I woke up this morning craving a dessert. I’m not really a sweet sort of person. I love making desserts, but I very rarely enjoy eating them. Okay, so I usually palm them off to my family and friends and then get really upset if they don’t eat the gigantic slice I cut for them. So when I woke up with the baking bug this morning, no one in the house was particularly excited. Today’s recipe is actually another of my grandmother’s classics. Oranges grow wild everywhere in Southern Italy. My grandmother loves telling stories of the oranges she would pick for her younger siblings. They had never heard of marmalade, so they always ate their oranges fresh… or in this tart! Since sugar was a luxury, they would wait until the oranges were really sweet before throwing together this simple tart base, filling it with homemade ricotta (!!!) and a sprinkle of sugar.
Combine this memory with the fact that I watched Close to the Enemy, a new BBC drama about England just after WWII, when oranges were worth their weight in gold and you can understand why I’m obsessed with the fruit at the moment. Plus oranges are the ultimate winter fruit, perfectly seasonal for those of you in the Northern Hemisphere and super easy to find in Australia, where they are tumbling off our supermarket shelves.
Italians aren’t particularly renowned for their sweets. Sure there’s cassata and tiramisu and cannoli and gelato, but the majority of Italian desserts are the sorts of biscuits that could last a nuclear holocaust and cakes that could break a window. This tart, on the other hand, started life as a savoury ricotta flan filled with heaps of black pepper and chopped parsley. My grandmother adapted it during orange season and then brought the recipe with her to Australia, where she continues to adapt it with whatever fruits are in season. Pencil in a plum and fig version when summer finally rolls around. The dough in particular is out of this world. It’s not you traditional cheesecake or tart base. Instead it has self-raising flour, so it rises beautifully and encases the ricotta filling with a soft almost biscuit-cake crust. The hint of lemon zest melds beautifully with the oranges and ricotta for a dessert that smells as good as it looks.
winter orange tart
½ cup caster (superfine) sugar
½ cup milk
½ cup olive oil
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 lemon, finely grated rind only
4 cups self-raising flour
3 eggs, extra
1 cup raw sugar
3 oranges, sliced thickly, seeds removed, plus ⅓ cup juice and 2 tablespoons of zest
raw sugar extra, for dusting
Preheat oven to 180°C. Place the eggs, caster sugar, milk, olive oil, lemon rind and baking powder in an electric mixer and whisk on high speed for 5 minutes or until smooth. Slowly add the self-raising flour and mix until it comes together. Roll out into a lightly greased 20cm x 30cm slice tin lined with non-stick baking paper.
Bring granulated sugar, orange slices, and 4 cups water to a simmer in a saucepan over medium. Cook until orange rinds are tender, but not falling apart, about 15 minutes; let cool. Using a slotted spoon, transfer orange slices to a baking sheet fitted with a rack; chill 20 minutes. Discard all but ½ cup syrup from pan. Add orange juice; simmer until reduced to ¼ cup. Let cool and transfer to a bowl; add remaining ingredients, except raw sugar. Using an electric hand mixer, mix until combined. Pour filling into crust and arrange reserved orange slices over the top; bake until filling is set, about 30 minutes, and let cool. Sprinkle oranges with raw sugar. Place the tart under a hot grill to caramelise the sugar.
Have another slice. It’s got fruit in it, so technically it’s healthy!