Last month, I spent some time at Gullkistan1, residency for creative people in Laugarvatn, a town in southern Iceland (Islanda) on the shore of this lovely lake:
While there, I read a review2 (recensione) of the memoir The Stones Speak by Icelandic author Þórbergur Þórðarson (Thorbergur Thordarson)3
This is the first book in Þórbergur’s bulk of autobiographical writings dealing with his formative years growing up on a farm on the southern coast of Iceland at the brink of the twentieth century. Þórbergur’s love for his natural surroundings and daily life on the farm is captured in obsessive detail with a humorous and at times absurdist essayistic style, and the communicative authorial presence found in all his writing.
I was intrigued and purchased the book at the bookstore (libreria) Bókakaffið4 in Selfoss.
The translator first introduces the reader to customs described in the book that are unfamiliar to non-Icelandic readers. Whether you have visited Iceland or not, you can immerse yourself in the detailed descriptions of life in the farm, of the inner life of a boy growing up in a fairly intense environment (northern climate, relative isolation) as he finds his place in a world that is a blend of concrete daily physical tasks and intangible presences. Such life is not always idyllic, which is something I appreciate about the book: the author captures the sense of wonder he experienced as a child, but considers some of his experiences through the lens of his maturity.
Storytelling is important in Iceland: there is a story behind almost everything you see or experience, usually going back hundreds of years, all the way to the Vikings. I love the sense of history people have and their readiness in sharing stories. So, back to the US, I loved the kind of continuation of that experience I got from reading The Stones Speak.
Icelandic cuisine is one of the paragraphs of the introduction and in it, skyr6, the national cheese made with cultured skimmed milk, is described. At Efsti-dalur II7, a cattle and dairy farm not far from Laugarvatn famous for its ice cream, I bought delicious fresh farmhouse skyr, which I ate spread on crackers with some crumbled locally smoked trout8 on top or a thin layer of pesto made at Solheimar5 with the basil (basilico) that grows abundantly in their greenhouse (serra).
I knew about skyr before visiting Iceland. I didn't know about their greenhouses, heated by geothermal energy, in which various types of produce are grown, including, this time of the year, zucchini. Using the ingredients I had available, I prepared a savory tart adapting a beloved recipe of mine for savory carrot and fromage blanc tart.
Ingredients for the dough:
- 1 3/4 ounces / 50 g whole-wheat pastry flour
- 1 3/4 ounces / 50 g whole-grain spelt flour (or another whole-grain flour of choice)
- 1/4 cup / 60 g lukewarm water
- 1 teaspoon / 5 ml extra-virgin olive oil
- A pinch of fine sea salt
Note: the version in the photo has all whole-grain spelt flour, because my extremely limited knowledge of Icelandic did not allow me to locate whole-wheat pastry flour in the grocery store.
Ingredients for the filling:
- 1 pound / 450 g zucchini, possibly organic
- 4 ounces / 113 g leek (white and light green portion, clean weight)
- 2 tablespoons / 30 ml extra-virgin olive oil
- Leaves of several sprigs of fresh thyme
- 1 tablespoon prepared pesto, optional (I used pesto a la Solheimar)
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, or to taste
- A pinch of freshly ground black pepper
- 7 ounces / 200 g Efstidalur II Skyr or fromage blanc
Make a dough with the ingredients and knead until nice and smooth, not sticky at all. Let it rest, well covered (e.g., wrapped in plastic film), for half an hour.
Cut the zucchini into sticks and then each stick into thin slices. Cut the leek in half lengthwise then into thin slices. Rinse well to eliminate any dirt.
Heat the olive oil in a skillet. Add the leek and stir to coat. Add the thyme leaves and stir. Cook gently until the leek is tender.
Add the zucchini and stir well. Cook until tender. If the zucchini release a lot of water, let it evaporate, leaving some moisture so it is easy to mix in the skyr later.
Season the zucchini with pesto (if using) salt and pepper and stir. Let cool while you roll the dough.
Preheat the oven to 350 F / 177 C.
Lightly dust with flour a piece of parchment paper about 13 inches / 33 cm wide. Working on the parchment paper placed over a working surface, roll the dough into an 11 inch / 28 cm diameter disk.
Add the skyr (or fromage blanc) to the zucchini and stir until distributed uniformly. Spread the zucchini and cheese on the rolled dough to form an even layer, leaving a 1 inch / 2.5 cm border of clean dough all around.
Fold the uncovered border of dough over the filling and pleat it at regular intervals.
Slide the parchment paper with the assembled tart onto a baking sheet and place it in the oven.
Bake until the top crust is crisp, approximately 30-32 minutes.
Take the tart out of the oven, cut and serve.
A lovely tasting tart, which I shared with a fellow artist at Gullkistan. Like Þórðarson's memories, it had the sweetness granted by a special place and special people.
1 Gullkistan, residency for creative people
2 Review of The Stones Speak in the Reykjavík Grapevine
3 Þórbergssetur the museum dedicated to Þórbergur in Hala, Suðursveit
4 Bókakaffið in Selfoss
5 Sólheimar (“The Home of the Sun”)
6 The brand of skyr you buy in stores in Iceland
7 Efsti-dalur II
8 The smokehouse in Utey makes three different kinds of smoked trout (silungur)
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the torta salata con zucchine e skyr audio file [mp3].
[Depending on your set-up, the audio file will be played within the browser or by your mp3 player application. Please, contact me if you encounter any problems.]