Something like this torta, I like to fantasize, was on the bill of fare at the simple restaurant run by my probable great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather near Mt. Etna in the seventeenth century. Now, aha, I know why I’m a foodie: intensive genealogical detective work has revealed that my father’s family is not restricted to the likes of German-speaking linguisticians, concert pianists and daydreaming dry goods impresarios who let their less bookish wives run the store, not to mention cousin Otto who coined the term nuclear fission (gastronomical puns on which I will resist). No, we were Sicilian vintners — and it was only an operatic chain of events, including the bubbling over of Etna in 1669 like a very angry cappuccino, that sent the Campofiori family to Germany and their reinvention as Blumenfelds, in, naturally enough, the wine wholesaling business. Well, there were circus jongleurs too, busy at the old Deutschland fairs. The “show business” gene at work! The move northward was facilitated by a vacationing German painter (cast him as a tenor) who conveniently fell in love with the papa vintner’s daughter.
Well, this torta is an excellent party dish, and, especially if you have a good pastry maker on your staff, not all that much work. Making up a batch of pesto in advance will, of course, lighten the load. Excess pesto can look forward to a fine career as pasta sauce, piscatorial accoutrement and facilitator of trendy two-toned mashed potatoes.
First — and this can be done considerably ahead — make a 10-inch pie or tart shell using the same initial procedures as forTarte à l’Oignon only with 1/2 cup of butter, 1-1/2 cups of flour and 1/3 cup of water, plus the pinch of salt.
Chill the shell for half an hour, line it with waxed paper and fill the cavity with rice or dry beans to weight it down. Bake it in a hot oven for 15 minutes, then remove the waxed paper and rice or beans and brush the bottom of the shell with 1 lightly beaten egg white or some milk. Bake the shell for 10 or 15 minutes more, until golden; let it cool.
Meanwhile halve 5 or 6 medium-sized Roma tomatoes lengthwise and remove the seeds to make hollows. Brush the tomatoes with olive oil, sprinkle them with pepper and bake cut side up at 325° for 20 minutes — longer if they’re especially big. Then put the tomatoes cut side down on a rack to drain for 20 minutes.
Now, put in a bowl 1 cup of ricotta, 1/2 cup of sour cream, 1/2 cup of minced Italian parsley, 2 whole eggs, 2 egg yolks, 2 teaspoons of chopped fresh basil, pepper and salt; beat together until smooth.
Fill the pie shell with this mixture and place the cupped tomato halves thereon. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes. Finally, spoon pesto (see pasta chapter) into the tomato hollows, let the tart cool to lukewarm, and serve.