbaked crust, so it would look different if you pre-bake it, as I recommend that you do.
Layer the pumpkin in spiral layers before adding the blueberries.
Blueberries then baked for 25 minutes, or until the ricotta is golden brown and warm. If you want, give the edge of the tart an egg wash bath before baking. I used frozen blueberries and they were just as delicious. Below is a picture of the baked tart, you can see that the blueberry stains have seeped into the ricotta and pumpkin.
Whipped Ricotta Tart with Pumpkin and Blueberry
3/4 all purpose or whole wheat flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 stick (8 tbsp) butter, cold
1/2 tsp. thyme
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp. heavy cream or whole milk
1 egg white (to brush onto rolled crust)
1 small baking pumpkin (about 3 cups worth)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp honey
pinch of thyme
1 cup whole milk Ricotta
1 tbsp milk (any kind)
2 tbsp honey
1/2 Blueberries, fresh or frozen, rinsed
To Prepare Crust (recipe adapted from The Cook’s Illustrated):
1. In a food processor, mix the flour, sugar, and salt. Next, scatter the butter in small cubes on top and add thyme. Pulse unit the dough reaches a cornmeal consistency, about 15 sec/pulses.
2. Whisk yolk and cream together. With machine running, add the egg yolk and cream mixture. Pulse until dough forms a ball in the processor, about 10 pulses.
3. Remove dough and shape into a 6 inch disc. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour. Before rolling, let sit for 10 minutes to defrost. If using in the next two days, let dough thaw completely before using.
4. To roll: allow dough to soften in the open air. Meanwhile, oil and flour a 12 inch diameter tart pan. Preheat the oven to 375°. Take the ball and roll it around in your hands. Place directly in the center of the pan and, using a rolling pin, slowly begin to roll out the dough. Make sure be even and work around the dough so that it spreads to the edges of the pan on all sides. If there is excess dough on the edges (it should be about a 3 cm thickness) , you can cut it or else make designs using your fingers or a fork.
5. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 1 hour before using.
6. Cover middle with aluminum foil, and pour about a 1 1/2 cup of beans on top (see picture above). This will prevent excess rising. Pre-bake the dough for 30 minutes at 375°, removing beans and foil after that time. Allow to cool before topping with remaining ingrediants.
To Prepare Pumpkin:
These can cook while the tart is pre-baking, though they might need a little more time.
1. Gut and deseed pumpkin and cut into quarters. Using a sharp knife, cut of the skin around the edges, while still keeping the crescent shape.
2. Cut the skin-less pieces into 3 1/2 inch long crescents, about an inch thick. Put pieces on a large baking pan so that they have plenty of space to cook, don’t crowd. Sprinkle a pinch of thyme evenly on top.
3. Next, mix together the honey and oil in a small bowl. Pour over pumpkin pieces and carefully mix on the tray so as not to spill. Again, make sure that they are scattered evenly on the pan.
4. Cook until tender and lightly roasted, about 25 minutes. If the time is too short/long, keep checking or add 5 minutes until they are ready.
5. Set aside, let cool in pan.
To Prepare Ricotta:
1. Using a hand mixer, whip together the ricotta, honey and milk until the mixture is light and smooth, about 20 seconds. Don’t over-beat, the mixture may become watery. Just mix until all the ingredients are well combined and the ricotta is easily spreadable.
2. Refrigerate until use.
To Assemble and Bake the Tart:
1. Preheat oven to 375°
2. On the pre-baked pie shell, dollop generous spoonfuls of ricotta. Don’t spread completely, but make sure that each spoonful is not too mountainous so that they all cook evenly. (see picture above)
3. Layer the pumpkin pieces in spirals, beginning at the very center. The pieces can touch but if there are extra, don’t feel the need to put all the pieces on. More space in between allows more space to see the ricotta and put the blueberries. Each pieces can be at least 2 cm away from the next.
4. Press the pieces gently into the ricotta so that they are enveloped as the tart bakes.
5. Scatter the blueberries evenly on top. These do not need to be pressed or perfectly spaces. A more helter-skelter look creates a rustic feel, which can be nice.
6. Finally brush the edges with egg white, a fine coating will do.
7. Place in the oven and bake until the ricotta gets a golden sheen, the edges are crisp and the blueberries melt and sink into the tart, about 30 minutes. Serve warm as a brunch, breakfast or dessert dish.