Flavors of Italy: Savory Artichoke, Ricotta and Mushroom Tart with an Herbed Crust

Spring in southern Italy.

Walking along narrow cobbled streets slick with rain, the shadowed paths suddenly opened up to a bustling piazza. My pupils revolted from the shock of sunlight and all I could see was purple.

Bright, violently violet, before me was the jacaranda tree. Awe-inspiring and otherworldly, it put its surroundings to shame with its rich saturation.

Passing the jacaranda tree every morning on my daily walk, it quickly became a symbol of springtime, representing everything I love so much about this wonderful season.

With the glorious memory of that tree arise my other memories of springtime in Italy. Lemony artichokes, fresh herbs, bright green peas, and the sweetest ricotta I’d ever tasted.

As Spring breaks through the cold wintery days at last, my mind wanders back to those magical moments and my taste buds crave those flavors.

With Italy being so far away this year, I created this tart to appease my senses and excite my mind for the bounty of produce that is about the hit the market stalls. I impatiently await the tender asparagus, the green baby lettuces, the rhubarb, and the creamy fava beans.

For the next few weeks this savory artichoke, mushroom and ricotta tart will have to do. Bursting with the flavors of an early Italian Spring, this is an herb forward, flavorful and vibrant dish that would be perfect for an elegant brunch or luncheon.

 

Lemon is infused in different guises throughout the various layers of this tart to add a much needed burst of sunshine to these rainy days. I used fresh herbs in each of the four components of this dish to make the final product incredibly savory and aromatic. The almond milk ricotta and pea mixture adds a creamy yet bright element from the fresh mint leaves and lemon juice while the oyster mushrooms and artichoke hearts provide a comforting, spring-forward filling. All together this savory tart is bursting with the flavors of Spring and is light enough to not weigh us down as our bodies transition to a lighter, warmer season.

I use nut pulp as the base of this crust. This is simply the remaining pulp after making nut milks, which I do a few times a week. I always try to find ways to use the pulp as it can be quite wasteful otherwise. Putting it in a tart crust (sweet or savory) is a wonderful and delicious way to use it up. As this is a savory recipe, I recommend using a plain, unsweetened nut pulp, but the crust recipe can easily be adapted for a sweet tart with a few simple changes. If you don’t have nut pulp on hand, you can always make a more traditional crust with more flour and a few tablespoons of cold water instead, although it won’t be as moist.

Although it is quite long and a bit more complex than my usual posts, I do hope you give this recipe a try! It is well worth the effort, especially on a lazy Sunday afternoon when you’re having friends over.

Crust ingredients:

  • 1.5 cups plain nut pulp (I used a mixture of almond, pecan and cashew pulp, but any unsweetened pulp will work)
  • 1 cup oat or buckwheat flour, divided
  • 2 Tbsp potato starch
  • 10 sage leaves
  • Leaves from 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 2 generous pinches of salt
  • 4-5 grindings black pepper (about 1/3 tsp)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp dairy-free butter, cut into small pieces (I like the Earth Balance soy-free sticks)

Ricotta ingredients:

  • 1/2 container Kite Hill ricotta
  • 1 cup frozen green peas
  • Green ends from spring onion
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/2-3/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 7 large fresh mint leaves
  • 3-4 Tbsp olive oil
  • Juice from 1/2 a lemon

Filling ingredients:

  • 3 Tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 2 spring onions
  • 6 oz oyster mushrooms
  • 2 cups defrosted artichoke hearts, sliced in half lengthwise
  • 5 sprigs fresh marjoram
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 3/4 tsp ground mustard powder
  • 1/2-3/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • Juice from 1/2 a lemon

Crumble ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/3 bunch fresh parsley
  • 10 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 preserved lemon
  • 1/2 lemon, zest and juice
  • 2 Tbsp oat or buckwheat flour
  • 1-2 Tbsp remaining crust dough (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Begin by making the crust.

Combine the ground flax with 2 tablespoons of filtered water in a small bowl and let sit for ten minutes.

In the bowl of a food processor pulse together half the buckwheat or oat flour along with the rest of the crust ingredients, excluding the butter and oil, until the herbs are finely minced and everything is well-combined. Stir the flax egg, making sure it is all mixed together, then pour it into the processor along with the cold butter. Turn on the processor and slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Mix only until the wet ingredients are incorporated into the dry ingredients.

Do a taste test for seasoning here. The key to this tart is that each element has to be well seasoned and taste delicious on its own, so add more salt or pepper now to your liking.

Sprinkle the other half of the flour on a clean work surface. Scoop the dough onto the surface and knead for a few minutes until there is no more flour on the counter and the dough is not sticky. Shape it into a ball and wrap the dough in plastic wrap before placing it in the fridge to chill for 30 minutes to an hour while you prepare the rest of the tart.

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Next prepare the ricotta.

Defrost the peas in a bowl of hot water for five minutes.

Wash the spring onion and trim the very ends off (no more than 1/2 an inch). Then cut away the green part to use in this recipe and reserve the white part for the filling.

Thoroughly wash and dry your food processor, then drain your peas and blend them with the green part of the onion plus the rest of the ingredients for a minute or so until the herbs are chopped and the peas are broken down. The ricotta will be a light green color and will have the consistency of hummus.

Pour this out into a small bowl and reserve for later.

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Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a baking sheet with one tablespoon of olive oil.

To make the filling, thinly slice the onions on a diagonal and place these on the baking sheet. Roast them in the preheated oven for 10 minutes until they’ve gone soft and slightly golden around the edges. Let them cool as you make the rest of the filling.

Place a large pan on a low heat and add the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil.

Allow this to heat for a few minutes while you carefully wipe away any dirt on the oyster mushrooms and trim off the fibrous ends, doing your best to keep the mushrooms whole. Depending on the recipe, I will sometimes wash my mushrooms as it is faster and removes more dirt. Don’t do this here, however, as the filling will then be too watery and cause the crust to be soggy.

Carefully place the mushrooms in the hot olive oil and stir well.

Slice the artichoke hearts in half lengthwise and add them to the pan along with the fresh herbs, mustard powder, salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Stir to combine and then cover the pan and allow the vegetables to cook for about 5 minutes.

Turn off the heat and leave the vegetables as they are until you assemble the tart.

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Returning to the crust, take the dough out of the fridge and place it back on your clean work surface between two large pieces of wax paper.

Increase the heat of the oven to 400 degrees. Grease a standard size tart or pie pan with a generous dab of olive oil, making sure to oil the sides of the pan well.

Roll out the dough between the wax paper until you have a large flat circle about an 1/8-1/4 inch thick. Carefully peel off the top layer of wax paper. Then turn the tart pan upside down, slide your hand under the bottom layer of wax paper and turn everything right side up at once so that the tart dough falls into the pan. Press the dough into the pan shape to make it flat before gently peeling off the remaining wax paper. Smooth the dough out further, making sure there is no unevenness or holes. Trim any excess dough that is hanging over the sides of the pan.

Prick several holes in the bottom of the dough with the tins of a fork, then place a sheet of wax paper loosely over the dough and fill the bottom of the form with about 1/2 cup of dried beans (or use pie weights, if you have them). The beans will keep the bottom of the crust weighed down as it cooks so it doesn’t develop air bubbles.

Place the tart pan in the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven; carefully catch hold of the four corners of the wax paper and lift the dried beans off and away from the crust. You can either let the beans cool and then place them back in your pantry or soak and cook them for another recipe.

Place the naked crust back in the oven and allow it to bake for another 10-12 minutes until golden brown but not too hard. If the sides of the crust are too thin, they will bake quite quickly and become almost cracker-like in texture. To combat this you can lay tinfoil on the edges of the crust and cook it that way.

Once the crust is golden, take the tart pan out of the oven and allow it to rest as you prepare the final portion of this recipe.

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To make the crumble, clean out your food processor once again. Then place the pine nuts, herbs and garlic in the bowl of the processor.

Scoop out the flesh from the preserved lemon and discard it. Roughly chop the peel and add it to the herbs and nuts. Process this mixture until the herbs have broken down and you have a bright green pesto-like paste. Add in the lemon zest and juice, a spoonful of the remaining crust dough (if you have any), the flour and seasoning. Pulse a few times so the flour gets incorporated into the paste.

You should now have a moist, very aromatic crumble. Add in a bit more flour if you feel it is too wet.

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Finally it is time to assemble the tart.

Lower your oven temperature to 375 degrees.

Set out all the different pieces of this recipe in front of you. Generously spread several tablespoons of the ricotta mixture on the bottom and sides of the baked crust. You should make a thick enough layer that the tart isn’t dry.

Store any leftover ricotta in the fridge and use in salads, as a spread on crackers or sandwiches, on pasta, lasagna, or in risotto–my favorite!

Now add your filling. Make a spiral of alternating vegetables on the ricotta by placing a spring onion slice diagonally standing up. Put a mushroom in front of it in the same direction; then an artichoke piece. Repeat this around the entire tart until you have filled up the whole base and used up all the vegetables. Use any remaining vegetables to fill in any spaces that you see.

Finally crumble the topping over the vegetables, putting as much or as little as you like. The topping gives a strong aromatic element to this tart and expands upon the lemon notes found in the ricotta and the vegetables. I love herbs so I added enough to fully cover the tart, but do as you prefer.

Place the assembled tart in the preheated oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the topping has browned and the ricotta is cooked.

Remove the tart from the oven and let it rest for a few minutes before slicing it into pieces.

Enjoy this savory artichoke, mushroom and ricotta tart with a simple green leaf salad tossed in a lemony mustard vinaigrette for a delicious and elegant lunch.

 

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