Today was my son’s 5th birthday party. Yeah, the Zealot is a dad. And I love birthday parties. In the same way I like to shake things up for holidays, like Thanksgiving, I relish the chance to pull out something unique for my kid’s parties. Frankly, it’s mostly about feeding the adults, but occasionally I get into the kid food too.
The first year we had a May-day celebration with pizza-on-the-grill. Everyone got to make their own with crazy toppings. The hot fire on the weber was perfect for smokey crisp crusts.
Years two and three we embraced cinco de mayo, one year with cochinita pibil – a yucutan pit-pork concoction that can knock socks. The other year we did carne asada, flank style.
Last year I grilled some Fatted Calf sausages for a Pirate party in Ft. Mason, complete with a cannon and real live pirate actor guy.
This year it was superheroes. Lots and lots of superheroes. Thirty of em. Plus their parents. The food was a challenge because we were at Potrero Del Sol Park with no grilling and blazing sun. So, for the kids we decided on simple sandwiches. But since my son was going to be Captain America, I decided to use his shield for inspiration and viola, a fucking Martha Stewart moment:
For the adults, I threw together a faro, pasta, cherry tomato, ricotta salata and baby arugula salad. It was quick, simple and tasty. It also held up surprisingly well to the heat:
But the real winner, at least in my opinion was a Torta I made on a whim hoping to find something that would work well at room temperature or sweatier. Since I had never made one, I was concerned. While it didn’t rock my world, it was really quite good and I now have a better understanding of the form, to improve in subsequent tries. I’ll share with you my experience and a recipe below.
So a torta is typically an Easter dish, that can include any combination of stuffings, like artichokes, cured meats, spinach, cheeses, etc. It’s baked in a double pie crust and served room temperature or cold. It sort of resembles a quiche, except that the center is denser than a custard, especially when cold.
For mine, I scoured a number of recipes and determined to go at it freestyle. For the crust, I used Food & Wine’s Flakey Double-Crust Pastry Recipe [click for link] but substituted the shortening with Boccalone Lard. I’ve been told that lard is actually better for you than the hydrogenated shortening and gives you better texture and flavor. I’ll have to try both to give my opinion, but I liked the crust with the lard and it was definitely a conversation piece.
For the fillings I took Boccalone mortadella, prosciutto cotto (cooked ham) and capicola and pulsed them a few times in the food processor. This gave a nice ham salad sort of texture. I mixed it all with an egg to bind. Next I grabbed some stellar Bellweather Farm’s Jersey basket ricotta. It has low moisture so it won’t ruin the crust. I mixed it with some aged provolone and pecorino fresco. Lastly I sauteed some baby spinach, drained and dried it and tossed it with some reggiano and a couple of eggs to bind.
The assembly was simple. After laying in the pie crust I alternated meat, cheese, spinach then cheese, meat crust. Base it in a 375 oven for an hour or so, until the crust is golden then refrigerate over night.
I think the whole thing could have used more salt. But the earthiness of the lardo crust played really well with the meats and the cheeses added some sweetness with a little sharp kick from the provolone. The spinach was sort of prosaic and I’d love to give artichokes, chard or broccoli rabe a try. But most importantly it help up amazingly well in direct sun for a couple of hours. It didn’t sweat or break down in the least.