This is really the story of Signora and the Gorgonzola Torte, but it’s too good a tale to hide off somewhere in the Journals, and besides, it really does quite naturally lead in to a recipe.
In the summer of 1999, my cousin Jania came to the Bay Area for a wedding in Angwin, and i picked her up there on a lovely Saturday morning. She’d not been to the Joseph Phelps winery off the Silverado Trail on Taplin Road, so i took her there first as it doesn’t offer free tastings and is sufficiently off the beaten path that it’s never jammed with tourists. But it’s postcard beautiful, both in its setting and in its architecure, and they are welcoming to serious buyers. In fact, they almost always have tucked back a few bottles of one of their astonishing Trockenbeernauslese Johannisberg Rieslings or other dessert wines.
After Phelps, i cut across the valley to Highway 29 and stopped at the Oakville Grocery, thinking Jania might be impressed by its selection. What was i thinking? It was nearly noon on Saturday and the place was jammed with sleek young yuppie foodies. And big. My cousin and i are of reasonable size, but these people all seemed to be at least six feet tall and looked like buffed professional athletes even though they all probably worked for high tech companies in the area. Furthermore, a casual glance suggested that she and i were between two and three times the age of any of them.
So we gradually worked our way through this herd of well dressed young folk in their weekend feeding grounds, and then, as i was leading us to a cooler looking for some quark, she caught my shoulder, pointed through the crowd at what looked to me like a big white sickeningly sweet cake on a covered pedestal atop the cheese counter fifteen feet away, and asked, “Is that a gorgonzola torte?”
And somehow, at the moment she asked me, there was enough of a lull in the roar of conversation that the counterman heard her and answered, loudly enough to be heard through the din, “Why yes, it is, Signora. We made it this morning,” lifting the clear cover to better display the torte.
Hearing this, the yuppies sensed that they were in the presence of a higher power, and at once all conversation in that end of the room ceased. Then, as if struck by Moses’ rod, they parted, leaving an ample pathway for Signora to approach the counter. I followed in her wake, and they closed in around us to watch whatever was about to go down.
“Would you like a slice? It’s quite good.”
“Yes, please,” said Signora, indicating with thumb and forefinger an ample slice, “i loved this when i lived in Milan.”
He cut the slice and held it up so Signora, a roomful of spellbound yuppies, and i could see the dozen perfectly alternating layers of gorgonzola, mascarpone, and chopped walnuts – all iced on the outside with mascarpone.
The weighing and wrapping of the slice were anticlimactic, but the spell lingered long enough that the yuppies made way for us to depart as they gradually resumed their conversations.
So what, you ask, does this incident have to do with Tortine Luigi?
Well, i loved this wonderful combination of flavors, and attempted to make the torte at home but lacked the technique to make layers so gorgeous and even.
And then, i had an inspiration. I spread a bunch of perfect walnut halves on a sheet pan and roasted them for a few minutes at 375 F until they had just begun to darken and had that fresh-roasted taste. I cooled them and put one on a work plate, flat side down. I put a dab of gorgonzola and a dab of mascarpone on it. I gently mashed another half on top and ran a knife around the edge to smooth the squeezings even.
Presto, i had a bite-size appetizer. And took a plate of them to a Thanksgiving dinner, where they were very well received. I wrote Jania about this and she provided a name for them: Tortine Luigi. I’ve taken them to many parties, and they’re always a hit. A little fussy to make, but since they’re so rich that one is enough for most people, you don’t need to make all that many.
And besides, you can tell that a lot of the diners are just sick that they didn’t think of doing this first.
Go ahead and use aged gorgonzola here since you want the flavor to shine through the mascarpone and illuminate the walnuts.