WHAT IS the first thing you think of, when you think of Pisa in Italy? Is it the Leaning Tower of Pisa?

The Tower of Pisa is the campanile – the freestanding bell tower, boasting seven bells on its eighth floor – of the cathedral of the Italian city of Pisa.

It is one of the most famous landmarks in the world, best known for its nearly four-degree lean – the result of an unstable foundation.

Standing tall at 185.93 feet on its highest side, the tower boasts an impressive 296 steps to the top.

The tower actually began to lean while it was being built in the 12th century, due to the soft ground below which could not properly support the structure’s weight (an estimated 14,500 metric tons), and it worsened through the completion of its construction in the 14th century – yes, the tower was built in three stages and took 199 years to complete.

By 1990 the tilt had reached 5.5 degrees. It wasn’t until remedial work took place between 1993 and 2001 that the tower was actually stabilised, which reduced the tilt to 3.97 degrees.

As is often the case with the creator of Italian recipes, the answer to the question ‘who built the Leaning Tower of Pisa?’ is a mystery.

The most frequently accredited architects of this first phase of work are Bonanno Pisano and Gherardo din Gherardo. The second phase of construction started in 1275, and the work is attributed to Giovani di Simone. Tommaso Pisano (1350-1372) was the architect who finished the work.

With such a marvel to behold, why would anything else spring to mind when you think of Pisa? Well, their leaning tower is not the only wonderful thing to come out of the city. Plenty of incredible dishes were invented there too.

Torta co’ bischeri is a sweet treat originating from Pontasserchio, just outside Pisa. The dish was first made around the beginning of the 16th century as an offering to the pilgrims who visited the town every April 28 – the original date for the celebration of the feast of St Paul.

People would take holy pilgrimages along the famous Via Francigena – a route dating back to medieval times connecting Canterbury to Rome – 250 miles of which are in Tuscany.

Pilgrims would stop in the city or in small towns where the local people would treat them with respect and take care of them, providing them with accommodation and food. Torta co’ bischeri is a dish that would be frequently prepared during this time.

This delicious cake is characterised by the folds of pastry dough made on the outer edge of it. One of its most popular present-day variations is the torta di riso e cioccolato, which is made with rice and chocolate.

The dish is made with shortcrust pastry, which I will include the recipe for, but depending on how much time you have to make your own version of the dessert, you can easily buy ready-made shortcrust pastry from most supermarkets, which will take a lot of the work out of cooking.

The dessert might not be as famous as the Tower of Pisa, but hopefully it will turn out better first time…


For the pastry

250g flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

100g butter

100g sugar

1 egg

1 tablespoon liqueur (orange flavoured if you have it)

For the filling

300g milk

200g water

100g rice

100g sugar

200g finely chopped dark chocolate

30g pine nuts

Grated orange zest

1 egg

A pinch of salt


1. First make the dough. Sift the flour into a large bowl along with the baking powder. Take the butter from the fridge and use while still cold. Weigh 100g before adding it to the flour. Using an electric mixer if you have one, combine the flour and the butter. Add the sugar and mix well. Finally, add the egg and the tablespoon of liqueur (I recommend an orange flavoured one, to make the most of the flavours), mix and form the dough into a ball. Cover with cling film and place inside the fridge. Try to leave it there for at least an hour before you use it.

2. To prepare the filling while your dough is chilling, add the milk and water to a pan and heat until boiling. Once you have brought the mixture to the boil, add the pinch of salt and the rice. Leave the contents of the pan to simmer for 20 minutes, checking and stirring it occasionally while it cooks.

3. You will know the rice is ready when it has absorbed the liquid in the pan. Immediately add the sugar and the finely chopped dark chocolate to the rice and mix well before leaving to cool. Once it has cooled down, add the pine nuts, the grated orange zest and 1 egg. Mix well.

4. Remove your pastry dough from the fridge and roll out 2/3 of it, around ½ centimetre in thickness. Grease a baking tin and place your rolled out dough inside. Fill the pie with the chocolate mixture.

5. Use your remaining pastry to create a lattice effect on top of the filling and, if you’re feeling creative, for little triangular shapes to place around the edges. Form pyramid-shaped triangles and place around the outside the pie, pointing outwards.

6. Bake for around 40 minutes at 180°C/Gas Mark 4. Allow to cool and enjoy.