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Apulian Cooking
Marzotica
…a taste of spring
In Puglia a few weeks before the beginning of spring the delicatessens are already displaying the first pieces of marzotica ricotta.
Delicious with young raw fava beans, it is also used in many recipes. We will give you two very good ones: “Sagne torte with marzotica” and “Marzotica balls”
by Dario Ersetti
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Sagne torte with marzotica. Photo by Dario Ersetti

Marzotica is an aged sheep’s milk ricotta made at the beginning of spring when the ewes start grazing on the sweet spring pasture and produce a richer, more flavorsome milk in large quantities to coincide with the birth of their lambs. Add to this the fact that at this time of year the demand for ricotta starts to dwindle, and you can see why shepherds invented marzotica ricotta and “strong ricotta” or “schiante” as two ways of preserving the product.

Marzotica is a semi-hard ricotta, crumbly, non-elastic, white colored, which is salted and aged for a short time in a small wicker tub, where it is lightly pressed by hand, then wrapped in wild grasses that vary from place to place. Spear grass is quite commonly used. These grasses give the product a typical herby, fresh flavor. The cheese is round, weighing between half a kilo to two kilos and in some cases, to preserve it better, it is lightly smoked. The flavor has a slight tang.

Marzotica is used as a normal antipasto or dessert cheese, but also in the fillings of meat roulades. It can be grated over fresh pasta with delicate or raw sauces, giving them a typical “spring” flavor, while when it is still quite fresh and cannot be grated it should be broken into pieces and mixed in with the pasta, creating a delightful creaminess.

But perhaps the most traditional use of fresh marzotica is to serve it with young fava beans to be eaten raw, a custom that has become a real cult.

We will offer you two other recipes to highlight the versatility of this cheese. Sagne torte, or ‘ncannulate (twisted strips of lasagne) are a typically Salentinian pasta shape. Notice the dark color due to the use of unrefined durum wheat flour instead of semolina.

 

 

Sagne torte with marzotica

 

  4 servings:

 

- 400 g of sagne torte

- 200 g of pork rind

- a large onion

- parsley

- extra virgin olive oil

- salt

- pepper

- marzotica ricotta

Optional:

- 1 kg of tomatoes for sauce or about twenty cherry tomatoes

 

Cut the pork rind into cubes and brown it in a pan with a spoonful or more of oil, depending on how much lard is attached to the rind. Add the sliced onion and brown it after adding half a glass of water, and add salt to taste.

Cook the pasta in boiling salted water, drain and dress it with the sauce. To serve, sprinkle the dishes with marzotica roughly grated or crumbled if fresh, finely chopped parsley and plenty of pepper.

That is the traditional recipe, while in a more recent one, after browning the pork rind and onion, crushed cherry tomatoes are added and the cooking continues for half an hour or more. In this case the amount of oil can be reduced.

In an even more modern alternative the cubed tomato is added raw and mixed with the pasta before the marzotica is added.

 

 

Marzotica balls

 

  4 servings (to make about 80 little balls, 2.5cm in diameter):

 

- 400 g of marzotica

- 150 g of grated bread

- 150 g of grated caciocavallo cheese

- 2 eggs

- parsley

- pepper

- vegetable stock

 

Mix all ingredients together and make small balls which are dropped into the gently simmering vegetable stock to cook. Normally there is no need to add salt.

This is a dish that used to be eaten during Lent when meat was banned from the table but people didn’t want to give up their “meatballs”.

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