Ricotta, eggplant, zucchini, onion and tomato pie is not something from the traditional Italian American Kitchen. This recipe does not derive from memory or from tradition. It’s simply a response to my road venture yesterday to New Jersey, a reply to the resultant of that venture: my kitchen counter now overloaded with Jersey eggplant, squash, onions, tomatoes, peppers, melons, peaches and corn. The corn took care of itself immediately. The peaches were destined to jam, cobblers, tartes and freezing for winter resurrection. The peppers belonged to peperonata. Ciambotta would be the destiny of most of the tomatoes and eggplants and squash. But I had even more than the ciambotta needed. What, I wondered could I do differently with the extras? My first inclination was to use them for a pizza. But pizza would certainly not be different. Then, suddenly something struck me. Instead of a pizza why not try something more like an Easter ricotta pie? a pie with a true pie crust, a pie with a ricotta base with successive layers of onion, eggplant, tomato and squash.
With this idea in mind I first investigated online to see what I could find about such a recipe. It would seem to me that such a pie must have occurred to others. As I learned, it did. For the most part I found variations on eggplant and ricotta pizza. I also found a few recipes for actual pies made with eggplant and ricotta. These few pie recipes had the same ingredients but not carried out in the same way. Google Italy had one version, a crostata, in which the eggplant and squash were diced and mixed into the cheese. All in all, I didn’t find anything exactly like the pie I had in mind.
The foundation of a pie is its crust. My next question was the type of crust to use. For ultimate ease I suppose I could have gone with a store bought crust, but I wanted something more substantial. The crust best suited to ricotta pies is a “pasta frolla,” but this special crust would bring too many Easter memories to the taste of the pie I was looking for. We’re in summer. Summer needs its own taste. A quiche crust seemed that it might work but I worried that it might be too delicate for the ricotta. I spent hours going through cookbook after cookbook. I finally found what I was looking for, a “pâte brisé.” The recipe I like the best is in the Flammarion, French Cooking. You can make this crust without all the usual fuss about cold butter and ice-water. Just keep the dough loose and let the butter buttons show throughout the flour. This dough is chilled and then shaped in the pie mold by pressing it out with your fingers. The crust bakes alone at 400 for about ten minutes. It cools and then you add the filling.
My plan was all in place. The assembly is time consuming but the end result is worth every minute. Along with the farm fresh summer vegetables the essential ingredient is a quality ricotta. Standard store brand varieties are mostly water. Where I live I have the benefit of Carlino’s Italian Foods where they make the most dense ricotta impastata. If you cannot find a locally made ricotta, try to find a very high quality cheese. The rich savory ricotta enhanced with the taste of crushed garlic, the sweetness of the fried onions, the succulent creaminess of broiled eggplant and squash and the summer perfect delight of the lush tomato all aligned so as merge their tastes while maintaining individual flavor. I serve this pie at room temperature with a sprig of fresh basil on the side as a fragrant enhancement.
What you need
Getting it together: the mise-en-place