For me, living on the border between the provinces of Siena and Florence, driving south in Tuscany means going through one of the most breathtaking scenery on the planet, Val d’Orcia and Crete Senesi, declared by Unesco, in 2004, World Heritage Site. The outlines of the hills are well known throughout the world, just as the small group of cypress trees at the top of a hill that seem placed there on purpose to inspire photographers and dreamers.
Pienza, Bagno Vignoni, San Quirico d’Orcia… these are lands of cheese, hot springs and soft landscapes. Then Montalcino, known throughout the world for its wine and also for the excellent extra virgin olive oil, the view that stretches to a far horizon of rolling hills and an abbey just outside the town where the air still vibrates with mysticism and Gregorian chants. When you drive southward you have a far away reference point, Mount Amiata, an ancient and no longer active volcano that dominates the surrounding valleys, Val d’Orcia, the Bolsena lake, the Chianti and the plain of Maremma. In cloudless days you can see the Amiata mountain even from Siena and my house, covered with chestnut and beech forests.
Until a few years ago the Mount Amiata was well-known for its winter tourism, being the most important ski resort in the southern Tuscany with its ski tows and its cozy mountain huts. Nowadays it is instead mostly appreciated for the fresh air, the green areas, the hot springs and a straightforward and hearty cuisine. A typical cake of Mount Amiata is the ricciolina. The ricciolina tart hides between two crumbly shortcrust layers a thick Nutella filling and a generous handful of dried fruit, just to make it even more devilishly good. As the filling is made with Nutella, the first thing that comes to mind would be to use hazelnuts, but you can find sometimes also almonds or walnuts.
Nutella and meringue tart
300 g of plain flour
150 g of sugar
150 g of butter
1 packet of baking powder (about 17 g)
1 pinch of salt
3 eggs (1 whole egg + 2 yolks, do not throw the egg whites, you’ll need them for the meringue)
400 g of Nutella
80 g of shelled walnuts, or almonds, or hazelnuts
For the meringue:
2 egg whites
4 tablespoons of sugar
Mix the flour with the sugar, the salt and the baking powder. Add the diced butter and rub all the ingredients with your fingertips as to make soft crumbles, just as grated Parmesan cheese. Beat a whole egg and two yolks in a bowl, then add them to the crumbles and keep rubbing the ingredients with your fingertips until you have a nice and smooth ball of dough. Flatten the dough ball with your hands, wrap it in cling film and let it rest in the fridge for at least one hour. Preheat oven to 180°C. Divide the dough into two equal parts: line a 24 cm buttered round baking pan with half of the shortcrust dough, then spread half of the Nutella on the pie and sprinkle with the chopped walnuts. Roll out the second part of shortcrust pastry in a disk big enough to cover the cake. Press the edges to seal the pie and bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes. Whip the egg whites until soft peaks form then gradually add 4 tablespoons of sugar, keeping on whipping the egg whites until the meringue is firm and glossy. After 40 minutes of baking, when the cake is golden, remove it from the oven and spoon the meringue over the cake, using a spatula or the back of a spoon to shape it and create some puffs of meringue. Stir quickly the leftover Nutella in the jar to heat it up, then drizzle it on the meringue and mix them gently with a fork to form crazy doodles. Bake again the cake for 2 minutes, and as soon as the meringue gets firm on the surface and slightly golden, remove from the oven and let it cool completely before you slice it.
For more information: www.julskitchen.com
Text by Giulia Scarpaleggia