Lemony Ricotta, Zucchini + Caramelized Onion Torta

By special request. Erica Levis Thorp, this one’s for you. Namaste.

Lemony Ricotta, Zucchini + Caramelized Onion Torta

Serves 8


  • 1/2 recipe pâte brisée  (recipe follows) or one pre-prepared 9″ pie shell, taken out of the pie dish and rolled out to a 12 inch round.
  • 1 whole Vidalia onion, skinned, and sliced thinly
  • 2 whole (10″) zucchini, halved lengthwise, tough seeds removed, and sliced into 1/8″ slices
  • 16 oz. whole milk ricotta
  • 1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. lemon zest
  • 6 – 8 tbs. olive oil
  • 2 tbs. fresh thyme, leaves only, stems discarded
  • kosher salt and pepper to taste


  1. Heat about 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over high heat on the stovetop. Once the oil is hot, add the thinly sliced onion. Sauté over medium high heat for about ten minutes, until onions are softened and have turned a lovely caramel color. Take care the heat is not to high, they will cook too fast, or burn. Reserve.
  2. In large mixing bowl, toss zucchini slices with 2 – 3 tablespoons of olive oil, the fresh thyme leaves, and salt and pepper to taste. Reserve.
  3. In mixing bowl, combine the ricotta, one egg, the nutmeg, the lemon zest and salt and pepper to taste. Reserve.
  4. Place a piece of parchment paper on a large sheet pan.
  5. On a lightly floured surface, roll out one half of the the pate brisée into a 12 inch round. Brush off additional flour with a pastry brush.
  6. Place the pastry round onto the parchment paper on the baking sheet.
  7. Spoon the caramelized onion, and any oil that is left, onto the center of the baking sheet. Spread it evenly to a diameter of about 10 inches.
  8. Spoon the ricotta mixture into the center of the pastry sheet. Spread it evenly over the caramelized onions, to a diameter of about 10 inches.
  9. Beginning at what will be the outside of the torta, place zucchini slices, just barely overlapping, in a circle about 10 inches wide on top of the ricotta.
  10. Repeat making an inner circle, this time with the zucchini skins going in the opposite direction.
  11. Cover the center of the torta with zucchini in a flower-like manner.
  12. Turn the 2 inch exterior of the pastry circle onto the zucchini, bunching and pinching and overlapping where necessary.
  13. Beat the remaining egg in a small bowl with 2 tablespoons of water. Brush the exposed pastry with the egg mixture.
  14. Bake in a preheated 450° oven for 15 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 325° and bake for an additional 35 minutes.



Pâte Brisée

Makes 2-12 inch rounds ( or 2-9 inch pie crusts)


  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached flour
  • 1/2 cup cake flour
  • teaspoon salt
  • 8 ounces cold unsalted butter cut into small pieces (16 tbs. or 2 sticks)
  • 1/2 cup ice water


  1. Using the steel blade in a food processor, add the flour and salt and pulse on and off once.
  2. Add the butter, pulse on and off 5 or 6 times to break up the butter.
  3. Pulse until it resembles crumbs.
  4. Add the ice water, pulsing on and off until the dough comes together. It should hold together in a ball.
  5. Dump the dough out onto a work surface and form into two disks. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour. This can be made in advance and kept refrigerated for several days.

Sicily + Piedmont, October, 2015

Yes, my bags are packed again. This time, we’ll be bookending the best of Italy in October as we explore western Sicily, and then venture north to Turin and Barolo country and truffles! What could be better? You joining us, of course!

This trip is sold out. But please read on!

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Cacio e Uova, the anti-pasta.

Here are the words I never thought I’d utter: I think I will die if I eat another plate of pasta.

Shocking and sacrilegious? Sure is. Heretical, really, since I consider pasta a religious experience. All those old adages about too much of a good thing? Well, they’re true. Just how much pasta must one consume to pass the “good thing” threshold? My marker came midway through the second week of Morso Soggiorno’s Abruzzo Tours this fall. Perhaps you felt it, the moment the Earth briefly stopped spinning on its axis.

So many pastas

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Beat That, Bourdain #3

signore cucchiaraSunday morning. For me, another city, another hotel. What’s constant is that everyone, in every culture, has their Sunday morning ritual. Here, at the Ace Hotel in the Flatiron District of Manhattan, pork-pie hatted hipsters and their bleary-eyed companions, some with very telling shades perched on their noses, sip cappuccinos while trying very hard not to seem to try too hard.

Caseficio Cucchiara sign, Salemi, Sicily makers of pecorino

Makes me miss Sicily. If I were in Salemi, in the mountains outside of Marsala, I’d be hanging out at the Azienda Cucchiara, feigning nonchalance while near bursting with excitement, in a group of authentically breezy middle-aged men. They stand in small circles, comparing notes on Serie A, or the family, or the olive harvest, or, in a particularly loud moment, the state of Italian politics. Now and again, they turn to look at a young man in knee-high rubber boots patiently stirring a simmering creamy liquid in a giant pot. They know he’s backed by three generations of cheese-makers. In fact, his nonno is supervising from a nearby chair. They know what’s coming will be worth the wait. Continue reading

Vermont Cheesefest at Shelburne Farms

Shelburne FarmsLast July, I was lured to Vermont by the promise of over 200 artisanal cheeses, and a sampling of more than 20 locally produced chocolates, craft beers and wines. It didn’t hurt to have a chance to be alone with my husband for an entire weekend. The scent of the hay in the air, and the song of the crickets at night were added bonuses.

The night before the Cheesefest we basked in the romantic glow of the waning Thunder Moon as it rose over Lake Champlain, the setting sun casting the Adirondacks in purple, black, grey, and lavender relief across the calm blue water.

The Adirondakes over Lake Champlain Continue reading

Feeding Teens. Portable, practical, perfect.

Teenage boys eat a lot.

Sometimes, they eat even more than usual. Swim season is one of those times. Three hours a day of laps and sprints and dry land. Even before I get the memo, clues appear that pre-season training is underway.

When I kamikazi in for a quick peck on the cheek and a stealth scalp sniff (what mother can resist that?) I smell chlorine, and stiff hair bristles scrape against my invasive nose.

The portable laundry rack in the basement, usually utilized solely for drying my unmentionables or the occasional fresh linguine, now hangs with a Speedo and Quik-dri towel.

Free periods at school are transformed from a sanctuary of adolescent angst to a quick walk home to raid the refrigerator. Leftovers are a thing of the past. The microwave hums endlessly.

Onion, sausage, black olive and ricotta sfincione“Ma,” my sixteen year old says, his back to me, arm draped over the open refrigerator door as he leans into the $300 worth of groceries I bought yesterday. “You going shopping today? There’s nothing to eat. What time is dinner?” It’s only 10 o’clock in the morning. The check hasn’t even cleared yet. Continue reading

Day Three: The Orto at Sapori di Campagna.

Is there a garden anywhere worth the trouble of a 7 am wake-up call? Before today, even an invitation to rendezvous at 7 am in the Garden of Eden would’ve gotten a big fat, no thanks, Adam, from me. Too many snakes, don’t like apples.

But today? Today the answer is yes.

If I had any doubt this whole Agriturismo thing, for all its romantic illusion of a simple return to a simpler time, is really incredibly hard work, it is put to rest when Louise drops me off at the Sapori for a farm tour.

Before the car door slams shut behind me, I feel like a sloth. By the time I arrive, the entire family is hard at work, checking guests out, cooking, cleaning. The same family I left last night at 10 pm, when they were clearing the dinner dishes from my table, the dining room still full, is back at it a scant few hours later.

After a boisterous ‘salve‘ and the welcome offer an espresso macchiato and a light-as-a-cloud slice of ricotta lemon cake, Livia introduces me to her father, the farmer of the operation. He and I pile into his car, and immediately go off-road into one of the many fields that create the velvety, tapestry-like landscape of Abruzzo. The car smells curiously of sheep’s milk cheese, a not unwelcome aroma to me.

‘Oh,’ he says, ‘I forgot to drop off the cheese.’ I turn around, and sure enough, a dozen wheels of sheep’s milk pecorino, the Cannestrato del Castel del Monte, are tucked into the trunk. He smiles sheepishly. (Sorry, I couldn’t help it.)

He’s all business. I don’t even learn his name. He’s very serious about his farm, and perhaps a little put out that he’s taking up valuable time showing me around. He reminds me that it’s late in the season, the fields are almost farmed out. Not much left to see. Don’t expect too much.

As we move deeper into the countryside, across wide, grassy expanses of early Fall fields, we talk about the Slow Food Movement, about the Presidi of his region. He is able to rattle them off in short order, and I learn he will represent the region at the Salone Del Gusto in Turin later this month, something he has done for the past several years. Hmmm. A farmer with the soul of an advocate and activist. Things are getting interesting.

The frostiness in the air abates. We’re finding common ground. He’s speaking slower, I’m understanding more. The fluency of food talk is again working it’s magic.

More than three hours later, after touring field after field, crop after crop, stables, animal pens, olive groves, fruit and nut trees, I am in awe. I am going to take a page from the Farmer’s book and set expectations. The pictures will not do this enterprise the justice it deserves. But I can try, and try, I will.

What you will see is evidence of the fall growing season. At this time of year, the Farmer and one helper work the land themselves. During high season, the season of tomatoes, zucchini, celery, lettuces, peppers, peas (I could go on and on) he hires up to five helpers.

In addition to what he cultivates, he is quick to forage for wild herbs and vegetables, including wild asparagus, thyme, mint, lettuces, persimmon, wild fennel, mushrooms, quince. Nothing will go to waste.

Enjoy. And think about your own garden. If you like to get dirty, this post’s for you. And my friend, the Farmer? His name is Signore Costantini, and I am in his debt.

Remember, you can click on any image to begin a slide-show tour.