The shell is made of traditional Italian pasta frolla (sugar pastry). The filling, on the other hand, is devised by Mum and tweaked by me. Soft, creamy and custardy, it has a subtle sweetness enhanced by warm spices. 

Serves
10

Preparation

25min

Cooking

1hr
55min

Skill level

Mid
By
Average: 4 (3 votes)
Yum

If you ever find yourself in a Venetian greengrocer some time in autumn, you might be lucky enough to stumble upon a variety of sweet potato marketed as ‘Patate USA’. Despite the store’s laughable attempt to shake off a bit of healthy provincialism by means of fancy words such as ‘USA’ (that’s a fancy word in the countryside of Veneto, in case you’re wondering), what you have actually found is a true niche product from the area, one to which Venetians are so nostalgically attached that they are able to sustain hour-long conversations about its qualities and merits. You’ve found patate americane.

Patate americane, particularly those grown in Southern Veneto, are small in size, with a beige, sandy skin concealing a white, dense, smooth, sugary flesh whose low water and high sugar content mark their superiority over most yams. The variety became extremely popular in the area after it was brought over from the Americas and found a suitable habitat in the fertile flatlands of Polesine. Locals enjoy them simply roasted (best cooked under hot coals), and eat them as a warming snack, better still if accompanied by a glass of new wine. Another classic use is in gnocchi (large knots of sweet potato and flour, seasoned, Renaissance-style, with molasses, cinnamon and grated cheese) or in traditional baked goods.

My family never made Renaissance gnocchi, but repurposed any leftover patate americane in the form of crostata — a tart that is curiously reminiscent of American pumpkin pie.

Ingredients

For the pastry

  • 250 g (2 cups + 1 tbsp) plain flour, sifted, plus more for dusting
  • 110 g (1 cup) icing sugar
  • Finely grated zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
  • 125 g (½ cup + 1 tbsp) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small cubes
  • 1 egg plus 1 yolk, lightly beaten

For the filling

  • 700 g (1½ lb) white sweet potato (see Note)
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • Pinch of fine-grain sea salt
  • Finely grated zest of 1 unwaxed orange (optional)
  • 50 g (3½ tbsp) caster sugar
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 160 ml (⅔ cup) whole milk
  • 60 ml (¼ cup) grappa (or use freshly squeezed and strained orange juice)
  • 10 g (1½ tbsp) cornflour
  • Icing sugar and ground cinnamon, to dust (optional)

Cook's notes

Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.

Instructions

Resting time: 30-60 minutes

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F / gas mark 4). Wash and pat dry the sweet potato. Cut it into 3–4 large chunks, wrap them in foil and roast until very tender, about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, make the pastry. Combine the flour, sugar and lemon zest in a large bowl. Rub the butter into the flour using the tips of your fingers until you have a coarse, crumbly mix. Add the egg and the yolk, and knead until the dough comes together into a smooth ball — try not to overwork it. Wrap it in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, or up to 1 hour.

Remove the sweet potato chunks from the oven and allow them to cool. Leave the oven on at the same temperature. Peel and mash the potatoes with a fork, masher or ricer. Add the mash to a large bowl along with all the other ingredients for the filling. Stir into a smooth, creamy batter. Set aside.

Roll the chilled pastry into a really thin circle that is large enough to cover a 26cm (10 inch) loose-bottomed tart tin. (Dust your work surface with flour and move/turn the dough often so it doesn’t stick.) Flip the dough onto the tin using a rolling pin; press it with your fingertips so it sticks to the surface of the tin and cut off any excess. Pierce the surface all over with a fork, cover with parchment and top with baking beans (or real dried beans, which you can then re-use for this purpose). Blind bake for 10 minutes.

Remove the base from the oven and then remove the parchment and baking beans. Pour in the filling and level it. Return the now-filled tart to the oven and bake for 45 minutes, or until the filling is set and the edges of the crust are deeply golden. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely. If you like, right before serving you can dust the crostata with icing sugar mixed with a generous pinch of ground cinnamon. 

The sugar will melt quickly due to the moist nature of the filling, but the cinnamon will leave a warm, spiced imprint that is very pleasant. This tart is even better the second day as the filling has had the time to rest and set. 

 

Note:
• It might be hard to come across the specific sweet potato variety mentioned. If you can’t find it, use a purple-skinned, white-fleshed sweet potato instead. The only thing to bear in mind is that the filling should be creamy rather than loose. Strain the potato purée overnight if it looks too wet, then adjust the dose of cornflour to come to the desired thickness.

 

Recipe from Veneto: Recipes from an Italian Country Kitchen by Valeria Necchio, Guardian Faber, hb, $39.99.