Nick Malgieri
Nick Malgieri

Jo Bettoja's Roman Ricotta Tart

This exquisitely perfumed ricotta tart is enriched with pine nuts bound with crunchy caramel. The recipe is based on one by my friend, cookbook author and former Rome cooking school owner Jo Bettoja, an American originally from the Atlanta area, who has lived in Rome for many years and now speaks Italian with a classic Roman accent. I tasted this at Jo’s Rome apartment in the early Nineties and I’m recreating it here from memory.

One deep 9-inch tart, about 12 servings

Caramelized Pine Nuts

3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
3/4 cup (about 3 ounces) pine nuts, lightly toasted


2 cups all-purpose flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold, and cut into 10 pieces
2 teaspoons finely grated orange or lemon zest
4 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons milk or water

Ricotta Filling

2 pounds whole-milk ricotta
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
4 large eggs
Caramelized Pine Nuts (see above), chopped into 1/4-inch pieces

One 9-inch round pan, 2 inches deep, buttered

  1. For the caramelized pine nuts, butter a jelly roll pan and set it aside. Combine the sugar and lemon juice in a medium saucepan and stir until the mixture has the consistency of wet sand. Place over medium-low heat and cook, stirring occasionally with a metal spoon, until the sugar starts to melt and caramelize. Decrease the heat to low and cook the sugar until it is a deep amber caramel. Immediately stir in the pine nuts and pour the mixture onto the buttered jelly roll pan. Let the caramelized pine nuts cool for a few minutes, until they are firm, but not hard. Use a wide metal spatula, such as a pancake turner, to loosen the caramel from the pan and turn it over. This guarantees that it won't stick to the pan.
  2. For the dough, combine the dry ingredients in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse several times to mix. Add the butter and pulse about 10 times to mix the butter in finely. Add the orange zest, yolks, and water and pulse repeatedly until the dough forms a ball. Invert the dough to a floured work surface and carefully remove the blade. Squeeze the dough into a rough cylinder, wrap it in plastic, and refrigerate it while preparing the filling. You may keep the dough in the refrigerator for up to 2 days before continuing.
  3. When you are ready to bake, set a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.
  4. For the filling, place the ricotta in a large mixing bowl and beat it smooth with a large rubber spatula. Beat in the sugar and orange zest. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating smooth after each addition. Stir in half the chopped pine nut caramel.
  5. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and gently knead it on a floured surface until it is smooth and malleable. Form the dough into a disk and place it on a floured surface. Flour the dough and roll it to a 13-inch disk. Fold the dough in quarters and transfer it to the prepared pan. Line up the point with the center of the pan and unfold the dough into the pan. Press the dough well into the bottom and sides of the pan. Use a bench scraper or the back of a knife to sever the excess dough at the rim of the pan.
  6. Scrape the filling into the dough-lined pan and smooth the top. Scatter the remaining pine nut caramel on the filling. Use a table knife to loosen any dough on the side of the pan above the filling and turn it down over the filling.
  7. Bake the tart until the dough is baked through and the filling is slightly puffed, about 45 minutes.
  8. Cool the tart on a rack, wrap the pan in plastic, and chill the tart.
  9. To unmold the tart, warm the bottom of the pan over low heat for a few seconds. Invert the tart to a rack and remove the pan. Replace the pan with a platter and invert the whole stack and remove the rack.

Serving: Serve wedges of the tart. It needs no accompaniment.

Storage: After the initial chilling of the tart you may keep it at room temperature for a few hours until you intend to serve it. Wrap and refrigerate leftovers and bring them to room temperature before serving again.