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Fresh Cheese & Onion Tourte from The Serpent & the Pearl by Kate Quinn & A GIVEAWAY

Fresh Cheese & Onion Tourte from The Serpent & the Pearl by Kate Quinn & A GIVEAWAY

Food From Fiction, Recipes

Despite my flying thoughts, I couldn’t help smiling as my fingers sealed a crumble of fresh cheese and sweet olive oil and Genovese onions into a pastry crust. The cramped little kitchens were humming like a beehive, the apprentices were working like hired mules, and I imagined I could hear the murmur of guests upstairs: the whisper of expensive silks, the peal of laughter from a happy bride. The clink of fine glasses, the crunch as salted nuts and honeyed dates and morsels of Ligurian cheese disappeared into the mouths of cardinals and wedding guests and bridegroom alike. The oohs and aahs that went up as the roast peacock, my roast peacock, came swaying in at last on the backs of two serving men, proud and feathered and sweet-cooked and not at all looking like it had been whipped together in a quarter of the time it needed (at least if you didn’t look too close).

Kate Quinn, The Serpent and the Pearl (Chapter One – Carmelina)

Fresh Cheese and Onion Tart
Oh, to be an apprentice in Carmelina’s Renaissance kitchen!  Just one of the rich characters that brings 15th Century Rome alive in Kate Quinn’s fourth novel, The Serpent and the Pearl, Carmelina is a cook on the run.  Desperate, she seeks sanctuary in her cousin’s kitchen, only to find herself picking up the pieces of the wedding feast he abandoned in a gambling fit when the city’s cards and dice called.

Just as strong but underestimated women do everyday, Carmelina saves the day, and, in turn, saves herself.  I won’t tell you anymore, except to say that The Serpent and the Pearl is a story rich with food, history and passion.  I kept turning the pages, engrossed by Kate’s vivid descriptions, tantalizing aromas and characters so real I spoke back to them more than once.

cipollini onionsOne of the apprentices in Carmelina’s kitchen turns out to be Bartolomeo Scappi, famous real-life Renaissance chef and author of Opera dell’arte del cucinare, one of the most monumental cookbooks of all time.  Here is his recipe for a fresh cheese and onion tourte:

Grind struccoli [cheese made that day] or fresh provatura; they should be so well ground up that they become like butter; add a little sweet olive oil to them.  Get parboiled onions that have been well beaten with a knife, and mix the ground cheese and ground pepper with them.  Get a baking sheet that is sprinkled with grated bread and has a sheet of dough on it made of fine flour, water, and oil.  On that pastry put the filling to a height of half a finger and, with a spoon, go on to sprinkle a little olive oil over it.  Distribute the mixture on top in big pinches.  Cover it over with another sheed of dough; splash that with plain water and sprinkle some oil on it with a spoon.  Bake in an oven and serve hot with sugar over top.  Instead of oil, you can use butter.

homemade ricotta
I made a few changes to Bart’s recipe.  Five hundred year old recipes, although no doubt delicious at the time, always need a little help to make the leap forward.

The first thing I changed was the pastry.  The tourte sounded a lot like a stuffed-crust pizza to me, so I added a small amount of yeast to the dough to give a bit of softness to Scappi’s crust, that was, to be honest, very similar to cardboard.

For the filling, I made some fresh ricotta (easy and delicious — you’ll find a link to my method in the notes below this recipe) , and combined it with some store-bought bocconcini.  Cipollini onions are in-season right now, and their sweetness works perfectly, along with the fresh oregano and lemon zest I added to perk up the flavour a bit.

In fact, feel free to go rogue with the fillings.  This lovely tourte will become anything you want it to…get creative and inspired to make your own version of delicious!
baked-tartMy fellow food bloggers were as inspired as I by The Serpent and the Pearl!  We’ve put together a delicious Virtual Potluck of several dishes from the book.  Before you scroll down to my recipe, take a little tour of the other blogs and dishes up for view:

GIVEAWAY:  I have a copy of The Serpent and the Pearl to give away!  The contest is open worldwide, to anyone who loves a good read.  To enter, simply leave a comment below.  For a second entry, go to the Island Vittles facebook page, like the page (if you haven’t already), then leave a comment on the Serpent & Pearl link near the top of the page.

Entries close on Sunday, September 22 at 6pm PST.  I will announce the winner (chosen by random draw) on Monday, September 23.  Good luck!

Fresh Cheese & Onion Tart

: Fresh Cheese & Onion Tourte from The Serpent & the Pearl

: An aromatic tart with a soft pizza-like double crust and filled with Ricotta & Bocconcini Cheeses and Cipollini Onions.  The contemporary plating above is garnished with basil oil and balsamic reduction.


  • All-Purpose Flour – 3 Cups (750 ml)
  • Salt – 1 tsp (5 ml)
  • Sugar – 1 tsp (5 ml)
  • Instant Yeast – ¼ tsp (1 ml)
  • Water, room temp – 1 Cup (250 ml)
  • Olive Oil – 2 Tble (30 ml)


  • Cipollini Onions – ½ lb (225 g)
  • Ricotta Cheese – ¾ lb (350 g), about 1½ Cups (375 ml)
  • Bocconcini Cheese – 2 fist-sized balls
  • Fresh Oregano, chopped – 2 Tble (30 ml)
  • Zest of 1 Lemon
  • Salt – 1 tsp (5 ml)
  • Fresh Ground Pepper – ½ tsp (3 ml)
  • Olive Oil – 2 Tble (30 ml)
  1. Prepare the pastry: Combine the flour, sugar, yeast and salt in a bowl. Add the water and olive oil to the bowl and mix well with your hand until a rough ball forms. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured counter and knead until smooth, about 5 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap and/or a clean towel and set aside to rise in warm place (in the oven with the light on works) for 1 hour. The dough should be slightly puffy and soft.
  2. While the dough rises, trim the root ends off the onions. Bring a small pot of salted water to the boil, dd the onions. Boil 5 minutes. Drain. When cool enough to handle, grasp an onion by its uncut end and push the onion out of its papery skin. Repeat with remaining onions. (You may need to use a knife on some to remove the skins.) Chop the onions roughly.
  3. Add the ricotta and bocconcini to the bowl of a food processor, and process until the consistency of cream cheese. Add the oregano, lemon zest, salt and pepper and pulse 2 or 3 times to combine. Scrape into a small bowl and set aside.
  4. Preheat the oven to 450° F (230° C) and move the rack to the middle position.
  5. Divide the dough in half and roll one piece into a 12” round on a piece of lightly floured parchment. (If the dough is too elastic, allow it to rest 5 minutes, then roll again.) Spread the cheese in a thick layer on the dough, mounding it slightly in the middle and leaving a 1” (2.5 cm) border all the way around. Top with the chopped onions and drizzle with olive oil. Brush the border lightly with water.
  6. Roll the second piece of dough into a 12” round. Lay this crust over top the cheese, matching up and pressing the edges together. Brush the edge of the top crust very lightly with water, then crimp the edges together tightly, using this video as a guide.
  7. Brush the top with water, sprinkle with a bit of kosher or coarse salt and move the tart and parchment to a baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, about 20-25 minutes, turning the pan once.
  8. Allow to cool 10 minutes before slicing.

To Serve: Makes a lovely lunch or light dinner served warm with a small salad. I picked a mixed bag from my garden – baby arugula and kale, mint and french sorrel – and dressed them lightly with lemon juice, olive oil, salt & pepper. Garnish with parmesan.

To Store: Wrap well and store in the fridge for up to 2 days. Reheat gently before serving.


  • No instant yeast? Substitute ¼ tsp active dry yeast. Use warm water instead of room temp, and sprinkle the yeast over the water and allow it to bloom for 5 minutes before proceeding with the recipe.
  • Homemade ricotta is MILES better than store-bought and very easy/quick to make. Use this recipe and 2 Quarts (Litres) of whole milk to make enough for this tart.

Preparation time: 1 hour(s)

Cooking time: 20 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 8

Copyright © © 2009-2013 Island Vittles/Theresa Carle-Sanders. Don’t Steal – Karma’s Real. herb salad


  1. Carina
    September 16, 2013 at 1:33 am

    I love to hear of at new author to read. History and good food sounds fantastic. After all, I was lured to this blog by reading Gabaldon….

  2. Robin D
    September 16, 2013 at 3:07 am

    I love to find new authors. The tart looks yummy

  3. Lindsey
    September 16, 2013 at 5:23 am

    Looks delicious.

  4. Becky Preston
    September 16, 2013 at 5:37 am

    This looks like fun, but some of the links are not working. It may just be too early on Monday morning for your other bloggers. Too bad I have meetings the next three nights, deferred gratification is hard.

    • Theresa
      September 17, 2013 at 11:05 am

      They should all be good links now, Becky!

  5. Aaron
    September 16, 2013 at 6:00 am

    The text made my mouth water and they pictures made my stomach grumble! Way to go! Even if I don’t win I will add the book to my list!

  6. Lori
    September 16, 2013 at 6:37 am

    Beautiful and delicious! I really need to make that ricotta!!!

  7. I would have made this tourte if you hadn’t taken it already, you know. I adore onion, well, anything. But I’m glad you got it because it looks better than anything I would have come up with. Thanks for thinking of me with regard to this project. It was so very fun.

  8. Georgia
    September 16, 2013 at 7:07 am

    That looks sinfully delicious! Can’t wait to try it this weekend.

    Theresa, have you ever tried cooking from Apicius? Lovely Roman recipes, even if you leave out the garum and dormice.

    • Theresa
      September 17, 2013 at 11:05 am

      I have read bits of Apicius, but have yet to cook from it.

  9. Kate Quinn
    September 16, 2013 at 7:28 am

    I knew when I wrote this that I’d have to make it someday – and these pics are so mouth-watering, I suspect this is going to be next on the week’s dinner menu. Thanks so much for taking part in this, Theresa!

  10. Bullrem
    September 16, 2013 at 8:02 am

    I love a challenge and this one sounds like a wee step for me. I conquered the salt rising bread, I should be able to do this. Only thing is – can I find the ingredients in my wee town? Thanks for this recipe and giveaway, Theresa.

    Thanks also Ms Quinn for all the great hours of reading treasures…. Helen in Ark.

    • Kate Quinn
      September 16, 2013 at 10:44 am

      You’re welcome!

  11. Karen
    September 16, 2013 at 8:27 am

    I recently discovered your blog. I have enjoyed it and the wonderful recipes. Looking forward to making this one.

  12. Janie Caperton
    September 16, 2013 at 8:41 am

    This looks so good .Your photos make everything look so mouth watering. It will be fun to find the Bocconcini, a cheese which I am not fimiliar (!) It is great that you got your book launched looking forward to give it a look see. I am always up for a good read and The Serpent & the Pearl sounds like it might be right my alley.

    • Theresa
      September 17, 2013 at 11:02 am

      Boccocini is fresh mozzarella, Janie. You’ll find it in tubs in with the specialty cheeses, or in the deli case next to the olives, etc.

  13. Inn at the Crossroads
    September 16, 2013 at 8:46 am

    Looks wonderful, Theresa! Can’t wait to give it a try. :)

  14. Kara
    September 16, 2013 at 8:53 am

    Looks delicious! I must try this if I can find those cheeses. But pray tell? What is a sop?

    • Kate Quinn
      September 16, 2013 at 9:19 am

      Hot sops are a middle-ages dish that has gone out of style by now – essentially it’s strips of butter-fried bread with some sort of dipping sauce which could be almost anything: sweet, savory, meat based, fruit based, etc. It was a popular snack, but it was also a staple for those who had trouble with solid food, i.e. the very old, the very young, or the very sick. I did a sweet sop with cherries and cinnamon, and it came out delicious – hop over to to check it out!

  15. Dodie
    September 16, 2013 at 9:08 am

    I love that you continue to have books as your inspiration for your amazing recipes. Two of the most wonderful things in the world: good books and yummy food! :)

  16. Danti
    September 16, 2013 at 9:13 am

    I’m trying to make ricotta for the time today and am so happy to find this recipe to use put the fresh cheese in good use. Your mixed green also looks so lovely!

  17. deana@lostpastremembered
    September 16, 2013 at 9:14 am

    It’s interesting because I made an ancient Greek pastry that was like this– stuffed with soft cheese and loved the texture. More like a kind of Indian bread than a pizza, his would be somewhere between that and a pie crust I guess. Your version kicks it into the modern age for sure. Beautiful photos… the onions glow.

  18. Charree
    September 16, 2013 at 9:20 am

    I’ll have to try this one. I’ve always loved books with great descriptions of food and when I can find the recipes I’m so excited. Thanks.

  19. Ellen Porcari
    September 16, 2013 at 9:40 am

    Yum! Can’t wait to make this for my next Guild meeting. The book is now on my wish list, just in case I don’t win it! Romance and food – how can one go wrong?

  20. lynn bischoff
    September 16, 2013 at 9:50 am

    Looking forward to both reading the book and trying the recipe. I think the best tarte I’ve ever had was a carmelized onion tarte in the Red Door in Leura, in the Blue Mountains of Australia. I’ve been looking fir a good onion tarte recipe ever since. Thsnks for posting this.

  21. Heather Webb
    September 16, 2013 at 11:11 am

    I love the idea adding a little lemon and ricotta to brighten it! Your pictures are gorgeous. I’m totally going to make this. I may go for an onion-mushroom mixture…

  22. sara
    September 16, 2013 at 1:38 pm

    That tourte looks amazing – I love onions and cheese together. The updated pastry sounds excellent. :)

  23. Nancy Haynes
    September 16, 2013 at 6:12 pm

    Sounds yummy and I cannot wait to read the book.

  24. MichelleH
    September 16, 2013 at 8:06 pm

    This book sounds right up my alley! I’d love to win. :)

    And if you’ve never read ‘The Marriage Test’ by Betina Krahn, it’s a borderline bodice ripper, but it’s full of MOUTHWATERING food descriptions. Reading it always makes me hungry, and it manages to avoid most of the annoyingist romance tropes. :)

  25. Pam Rutter
    September 17, 2013 at 5:15 am

    Theresa – this not only looks incredible but your pictures are beautiful. The styling of the whole photograph is beautiful!

  26. Laurie Frazier
    September 17, 2013 at 5:53 am

    I like the idea in an earlier comment of adding mushrooms. Also my rosemary fetish requires me to substitute it for the oregano.

  27. Rosalyn Gatcombe
    September 17, 2013 at 11:11 am

    It sounds great, can’t wait to try it.

  28. Diane
    September 17, 2013 at 12:54 pm

    The tourte sounds marvelous, and so does the book!

  29. Shauna
    September 18, 2013 at 9:38 am

    I am not at all an onion fan, but this looks yummy! I LOVE recipes pulled from the pages of a good book…

  30. Elaine Boyle
    September 18, 2013 at 9:07 pm

    This looks delicious!!

  31. Mary Stanley
    September 19, 2013 at 10:32 am

    Yummy, cheese and onions what could be better?

  32. Liz-RedApron
    September 19, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    The aroma swirling in my head is heavenly while reading this blog post. I can not wait to try this. Thank you!

  33. Eileen O'Rourke
    September 19, 2013 at 1:52 pm

    This looks so delicious, hope to make it soon!

  34. Jo-Anne Will
    September 19, 2013 at 3:05 pm

    Wow! I’ll have to try both the recipe and the books!

  35. diana hutchinson
    September 19, 2013 at 5:29 pm

    i am going to make this this weekend. When i was very young a friends mother used to make a cheese and onion pie and I loved it. seeing this makes me think of her.

  36. Melody Richman
    September 20, 2013 at 3:55 am

    Can’t wait to try this. I love savory dishes and love to find non-meat ones.

  37. Margot C
    September 20, 2013 at 2:00 pm

    That looks so marvelous and beautiful (your photography is wonderful). I want to make it but I’m not clear what a Genovese onion is.

  38. Joy Weese Moll (@joyweesemoll)
    September 21, 2013 at 7:39 am

    This looks like a wonderful lunch with a garden-fresh salad. Neat to think of it as history brought forward.

  39. Deena Rose
    September 23, 2013 at 7:43 am

    Yum! Love to cook, live to read! Can’t wait to do both.

  40. Frannie LoGrasso
    October 21, 2013 at 9:48 am

    Delicious idea! So nice to be able to create the dishes you drool about when you read them…and a refreshing resolution to “what’s for dinner?”

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