There are a number of delicious pies in Maltese home cooking: meat pies, fish pies, vegetable pies, rice and pumpkin pies. But perhaps the one most frequently cooked and eaten is the much loved Ricotta Pie, or Torta ta L-Irkotta.
Every family has its own version. Actually in my family there were several variations on the ricotta pie. I loved it all ways but my absolute favourite was the spring one with fresh broad beans in it. Broad beans (fava beans) are forever evocative of the end of winter for me, they herald the arrival of new life, new growth, the new season, so celebrating Spring with a ricotta and broad bean pie is still a pleasure-filled annual ritual of mine.
Pies are home food, family food in Malta, not something you are likely to find on a restaurant menu. In my family, the ricotta pie filling at its simplest was just ricotta, eggs, parsley and grated cheese, usually a Pecorino with black pepper corns in it in my childhood. My mother used to sprinkle sesame seeds on top of this “plain” ricotta pie, a great addition. Then there was the basic filling but incorporating some fresh Malta Goze cheeselets with the ricotta, or else using the dried version of the cheeselets grated instead of the Pecorino, it was extra tasty made this way! And then sometimes there were peas, fresh or frozen, at other times broad beans, always fresh, in the filling. Best of all, on a rare occasions a few delicious bits of the wonderful Malta cooked ham on the bone, which is bought by weight and always hand sliced into thick slices, got diced into the filling – for me by far the best version, even if a little far from tradition.
On the smaller Maltese island of Gozo, the ricotta pie has raisins in it, making an unusual savoury/ sweet pie. Though my mother had spent many years in Gozo and often made Gozo style dishes, our Torta Ta L-Irkotta never had raisins, so I am guessing that my father must have put his foot downon that one at a time before I was old enough to remember. The pastry too can vary, it can be short crust or puff pastry. The pie is special if it is made with your own home made short crust pastry but nowadays I mostly use shop bought chilled puff pastry.
I made a version of the Maltese Ricotta Pie here in Bologna recently. No Gozo cheeselets but great ricotta and fresh vegetables and of course excellent Parmigiano. I was pretty pleased with the result and so were the Italian friends I shared it with. I hope the pictures inspire you to make it too! It doesn’t just look good, it tastes great!
- 2 packets of chilled puff pastry
- 500-600g good quality ricotta
- 3 eggs plus an extra egg for glazing the pastry
- a few handfuls of fresh peas (or use frozen peas)
- a couple of handfuls of fresh broad beans (fava beans)
- fresh parsley
- 50g grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino cheese
- optional a thick slice of lightly smoked cooked ham
- salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 180°C (Gas Mark 4)
Grated the cheese.
Pre-cook the peas in salted boiling water, then drain and leave to cool.
Pre-cook the broad beans, drain, cool and shell the larger ones by removing the outer skin.
Cut white fat from the ham then dice the slice into pea sized pieces.
Slice the parsley fine.
Sieve the ricotta through a potato ricer into a large bowl.
Whisk the eggs together seasoning with a little salt and pepper.
Add the parsley to the eggs and mix in, and then also mix in the grated cheese.
Add the egg mixture to the ricotta and blend together.
Add in the diced ham and mix it in, thenmix in the cooked peas and broad beans.
Unroll the first of the puff pastry sheets into a baking dish of the appropriate shape and size. (If your pastry does not come on its own baking paper sheet then you will need to make your own parchment paper lining.) Prick all over with a fork and brush with beaten egg.
Fill the pie with the filling mixture then gently unroll the second pastry sheet on top.
Brush the top with beaten egg then pierce all over with a fork. Crimp the edges together to seal.
Cut decorative shapes with any left over pastry, place on top of the pie, and brush these with egg wash too.
Bake for about 45 -50 minutes until it is beautifully golden – you do not want a pale anaemic looking pie! I check on the pie from time to time and cover the top if it is too browning too fast and I also like to make sure the pastry at the bottom is properly cooked through.
Enjoy the pie just warm, with a fresh salad alongside. It can also be eaten cold, it makes great picnic food.