Yield: a 9 inch tart, serving 6 to 8
Pignoli (pine nuts) is an ingredient much loved and used in Italian cooking—from savory pasta dishes and pesto, to meat dishes, such as bracciole and rollatini, and an infinite number of desserts. Here it is the topping of the tart and hence it’s name pignolato, lots of pignoli. For me, pignoli are delicious nots that are recall harvesting from a cone of the pine tree at the end of my grandmother’s courtyard in Istria. It was that a humungous pine tree —or maybe I was small. My brother Franco and the other boys would climb up the tree and shake or knock down the open cones. Burrowed in the open scales of the pine cone were the oval brown-shelled nuts, which the girls would crack open with stone on stone. First we would eat our fill, then we began collecting them for cooking. That fresh, sweet flavor of pine nuts is still vivid in my mind, and to me there is nothing worse than biting into a rancid old pine nut. So make sure you get the freshest pine nuts, which should be sweet, nutty, and buttery at the same time. Buy them in small quantities, since they are expensive; use them quickly, and if you have some left over, seal them tightly in a plastic bag and freeze them for future use. To heighten their aroma, toast them just before using —although not in this recipe, since you will be baking them.
- 1 batch (12 ounces) Sweet Dough for Molded Tarts, chilled
- For the apricot filling:
- 8 ounces dried apricots (about 1-1/2 cups)
- 2/3 cup water or more
- 1/2 cup apricot jam, stirred to loosen
- Optional: 2 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk (a nice touch but not mandatory!)
- For the pignolata topping:
- 7 ounces (a standard package) almond paste
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 whites from large eggs
- 1 cup pine nuts
Making the components of the tart:
Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven with a baking stone on it, if you have one. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. (If you make the shell or the apricot filling a day or hours ahead of time, turn on the oven before you assemble the tart—be sure to leave extra time for the baking stone to heat up.)
Roll and press the dough to form the tart shell. If you’re doing this ahead of time, refrigerate the tart shell so it is easier to handle and fill.
Put the dried apricots in a small, preferably narrow saucepan with the 2/3 cup water. Cover and bring to a boil; reduce the heat to maintain a steady simmer. Cook covered until the apricots are soft (but not mushy) and only 2 or 3 tablespoons of poaching liquid are left in the pan, about 20 minutes. If the water evaporates before the apricots have softened, add more water and continue cooking slowly. Let the apricots cool in the pan with the syrupy liquid.
To make the apricot filling, put the cooled poached apricots and syrup in a food processor and pulse in short bursts—about 4 seconds in all—to chop the apricots into a thick paste of very small bits. Don’t purée—the paste should be chunky. Scrape the apricots into a bowl and stir in 6 tablespoons of the apricot jam and blend well. (Refrigerate filling if prepared ahead).
Make the macaroon base for the pignolata when you are ready to assemble the tart and bake. Crumble the almond paste into the food processor and add the sugar. Process about 30 seconds, scraping down the workbowl if necessary, so they’re completely blended with the consistency of moist sand. Pour the egg whites into the machine and process for another 30 seconds, scraping as needed, until the macaroon is a smooth white slush.
Assembling the tart, baking and serving:
(If you haven’t heated your oven and baking stone yet, do it now.)
Plop the 2 remaining tablespoons of apricot jam on the bare bottom of the tart shell and spread it to cover the bottom dough thinly. Spoon the apricot filling into the tart and spread it in an even layer—it should fill almost 2/3 of your dough shell.
Drizzle the 2 tablespoons of optional sweetened condensed milk all over the apricot layer: don’t bother to spread it, just streak the entire surface. (This adds a subtly different kind of sweetness that you should try sometime, but the tart is excellent without it.)
Scrape the macaroon slush in blobs all over the top of the tart. Spread it with a big spoon or spatula moistened with water (but not dripping). It will be sticky but with a little patience you can push it into a smooth, flat layer that comes right to the sides of the dough shell and covers the apricot (but not the dough rim) completely
To finish the pignolata, sprinkle the pine nuts, just a few at a time, on top of the macaroon. Take your time: you want to make a single layer of pine nuts, so dense that you can’t see the macaroon at all. Drop the pignoli to cover small sections and then fill in empty spots Let them rest where you drop them—don’t push them into the macaroon or across the top. Do not cover the rim of the dough.
When the tart is assembled, set the mold onto the hot baking stone. If you’re not using a stone, you can move and bake the tart on a baking sheet.
Bake for about an hour (or longer without a stone) until the pignolata and the outside tart crust is beautifully browned but not blackened. Rotate the tart on the stone (or the rack) for even baking. The pine nuts should brown gradually: if they’re dark within the first 30 minutes of baking cover them with foil and lower the oven temperature if necessary; if they’re not taking on color at all in the first half hour, raise the oven temperature.
Let the baked tart cool completely on a wire rack—this can take several hours. If using a tart ring with a removable bottom, separate the ring from the tart. If you want, slide the tart from the round metal mold bottom onto a platter—use long metal spatulas to support the tart, if you have any.
Serve the tart at room temperature. You can top with unsweetened whipped cream or just sprinkle with powdered sugar. It is such a deliciously rich tart that you don’t want to give big portions (they can always have seconds).