A Dessert Recipe for Summer: Crostata di Fragole
Crostata is a popular dessert throughout Italy: you can see various types in the window of bakeries and pastry shops and it is easily made at home. I have yet to meet an Italian who doesn’t have a soft spot for crostata of one kind or another.
The base (shell) of crostata is made of pasta frolla, a dough of flour, sugar, butter and eggs. Pasta frolla is versatile: besides providing the base to make crostata, by itself it makes very nice cookies (called frollini).
There are many recipes for pasta frolla and various ideas about how to make it. In my repertoire, I have two versions of pasta frolla that I have been using for some time, inspired by those in the seminal cookbook La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiare bene by Pellegrino Artusi (1820-1911), first published in 1891 and still in print. In Italy, we refer to the book as l’Artusi. (It is available in English translation as Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.)
Crostata can be made with fruit preserves, pastry cream, fresh fruit in various combinations. This time of the year, fresh strawberries beckon, so I am sharing a variation of my recipe for crostata di frutta fresca that uses only strawberries (fragole). It requires a bit of planning, but the result is well worth the effort.
Crostata di Fragole (Strawberry Tart)
For the pasta frolla:
1/3 cup ultrafine sugar or 1/2 cup powdered sugar*
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup almond flour, or almond meal
1/4 cup whole-grain barley flour OR unbleached all-purpose flour
A pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon grated zest of organic lemon
6 tablespoons/3 ounces cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg, lightly beaten to blend yolk and white
For the pastry cream:**
2 large eggs
1/3 cup ultrafine or granulated sugar
2 cups ml milk (whole or 2% fat)
3 strips of organic lemon peel about 3 inches long and 1/2 inch wide (using a potato peeler to cut the strips makes it easier to avoid cutting the white part of the lemon)
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons unbleached all-purpose flour
For the top layer:
8 ounces fresh strawberries, organic or pesticide free
*Ultrafine or superfine or sugar is also referred to as baker’s sugar. If you cannot find it, you can make your own by putting some regular granulated sugar in a food processor or blender and letting it run until the sugar is finely ground.
** This will make twice as much pastry cream as you need, but I find it easier to make this amount, use half for the crostata and serve the other half as dessert. My pastry cream is sweetened lightly. You can add more sugar, if you wish.
Prepare the pasta frolla
Put sugar, flours and salt in the bowl of the food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse a few times to mix.
Add butter and pulse several times for 3 seconds until the mix resembles coarse meal. Empty the food processor’s bowl onto your work surface.
[If you don’t have a food processor: Whisk together sugar, flours and salt in a bowl. Rub or cut the butter into the sugar and flour mixture until it has the consistency of coarse crumbs. You can do this in the bowl or on your work surface, using your fingertips or an implement of choice.]
Make a well in the center of the mounded flour and butter mixture and pour the egg and zest into it. Use a fork to incorporate the liquid into the solid ingredients, then use your fingertips.
Knead lightly just until the dough comes together into a ball. Use some all-purpose flour as needed to flour your hands to prevent excessive sticking.
Shape the dough into a flat disk 1 inch thick and wrap in plastic wrap. Place the dough in the refrigerator and chill for at least two hours. I usually make it the evening before and refrigerate it overnight.
Blind-bake the shell
To bake the crostata, I recommend using a fluted round tart pan with removable bottom that is 9 or 9 1/2-inch in diameter and about 1 inch.
Take the pasta frolla out of the fridge and unwrap it. I recommend you roll the dough on a piece of parchment paper or the plastic film in which it was wrapped as it is crumbly.
Lightly dust with flour the top of the dough and the surface on which you are rolling it. If the dough is very firm, start by pressing the dough with the rolling pin from the middle to each end, moving the rolling pin by a pin’s width each time; turn the dough 90 degrees and repeat; when it softens, start rolling gently.
Roll the dough into a circle about 1/8 inch thick. If you used parchment paper or plastic wrap as rolling surface, flip the dough over the tart pan, centering it, and delicately press it all around so the corners are well covered. Peel away the wrap.
Trim the excess dough hanging over the edges of the pan and use it, as necessary, where you find that you came up short. Press the dough around the border into the sides of the pan making sure the border is an even thickness all the way around. (You can use any leftover dough to make cookies to be baked at the same temperature as the shell.)
Prick the shell with a fork in several places. Refrigerate.
After 15 minutes or so, preheat the oven to 350 F.
Take the unbaked shell out of the refrigerator.
Cut a piece of parchment paper or aluminum foil large enough to cover the bottom of the crust and extend out a bit over the edges of the pan.
You can use pie weights or dry beans to blind bake. Place whatever weight you’re using directly on the parchment paper or aluminum foil in an even layer.
Place the shell in the oven and bake for 20 minutes.
Remove the weights and parchment paper and continue baking the crostata shell until the border is light golden, 5-7 minutes (watch carefully to avoid over-baking, which results in a hard shell).
Remove the shell from the oven and let cool slightly on a rack. Release the base from the fluted tart ring, then slide the shell on a serving plate. Let it cool completely before filling it.
Prepare the pastry cream
Pour the milk into a pan, add the lemon peel and warm up to well below boiling point.
In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar until the mixture is bubbly.
Sift the flour over the egg mixture and whisk briefly until it is incorporated.
Temper the egg mixture with a small quantity of milk, then slowly add the rest of the milk, mixing with a wooden spoon or spatula.
Pour the mixture into the pan and set it to very low heat, stirring at least every couple of minutes (you want the temperature of the mixture to increase slowly, but still to increase). When the froth on the surface disappears completely, the cream starts to feel slightly thicker. From then on stir almost continuously.
When the cream reaches boiling temperature and thickens, cook briefly (a minute or so), then remove the pan from the heat, remove the lemon peel, place the saucepan in a cold water bath, and stir the cream to bring down its temperature.
While the cream cools down, stir it every now and then to prevent the formation of a film over it. Let it cool completely before use.
Assemble the crostata
Wash strawberries and, leaving them whole, carve out the stem. Cut them lengthwise into 1/4 inch / 6 mm slices. Set aside.
Spread half of the prepared pastry cream over the cooled shell to make an even layer.
Decorate the surface with the strawberry slices. (I start from the outer border and make circles of half slices until I reach the center.)
Slice delicately and serve.
The crostata must be cool, but not cold, so if you refrigerate it, take it out of the fridge half an hour before serving. This crostata is best eaten the same day it is prepared.
With a specialty in handmade pasta, Simona provides detailed, accessible tutorials teaching readers to cook like an Italian right from home on Live Like an Italian as well as on her own blog, briciole.