Livorno Balsamic-glazed Red Onion, Ricotta Salata and Olive Tart

Livorno, Tuscany’s quintessential port town on the southernmost edge of the Ligurian Sea, possesses a colourful history and a cosmopolitan heritage. My kind of place. Its shabby historic quarter – known as the Tuscan Venice – is crisscrossed with jade green canals along which skittish brown boys manoeuvre their launches as they attempt to coolly navigate the girls who pretend not to notice yet cannot resist a flick of the hair and a sideways glance. Shabby pastel-coloured belle époque buildings rise from the banks, quiet and melancholy reminders of a more prosperous past. The temperature soared as we emerged from the train from Lucca to walk the long dusty road to the Central Market – Il Mercato Centrale or Mercato delle Vettovaglie. The market  is my first port of call in any city or town newly visited. This one is one of the highlights of the city for it is housed in a glorious imposing building that overshadows the surrounding unremarkable shops and the kind of working mens bars that nice ladies refuse to enter. Inside, you are greeted with cool air and the hum of locals going about their daily business amongst the dozens of kiosks selling everything from artisan pasta to dried wild herbs, juicy pisanello tomatoes, over-ripe peaches, baby courgettes complete with blousy yellow flowers, wild lemons and artisan bread. Glorious Mediterranean fish are housed in their own cavernous hall that smells of the sea and whose old tiled floors are cooled by spilt ice. There are delis galore offering everything from local cheeses and charcuterie to freshly baked artisan tarts – similar to this one – balsamics and olive oil. And then there are the bars housed in cute little kiosks that seem somehow to be time warped in 50s Italia where the women sit gossiping, only occasionally sipping their from tiny glasses, while their men gather nearby animatedly discussing whatever it is that men discuss. You can see my photographic journal of that day on my Instagram Stories.

Caramelised Onion Tart

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

Extra-virgin olive oil
2 large red onions, peeled and cut into wedges
2 tbsp unrefined sugar
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 sheet ready-rolled puff pastry, plus flour for rolling
200g ricotta salata, crumbled (you can also use regular ricotta, feta or goat cheese)
A handful of pitted black olives, halved
A small handful of pine kernels
1 tsp dried wild oregano
Sea salt flakes and freshly ground mixed peppercorns

To garnish:
Fresh oregano leaves
Slivered almonds, toasted
Lemon zest
Pul biber

How I make it

Heat oven to 200C and line a large baking tray with greaseproof paper.

Place a large frying pan over a medium heat, add the olive oil and gently lower in the onion wedges. Gently fry on all sides turning them over as carefully as possible so they don’t break up. After 10 minutes, add the sugar and balsamic and continue to cook for a further five minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, roll out the pastry to fit the baking tray – I like mine nice and thin. Place it on the baking tray and gently score a line 2cm away from the edge on all sides making sure that you don’t actually cut through the pastry – this will allow a crust to form.

Distribute the caramelised onion across the pastry base making sure that everything is within the scored line. Crumble the ricotta between the gaps and arrange the olives over the top. Scatter over the pine kernels, drizzle with olive oil and garnish with the oregano. Season with a little salt and a  few grinds of pepper.

Place the tart in the oven and leave it to bake until the crusts have risen and are a golden brown colour, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside for five minutes.

Cut into squares, place on a pretty platter and garnish with the oregano leaves, toasted almonds, lemon zest and pul biber. Serve with a crisp green salad or try it with my 105 Lincoln greens and carrot slaw and a side of garlicky herbed yoghurt.

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