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What is an Italian Torta?

Bowl of pesto with basil leaves.
The filling in Italian torta often includes parsley.
Grated Parmesan cheese is often added to the filling for an Italian torta.
Ricotta cheese is traditionally a main ingredient in the filling for an Italian torta.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 06 October 2014
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Italian torta may have several definitions in the US. One definition is that torta is a combination of layered soft cheeses, usually combining layers of pesto and sundried tomatoes. This is served in a loaf form and spread onto breads or crackers. It may also be called Italian torte or merely torta, but this is not the traditional torta as viewed by the Italians.

Instead, the real Italian torta is a meat and cheese pie or tart, usually double crusted, that slightly resembles a quiche. The primary difference between quiche and torta besides the double crust is that the slightly eggy custard in torta is much more cheese based than egg based. Usually egg is only used to bind ingredients together, instead of making up the majority of this savory pie, as quiche does.

Eggs are used to make the crust, which should be pale to bright yellow in color. For more yellow coloring to the crust, some recipes suggest using egg yolks only. Crust recipes differ too. Some chefs suggest using a pizza dough for Italian torta, which others suggest a more traditional egg-based piecrust. Either type of dough can make a delicious dish, but the pastry crust is more traditional than bread dough. When pastry dough is used, the torta may be made in a large springform pan instead of in a pie dish.

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Italian torta can have numerous ingredients depending upon region. Some are completely vegetarian, and are flavored merely with vegetables like artichoke, and with spices. Other recipes introduce ham or sausage. The principal filling is usually a combination of ricotta cheese, parmesan, parsley and onion. From that point forward, you can get creative and use many different varieties to augment the Italian torta. Some recipes even suggest lining the bottom piecrust with coarsely ground black pepper for extra flavoring.

You can serve torta while it is still slightly warm and the cheese still semi-melted, or you can serve it cold. The latter serving suggesting is not at all uncommon. The pie’s interior, when cool, is relatively solid cheese custard. Do observe caution with storing the pie if you plan to serve it cool. It should be kept in the refrigerator because of its high cheese content until about ten minutes prior to serving.

As mentioned, ingredients can vary significantly. Consider adding spinach and green onion, artichokes, or make a dried tomato and basil torta. Any and all can make for a delicious and still unusual dish to offer guests. Recipes for Italian torta abound in classic Italian cookbooks and on the Internet. Some specialty food markets may serve torta, where you can buy it by the slice. Authentic Italian delis may also sell torta by the slice. If you haven’t tried it before and love ricotta cheese, you’re in for a wonderful culinary adventure when you try this cheese pie.

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