Food rich with history and flavour
DISCOVER the cuisine of a secret part of southernmost Tuscany, a sliver of land known as La Costa D'Argento - the silver coast.
In Acquacotta, Tuscan-based, Australian-born writer and photographer Emiko Davies has compiled and adapted her Italian family's best-loved recipes from Capalbio, Monte Argentario, Giglio Island and inland to the hot springs of Saturnia and the ancient Pitigliano.
"This is a region of wide open spaces, swaying wheat fields, hills polka-dotted with olive trees, rambling vineyards bearing native grapes, overgrown fig trees and rampant prickly pears, long beaches and wild animals,” says Emiko.
"Closer to Rome than Florence, this stunning corner of the Maremma has a cuisine influenced largely by fishermen, hunters, farmers and butteri (cowboys). Straightforward, thrifty and fully dependent upon its landscape of sea and hills, it's rich with history and flavour. And it is unlike any other in Tuscany.”
In words and pictures, Emiko shares the history of rustic, storied dishes including scampi and potato soup, hand-rolled strozzapreti noodles, spinach and ricotta tortelli, chestnut gnocchi and the classic fig and chocolate bread, pagnotella. Plus, of course, the book's namesake acquacotta, a quintessential Maremman peasant dish that captures the spirit of this special place.
As well as featuring stunning images of the silver coast, Acquacotta contains Emiko's tales of mushroom foraging and wild boars rummaging for snacks, descriptions of enchanting places to visit, and handy field guides and cooking tips for the local cuisine.
Ricotta and baby pear tart
7-9 baby pears
55g (¼ cup) sugar
250g (1 2/3 cups) plain flour
100g caster sugar
125g cold butter, chopped
Pinch of salt
1 egg, plus 1 egg yolk
500g (2 cups) ricotta
100g caster sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp vanilla extract (or scraped seeds of ½ vanilla pod)
NOTE: If you can't find baby pears, you can make this with regular pears. Choose firm rather than ripe pears, which hold their shape better.
Peel the baby pears. Leave the stems on (there is no need to core them, as they are so small and tender). Slice about 5 mm off the bottom of the pear, so that they have flat bottoms to sit on.
Roughly chop the pear offcuts and leave aside to add to the ricotta mixture. If you're making this dish with regular sized pears, peel and slice them into quarters and remove the core (if they are particularly large pears, you can slice into eighths).
Slide the pears into a saucepan of simmering water with the sugar to add a touch of sweetness to them.
Cook for 15 minutes, or until they are just tender. Remove the pears, drain and let them cool.
To make the pastry, combine the flour, sugar and butter together in a bowl.
Using your fingers, rub together until there are no more visible pieces of butter (or you can pulse in a food processor).
Add the salt and egg plus yolk and combine until it comes together into a smooth ball.
Wrap in plastic wrap and put in the fridge to rest for 30 minutes, then roll out on a lightly floured surface to about 3 mm thick. Lay over a 22-25cm round pie dish and trim the borders. Prick the surface gently all over with the tines of a fork.
Preheat the oven to 180C.
To make the filling, combine the ricotta, caster sugar, lemon zest, vanilla and eggs, and mix until smooth.
Pour over the pastry-lined pie dish and smooth over.
Carefully push the pears into the ricotta filling, then bake in the oven for 45 minutes, or until the top is firm and slightly coloured golden brown and the pastry crust is golden.
Let it cool completely before serving and, if you like, just at the last moment sprinkle over some icing sugar - this will mostly sink into the surface of the ricotta and the pears, so you won't see much of it, but it will add a hint of sticky sweetness.
Store this tart in the refrigerator and eat within 2-3 days.
This is an edited extract from Acquacotta by Emiko Davies, published by Hardie Grant Books, RRP $49.99 and is available in stores nationally. Photographer Food: ©Lauren Bamford.