For regular people, this is a wonderful dish. For artichoke aficionados this dish makes the earth move.
This torta has lots of meaty artichokes (two pounds of hearts) suspended in an airy parmesan cheese and egg custard.
Artichokes and egg custard. Wow.
This recipe is an adaptation of one from Cara Mangini’s wonderful cookbook, The Vegetable Butcher. (Amazon )
As you know if you read Blue Cayenne, I’m a patsy for a great lead into a recipe and Mangini caught my eye with this one: “Tortas are Italian sweet or savory cakes, tarts, or pies–they are made differently in each region of Italy. This one comes from my great-grandmother, who was Ligurian, although it is not traditional…It has a savory filling of baby artichokes, eggs and parmesan with a very unusual breadcrumb crust. It is one of my family’s most prized recipes and I’m telling you, it really is special. I am going to guess that you haven’t had anything like it.”
Ligurian food? I confess to being pretty uninformed about Ligurian cooking, but that is about to change after eating this artichoke torta.
Bathed by sea breezes and blessed with mineral-rich soils, Ligurians are known for the herbs they grow (especially basil and rosemary) and the cultivation of high quality wine grapes, olives (and olive oil), porcini mushrooms and pine nuts–crops often grown in picturesque terraced fields that overlook the sea. From what I read, we get all sorts of great dishes from the region– pesto alla Genovese, focaccia, minestrone and this succulent artichoke tart. (We have a lot of cooking to do, people.)
Liguria, by the way, is that crescent-shaped sliver land that makes up northwestern Italy. Located between Piedmont and Tuscany and sharing a border with France, Genoa is its capital and the region, sometimes called the Italian Riviera, overlooks the Ligurian Sea. But you already know about Liguria even if you don’t realize it. Liguria, with its rainbow-colored houses precariously perched atop a rocky outcropping on the edge of the sea, is the subject of that ubiquitous travel poster/photograph you see in just about every doctor’s office.
Give this recipe a try. If you enjoy it as much as I did, be sure to offer up a toast to Mangini’s Ligurian great-grandmother. She was some cook!
Yields 8 Servings
- Fine Sea salt
- 2 pounds baby artichoke hearts (I used Trader Joe's frozen artichoke heart quarters)
- Unsalted butter
- 1/4 C. extra-virgin olive oil (plus extra as needed)
- 1 large onion (diced)
- 3 large garlic cloves (minced)
- 1/4 t. freshly-ground black pepper (plus extra to taste)
- 1/2 C. fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves (chopped)
- 1 t. dried Italian seasoning or plain oregano
- 1/4 t. ground nutmeg
- 1 1/2 C. plain coarse fresh breadcrumbs
- 7 large eggs
- 1 C. freshly-grated parmesan cheese (approximately 2 ounces)
- Defrost the frozen artichokes and toss them in as much melted unsalted butter as your conscience will allow.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Add 1/4 C. olive oil to a large skillet and heat over medium heat. Sauté the onion until it is translucent. This will take about 5 minutes. Add the minced garlic to the onion mixture and sauté for a minute. Add artichokes, 1 t. salt and 1/4 t. pepper to the pan with the onions. Add parsley, Italian seasoning and nutmeg to the artichoke mixture and cook for about 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool for a few minutes.
- Using olive oil, brush the bottom of your baking dish. (You will want to use a 2 to 2 1/2 quart baking dish for this recipe.) Pour 1/2 C. breadcrumbs into your baking dish and shake the dish to evenly distribute the crumbs on the bottom of the dish. Set the prepared dish aside.
- Using a large bowl, whisk the 7 eggs, 1/4 t. salt and a grind of pepper together. Gradually add the cooled artichoke mixture to the whisked eggs. (Be careful here, if your artichoke mixture is too hot it will cook the eggs.) Add 1/2 C. breadcrumbs and all the the parmesan to this mixture.
- Pour the artichoke batter into your prepared baking dish and spread it out to evenly cover the bottom of the dish. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 C. breadcrumbs over the top of the artichoke batter and drizzle some olive oil over the crumbs. The addition of the olive oil will cause the crumbs to crisp in your oven.
- Bake until the crumbs are lightly brown and the eggs are set. This will take 35 to 45 minutes. (You can use a toothpick to check the eggs for doneness.) When your torta is done, let it sit on your counter for at least 10 minutes before serving.
- Garnish with sliced tomatoes, chopped fresh parsley and grated parmesan.
- This dish can be served warm or at room temperature.