Most people know dill as an ingredient in their favorite pickles. But dill can be used much more interestingly than that. Believed to have originated in eastern Europe and western Asia, dill even dates back to ancient Egyptian times. The very fragrant and earthy herb is still used in many cuisines throughout Europe and Asia. It is often found in vegetable side dishes and in sauces for seafood. It is probably most well known in the Scandinavian cured salmon dish, gravlax. In Hungary it is even made into desserts. One of my favorites is a tart my mom baked often when I was a kid, a cheesecake that is flavored with dill.
Dill has notes of citrus, pine, and is often described as sweet. It makes a unique addition to this sweet cheese tart. I begin with a traditional pie crust that includes a bit of sour cream and wine for tenderness. Some Hungarian recipes call for a risen bread-like crust, but I prefer a buttery and flaky crust. The cheese filling is typically made with a small curd cheese like farmer cheese or ricotta. I drain the cheese overnight and discard the watery whey to prevent the finished tart from weeping. The filling is rich and creamy and speckled with green dill. Once it's baked, it almost looks like bleu cheese or veiny marble. You will be surprised at how well savory dill and sweet cheese work together.
Dilled Cheese Tart
2 pounds whole-milk ricotta
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, separated
1 large egg white (leftover from tart crust)
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh dill
tart crust, recipe follows
Drain ricotta in a sieve lined with cheesecloth overnight. Discard the whey.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Turn ricotta out into a mixing bowl. Add sugar, salt, vanilla, and egg yolks. Mix thoroughly to combine. Fold in dill.
Meanwhile, using a hand mixer, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Fold the egg whites into the cheese mixture just until combined. Pour into the chilled tart crust.
Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees F. Bake tart for 50 to 60 minutes or until edges are golden brown but center still jiggles slightly. Let cool completely for an hour. Transfer to a refrigerator and let cool overnight. Yield: 8 squares.
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon sour cream
1 tablespoon dry white wine
In a large bowl, combine flour and salt. Add butter and work with a pastry blender until mixture resembles course meal.
Combine egg yolk, sour cream, and wine in a small bowl or measuring cup. Whisk together until well blended. Pour into dry ingredients and mix until dough comes together. Form the dough into a flat disc and wrap in plastic. Chill for at least 1 hour before rolling.
Roll out dough on a well floured work surface to fit a 7-by-11-inch fluted tart pan. Carefully lay dough over pan. Press dough into the corners. Remove excess dough by running rolling pin over pan. Fill any holes or cracks with excess dough.
Chill shell for 10 minutes.