Jim and I celebrated Easter at my parents’ house over the weekend. As noted in last week’s New York Times article about Easter desserts, many Italians prefer to buy their sweets at the pasticceria rather than bake them at home; my Italian-American family is no different. So I figured that while my mother was busy making her traditional dish of lamb, peas, and eggs, I would add a homemade touch to our dessert options.
(By the way, that lamb dish is a family secret. I promised my mother I wouldn’t share it, so you’ll just have to be satisfied with this tart.)
I turned to Jamie’s Italy and settled on the torta di riso, a sort of rice custard tart flavored with vanilla and orange zest. With its ingredients of Arborio rice, milk, and citrus, it reminded me of the Easter desserts discussed in the Times. At Jim’s request I decided to flavor the filling with lemon instead of orange zest, which made the tart seem even more Easter-appropriate.
While preparing the filling, I was surprised at how similar the process was to making risotto. Instead of slowly adding meat or vegetable broth and stirring the Arborio rice until it absorbed the liquid, for this dessert I poured milk into the pot while the rice simmered. The recipe recommends taking the pot off the heat while the mixture is still quite liquidy, with the milk becoming slowly absorbed by the rice as it cools.
My torta di riso emerged from the oven as a smooth, serene sea of lemon goodness. Topped with fresh whipped cream, the tart emitted subtle citrus flavors combined with the texture of silky rice. Should I admit that we ate the torta on Saturday night instead of on Easter? We just couldn’t wait. That’s another characteristic of my Italian family: We love to eat.
Recipe for Easter Torta di Riso (adapted from Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Italy)
1 shortcrust pastry, baked until just browned in an 11-inch tart tin with a removable bottom (I followed the recipe on page 279 of Jamie’s Italy. It produces a very sweet, flaky crust, and takes about 2 1/2 hours from start to finish. If you use this recipe, make sure to roll the crust out very thin; I always forget, causing it to come out a little too thick after baking.)
For the filling:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 vanilla beans, sliced in half
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
zest of 3 1/2 lemons
1 wineglass of white wine (about 3/4 of a cup of wine)
3 1/2 cups whole milk
2 eggs, whisked
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. To prepare the filling, melt the butter in a high-sided pan at low heat. Remove the seeds from the vanilla beans, add them to the butter, and stir. Cook for 1 minute, then add the rice, granulated sugar, and lemon zest. Turn the heat to medium and add the white wine. Stir until the wine has almost cooked away.
Slowly add the milk while continuing to stir the rice. Simmer the rice and milk mixture over low heat, stirring often, for about 15 minutes. Do not cook the rice all the way through, as it will continue to cook in the oven. It should still have some bite when you remove it from the heat, and the mixture will still be quite liquidy.
Allow the rice mixture to cool slightly. I noticed that at this point the rice absorbs much of the liquid. Mix in the whisked eggs. Pour the rice into the tart case, sprinkle it with powdered sugar, and bake for about 20-25 minutes. Cool. Serve with a dollop of fresh whipped cream. Enjoy!