31 July 2007

Eat a Peach or two and maybe a Crostata

It seems like berry season was far too short before it went straight into apricot and peach season. The peaches have been luscious and tasty of late and I can't seem to get enough of them. I have been making a variety of peach deserts like "pesche ripiene", which is a local Piemontese favorite. Peach halves scooped out and refilled with the fruit combined with ameretti cookies and a bit of this and that and baked soft. Also I have poached peaches and blackberries with a sprig of fresh rosemary added to the pot to add an intriguing "je ne sequoi" before ladling over fresh made vanilla bean gelato. Or one of my favorite standards, Crostata. Crostata is one Italian dessert that seems to unite the regional cuisines into a standard all time favorite. Most commercially made ones have a thick crumbly cooky crust, called Pasta Frolla, filled with a generous layer of apricot, plum or strawberry jam and topped off with a lovely wide criss cross top crust. Often the family Sunday lunches are graced by these homely tarts brought and made by one or more of the guests . I decided that since I needed to have the oven on to bake bread the other day, I might as well have a fresh peach crostata to complement our dinner.I have a couple of different versions of Pasta Frolla that I have collected from a few sources along the way. I've been asked what frolla means and as best as I can translate it seems to mean tender. So a tender dough, which is fitting for this particular version.
You generally find that pasta frolla dough can elicit a long winded discussion with all ladies present claiming to have the best version. We went to our annual Scopri Piemonte Bed & Breakfast Association Potluck meeting recently and the strawberry rhubarb version brought by our president of the association, was quite a good one and I was told that the crust was an "Artusi." For those of you not familiar with Pellegrino Artusi, he was a retired silk merchant that around the turn of the 20th century, at the ripe age of 71, wrote the first entirely Italian language cookbook that has become the standard by which all others are measured. (A bit like Betty Crocker or Joy of Cooking, although they arrived later on the food scene) He called it the "La Scienza in Cucina e L'Arte di Mangiar Bene" (The Science of cookery and the Art of Eating Well). It is still the standard by which recipes are held up against in Italy. Check out the link to Kyle Philips of About.com/Italian Food for a wealth of information, stories and recipes all about Italian cuisine and wine. He's an American who grew up and settled in Tuscany and took on the challenge of translating the book into English. His translation is called the "Art of Eating Well".
Anyway, this frolla dough is quick and easy. My version can be quite fast when using some of my home made jam as a base, topped with thinly sliced fresh fruit, a sprinkle of sugar on top, a pat or two of butter or not, criss cross some wide strips of frolla or indulge your whimsical side with some cookie cut out shapes. Egg wash strips or cut outs and bake till brown and bubbly. Sits well overnight unlike flaky crusts and most Italians have it for breakfast with their cappuccinos if they didn't finish it all the day before.

This crust is from Kyle Philips translated "Artusi" version.

Artusi Pasta Frolla
  • 2 cups flour(200 g)
  • 1/2 cup sugar(95 g)
  • 2/3 cup (150 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 egg and 1 yolk
  • The grated zest of a half a lemon or a quarter of an orange

Mix the flour and sugar. Cream the butter, then add the egg and yolk before gingerly adding the four sugar mixture. Handle the dough as little as possible to keep the butter from melting. You can make the dough a day ahead, as it will improve with age, other wise refrigerate the dough for about an hour.
Preheat your oven to 350 F (175 C). Choose a 9-10 inch tart pan with removable bottom, or pie pan if you don't have a tart pan. You can use a cake pan as well and perhaps line it with some parchment paper to make it easier to remove if you would like to serve it without the pan. Otherwise grease and flour your pan or use a nonstick spray.

Divide your dough into two parts with one part being about twice the size of the other, using the larger part for your bottom. You can roll your dough between two sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap if you don't feel confident, making sure to work quickly without warming the dough too much so that the dough gets soft and sticks. Roll the dough out about a half inch thick circle. If it does stick, just pop it into the fridge or freezer for a few minutes and you're ready to roll again or to place the rolled out dough into your desired tart or decorative pie pan. Fill the tart shell with a thick coating of jam.

I used my home made plum and then added thinly sliced peaches. I also like apricot with apple slices and if you want your very own home made fig newtons, this crust is perfect for that as well. I love it with pretty much any of my home made jams. Italians tend to just use straight jam and make sure the jam is about 1/2 inch thick before adding your top. I generally prefer a thinner amount of jam and sliced fresh fruit to cover.

Roll the second round of chilled dough into more of an oblong round, slightly longer that your pan and cut into wide strips with a fluted pastry wheel if you have one. Make wide criss cross lattices on your tart. or use decorative cookie cutter shapes to finish off your top. Brush with a bit of egg white thinned with a splash of water for added shine and sparkle. I didn't do that in the tart pictured here, so it will turn out fine without the wash also.

Bake the crostata for about 20 minutes, or until the dough begins to brown, being careful not to over bake. You want it to just start to bubble and brown lightly. Enjoy day or night.

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