So far 2017 has been a collection of sick days and snow days. Sometimes the two collide.
And as I’ve said before, on these days the to-do list goes out the window. Or it gets thrown in the garbage, along with all the other stuff I throw out when trapped inside the house. Yes, the short, dark, snowy, germy days of winter are perfect for purging. You can situate yourself beside a sick child who wants you to watch a movie with them, place a recycling bag at your feet, and go through all the stuff within arms reach of the sofa. It’s strangely satisfying, and completely doable for at least parts of Alice Through the Looking Glass.
I began with my recipe binders. You know the ones. They start out pristine with carefully curated and trimmed recipes tucked inside plastic sleeves. But over time, paper, clippings, notes and random thoughts get shoved in because time and scissors are nowhere to be found. I have two of them, and together they resemble my 12 year-old’s grade 7 binder, created specifically in that first year of junior high, when for the first time, teachers leave you to your own organizational devices and your true colours come squishing out.
My true colours were squishing out all right. But through the chaos I found some treasures. Stuffed into a sleeve I found a recipe handwritten on the back of a recycled piece of paper from my days working at Books for Cooks in London. There was a tiny cafe at the back of the shop where recipes were tested from the cookbooks on the shelves and served up to customers for lunch. Sometimes visiting cooks who taught upstairs in the cooking school would cook in the cafe. This recipe, titled Torta della Grandmother tells me that Olivia, an Italian cook and teacher who we all loved, was in the kitchen that day. I remember she could fill a just-baked, buttery pastry case with dollops of warm custard, top with it extra bits of crumbled pastry and pine nuts in the time it took me to sip a cappuccino. Sometimes she made a chocolate version, but usually it was vanilla with lots of lemon zest. Both were delicious – not too sweet, and that texture – creamy custard on a crispy, buttery crust, was unlike anything I had eaten before.
The tart is supposed to be called Torta della Nonna – grandmother cake. I clearly couldn’t remember the word Nonna when scribbling the recipe down as Olivia made her torta at lightening speed. But that little detail -the word ‘grandmother’- a quick, scratchy shorthand on a scrap of paper – that’s all part of the memory.
I tucked the recipe carefully back into a sleeve. It had made the cut.
Olivia’s Chocolate Torta della Grandmother, as written by me that day at Books for Cooks.
*My recipe is written in metric, they way Olivia would have sung it out to me as she made the torta. I’m going to leave it as is and encourage you all to buy a kitchen scale if you don’t already have one. You’ll love it, I promise. If not, there are plenty North American versions of Torta della Nonna online. Be adventurous.
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F. I used a 10inch tart pan with a removable bottom, but my notes say a 30cm/ 11inch springform pan is what Olivia used – not as pretty on the sides, but Nonna approved.
2 teaspoons baking powder
Then, stir in 1 egg. Mix together with your hands and press 3/4 of mixture into pan – thinner on the bottom and thicker on the sides. Chill the pastry, in the pan, for 1 hour in the refrigerator. After and hour, prick pastry with a fork and bake for 20 minutes until golden. Remove from oven and set aside.
In a saucepan whisk together:
splash of vanilla
zest from half a lemon (or, 200-300 g chopped 70% chocolate – if using chocolate, don’t add it until later)
To the egg mixture slowly add, whisking continuously,
500ml (1/2 litre) hot milk
Bring mixture to a simmer and whisk until custard is thick. If using chocolate, add it now and stir until melted.
Spoon custard onto pre-baked pastry. Sprinkle remaining pastry on top, and finish with a tablespoon or so of pine nuts (or whatever you have on hand – I used toasted, sliced almonds). Bake for 30 minutes.
This tart (or torta) is great served warm or at room temperature, preferably with a cappuccino.
Up next in the series of ‘treasures I almost threw out on snow and sick days’: a recipe for happiness and Death Star cakes. Stay tuned…
PS – Looks like I was purging the same time last year. You can read about it – and pomegranates – here.