Torta salata con pomodori, olive e ricotta salata

Cooking in summer is more fun than in any other season.  The flavors are explosive and intense, the days are longer so dinners are later, and everything is more relaxed.

This weekend at the lake we cooked in our swimsuit coverups and we ate outdoors on the patio while watching the Azzurri cheerfully knock England out of the Euro 2012 soccer quarterfinals to advance to the semifinals against Germany.  It was reminiscent of warm Sunday afternoons at Stefano’s parent’s house near the sea, when we’d all sit around the table under the portico of the house with la partita  (the soccer match) playing on a little black and white television that sat upon a table at the far end.
Our cooking inspiration came from a recipe in the most recent edition of Italia, a British magazine about Italian culture, cuisine, and property.  It’s a a rustic tart, but a lighter, summertime version of the one we wrote about this past spring.  Easy-to-use puff pastry makes up the base, which is topped with a colorful mélange of red, yellow and orange cherry tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, and black olives.  The flavors are as bright and intense as the colors, and ricotta salata adds to the rustic simplicity of this tart.

Ingredients
for two tarts

2 sheets of puff pastry
250 grams (approx. 1 pint) of red, orange and yellow cherry tomatoes
125 grams (4.5 ounces) pitted black olives*
100 grams (3.5 ounces) sun-dried tomatoes**
50 grams (1.75 ounces) ricotta salata shavings***
2 Tablespoons olive oil
Salt and ground black pepper to taste

*Choose a high quality Italian or French black olive, or Greek Kalamate olives.

**You can use dried tomatoes, or sun-dried tomatoes in oil.  If use use dried tomatoes, rehydrate them before use according to the directions on the package.

***Ricotta salata is a dried, hard cheese. Parmigiano Reggiano or Feta will also work, for variation or if you cannot find ricotta salata.

Directions
Preheat your oven to 220° C, (425° F), with a baking sheet inside.  If frozen, allow your puff pastry to thaw according to the directions on the package.

Slice the cherry tomatoes in half and place them in a bowl.  Drain any liquid off of the olives, and add them to the bowl,  Cut the sun-dried tomatoes into halves or thirds, and add them to the mixture as well.  Pour the olive oil over the tomatoes and olives, and salt and pepper generously to taste.  Stir together.

When the oven is preheated, remove the baking sheet and carefully place the puff pastry on top of it.  Use a fork to prick holes over the surface.  With a slotted spoon, arrange half of the tomatoes and olives over the tart’s surface, spreading them out into a single layer and avoiding the juices that have developed so that the tart does not become soggy.

Bake for approximately 12 minutes, or until the puff pastry is golden brown.  Remove from oven and allow to cool, while you repeat the process for your second tart.  This torta salata can be enjoyed warm or cold.

Pomodorini ripieni di tonno

Friday could not have come soon enough!

With one child at camp and the other staying with grandparents this week, one would think we’d have had ample time to prepare homemade dinners.  But instead, it was a taxing and thankfully uncommon week of 12-hour work days and too little sleep.   Except for our morning espresso and an occasional piece of toast, the kitchen went unused.

Each evening we intended add a post to Due Spaghetti, but each night we ran out of time and put it off until tomorrow.  It got so bad that today when we opened up our blog, we were asked to re-enter our user-id and password.  The “remember me” box had come unchecked; our own blog had unfriended us.

Ironically, we had a post ready to go.  We’d made these adorable stuffed cherry tomatoes, pomodorini ripieni, a few weeks back when we were trying out recipes for the Washington Post’s Top Tomato Recipe Contest.  They didn’t make the shortlist of recipes we chose to submit to the contest, but they are delicious and pretty, and deserved to be featured on Due Spaghetti.

The problem was, we didn’t measure our ingredients while we were preparing the stuffed cherry tomatoes.  This isn’t surprising, as we rarely measure when we cook.  We just add what looks right, feels right, and tastes right.  This, we believe, is part of what we love about cooking; it is not so much an intellectual endeavor, but instead an activity that engages the senses and the emotions.

When Stefano’s mom explains to us how to prepare a dish, she sometimes omits key steps or ingredients and jumps directly to the finer points of execution.  In the early days, we’d make the mistake of backing up and seeking clarification on a basic part of the recipe, only to have her smile in surprise and tell us, “Of course!” revealing that what we had asked was so obvious that it does not need to be stated.

When writing on Due Spaghetti, though, we take the time to list specific amounts for ingredients so our readers are not left guessing and recipes are authentically prepared.  In order to post the cherry tomato recipe, we needed to make it again to confirm the precise quantities of tuna, mayo and capers.

We’ve debated this topic before, with Cara taking the position that our readers deserve an accurate and specific recipe, and Stefano maintaining that through Due Spaghetti we can teach our readers to cook the way his mother and grandmother did – a superior form of cooking which develops from trusting intuition and experience to determine when more salt is needed in a sauce, or when the texture and consistency of a dough is perfect.

In the end, the week passed and we never managed to recreate the pomodori ripieni.  On the positive side, we had a few excellent meals out, including a spectacular dinner at La Chaya Bistro and an engaging conversation with chef/proprietor Juan Juarez Garcia, which we will write about soon. But we need to get back to blogging and as a result we are going to post our recipe without specifying quantities for the ingredients, trusting our readers to make wise and inspired decisions about what looks right, feels right and tastes right to them.

These tuna-stuffed cherry tomatoes are a pretty appetizer or party food.  They can be arranged on an interesting plate or platter, or skewered for easy serving.

Ingredients
Cherry tomatoes
Tuna in olive oil
Mayonnaise
Capers
Flat leaf Italian parsley
Salt
Pepper

Directions
Wash cherry tomatoes and slice the tops off of them.  Carefully core the cherry tomatoes with a paring knife and scoop out the seeds and pulp with a small spoon.  Set the hollowed tomatoes upside down unto a baking tray and allow the juices to drain.

Dice the tomato pulp, and add it along with the juices and seeds into a bowl.  Drain the tuna and stir into the tomato mixture.  We used between 1 and 2 cans of tuna for each pint of cherry tomatoes.  Add mayonnaise to the creaminess level of your preference.  Rinse a handful of capers quickly under water, dice them add them to the mixture.  You can use more or fewer capers according to preference.  Chop a bunch of flat leaf parsley finely, and stir it into the mixture.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Carefully stuff the tuna mixture into the cherry tomatoes, taking care not to tear the tomato walls.  If you wish, garnish with a small dollop of mayonnaise.