Summer Lovin’ Crostata

crostataBefore I ever started writing a food blog, I was reading food blogs.  Many, many of them.  My favorites are listed on the right-hand side of this page — those are the ones I wholeheartedly endorse.  I do so because I can count on each of them, albeit for different things.  When I need to know what to cook for RJ (and am unconcerned about calorie intake), I visit the Pioneer Woman.  When I am feeling healthy and adventurous, I’ll often check in with Molly.  And when I’m in the mood to dream of Paris, I click into Clothilde’s site.  Other blogs I read daily, because they post frequently and because they provide not only recipes but also reviews, interesting links, and unique perspectives.  One of these is Adam’s Amateur Gourmet site.

Adam is a reliable and lovable source, especially because he is so straightforward about his ‘amateur’ status.  His pictures aren’t pristine like Deb’s, and he doesn’t have pastry chef credentials like David.  But he’s witty (see his comic strip posts) and unpretentious (he did a post about the books in the Momofuku Ko bathroom) and he makes a mean pork roast.  What else could you want in a daily pick-me-up read?

Anyway, I mention Adam because he hasn’t steered me wrong yet (though I’ll admit I haven’t gone up every alley he recommends: Janet Jackson Breast Cupcakes, anyone?).  His roasted broccoli (via Ina Garten) is a life-changer, and he has given me many a fine cookbook recommendation, thus feeding my addiction.  So when he suggested, nay, ordered me to go Crostata Crazy, I did.  I cut up some nectarines and pitted some cherries and while I intended to cheat on the pie crust and use Pillsbury, circumstances (read: Whole Foods is not actually a supermarket) forced me to make my own and I’m glad I did.  All the work was done by my Cuisinart — all I had to do was measure 4 or 5 pantry ingredients, pulse, then roll out the dough after a half hour in the fridge.  The results?  Impressive, to say the least, and bursting with summer flavors.  A quarter of the recipe below makes a crostata for two.  Make the whole batch to have pie dough on hand for the next time and a dessert for six on the table in an hour.

crostata with summer cherriesCherry and Nectarine Crostata, adapted from Napa Style’s Michael Chiarello via Amateur Gourmet

(Serves 6)

Tart Dough:
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup (1/2 pound) chilled unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size pieces
1/4 cup ice water, or more if needed
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

4 cups of fruit of your favorite combination: pitted fresh cherries, sliced nectarines, berries, apples, diced rhubarb, etc.
1/4 cup granulated sugar (adjust to your taste and the type of fruits used)
1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt

1 egg yolk beaten for egg wash
2 teaspoons coarse sugar (like Sugar in the Raw)
Make the tart dough: Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor and pulse to blend. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture forms coarse crumbs. Stir together the 1/4 cup ice water and the vanilla; sprinkle the water over the mixture in the processor and pulse just until a dough forms, adding a little extra ice water if necessary. Divide the dough in half, and shape each half into a 1-inch-thick round. Wrap 1 disk tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour; freeze the other for a future use.

Put a pizza stone in the oven and preheat the oven to 425ºF for 45 minutes. Remove the dough from the refrigerator about 15 minutes before rolling to soften it slightly.

Place the dough round between 2 sheets of parchment paper and roll into a 13-inch round, flouring the round lightly as needed to keep the dough from sticking. Remove the top sheet of parchment. Slide a pizza peel or rimless baking sheet under the bottom sheet of parchment.

Make the filling: Combine the fruit, sugar, flour, cinnamon, and salt in a bowl and toss well. Fill the center of the dough round with the fruit in an even layer, leaving a border of about 1 1/2 inches. Fold the border up and over the fruit to make a rim. Brush the rim with egg wash, then sprinkle with coarse sugar. Trim the excess parchment with scissors.

Use the pizza peel or baking sheet to transfer the crostata, still with parchment underneath, to the oven, sliding it, with the paper, directly onto the pizza stone. Bake until the crust is nicely browned and the cherries are bubbling, about 40 minutes. Remove from the oven with the peel or baking sheet and let cool on a rack for 15 minutes before serving. Serve warm.

Blood Orange Tart

Blood Orange TartGenerally I consider glazed fruit tarts to be a summer treat – something ideal for the back porch on a muggy evening after a meal of grilled meats and cold beer.  Nothing beats the supple flavor of a juicy strawberry on a light lemon custard and buttery sablé crust after a hot day.  Only in-season and perfectly ripe berries are worthy of such a spotlight: thus summer and fruit tarts are inextricably linked in my mind – so much so that the tart concept doesn’t even occur to me when I think about making a dessert in the months from October to May.

I think you can probably guess from the above picture that my formula has been reconfigured.  This was a great recipe found in my favorite magazine, and it features one of the best winter fruits out there — the blood orange — so I made an exception to the rule.  This tart, on the whole, is an exception to the rule — the crust has a fabulous sweet and citrusy tang, contrasted with a unique, almost savory, brown-butter custard filling.  Topping it all off is a two-toned layer of jewel-like orange slices, glistening with a translucent currant glaze.  I can see this tart being served at an elegant brunch or at a New Year’s Eve party – it looks just so festive and is a perfect ‘special treat’ in the cold and drab winter months.

Just in case you  were wondering, I can tell you that my absolute favorite part of this dessert is the crust.  I had a couple of snafus in the baking process (the dough stuck to the foil lining) but once repaired and filled, the crust really stood out as exceptional.  I would use this orange-scented dough for my next (summer) strawberry tart with pleasure.

Orange and Brown Butter Tart, from Fine Cooking issue #97 (January/February)

For the tart shell:
5 oz. (1-1/4 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 Tbs. granulated sugar
Pinch of table salt
5 oz. (10 Tbs.) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 tsp. finely grated orange zest

For the filling:tart dough
3 Tbs. unsalted butter
2 cups whole milk
3 Tbs. cornstarch
2 large eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Pinch of kosher or table salt
1/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract

For the topping:
3 large navel or blood oranges, or a combination
1/2 cup orange marmalade or red currant jelly, as I used
1 Tbs. orange liqueur, such as Cointreau

In a food processor, pulse the flour, sugar, and salt a few times to combine. Add the butter and orange zest and pulse until the mixture resembles cornmeal, six to eight 1-second pulses. A teaspoon at a time, pulse in up to 1 Tbs. water until the dough just holds together in clumps. Press the dough together, shape into a 6-inch disk, and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Dough pressPress the dough evenly into the bottom and sides of a 9-1/2-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom—the dough sides should be 1/4 to 3/8 inch thick. To smooth the bottom, cover with plastic wrap and press with a flat-bottom measuring cup or glass. Freeze the covered shell for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 400°F.

Remove the plastic, line the dough with parchment and fill with dry beans or pie weights. Bake the tart shell until the top edges are light golden, about 15 minutes. Carefully remove the parchment and beans, reduce the heat to 375°F, and continue to bake until the shell is golden all over, about 15 minutes. Cool on a rack.

brown butter tart fillingIn a small saucepan, heat the butter over medium-high heat until it melts and the milk solids turn brown, swirling the pan occasionally for even browning, about 3 minutes. Immediately pour into a small heatproof bowl to stop the cooking.

In a medium bowl, whisk 1/4 cup of the milk with the cornstarch. Whisk in the eggs.

In a medium saucepan, bring the remaining 1-3/4 cups milk, the sugar, and salt to a boil over medium heat. Take the pan off the heat, whisk about 1/4 cup of the hot milk into the egg mixture, and then whisk the egg mixture into the hot milk. Return to medium heat and continue whisking until the filling boils and becomes very thick, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Off the heat, whisk in the brown butter and vanilla.

Tart FillingSpread the filling evenly in the tart shell and set aside at room temperature while you prepare the topping.

Make the topping:

Using a sharp knife, trim off the peel and pith from the oranges. Halve the oranges lengthwise and then slice them thinly crosswise and remove any seeds. Arrange the orange slices on the top of the tart in concentric, slightly overlapping circles.

Stir the marmalade in a small saucepan over medium heat until melted, 30 to 60 seconds. Strain and then stir in the Cointreau. Brush enough of the mixture on the oranges to give them a shine (you may not need it all). Refrigerate for 1 hour before serving so the filling can set up.


A Tart for the Holidays


This year I had two Thanksgivings – the formal one, on Turkey day, with my husband’s family, and a second one with my family over the following weekend.  As this is the first year RJ and I are going into the holidays as a married couple, there have been many discussions about how best to handle the division of our time and pay proper homage to each family.  Our solution involves a lot of shuttling around the greater Boston area, but we think we have found a good balance of time spent, meals shared, and presents exchanged. 

A colleague said to me last week that Thanksgiving is what Christmas should be – a day of fun feasting, collaborative cooking, and quality family time without the stress of holiday shopping and credit card debt.  RJ loves Thanksgiving but dreads Christmas for all the aforementioned schlepping to fit everything into the 2-day window of official Christmas.  It was nice to see that we could do a second (smaller) Thanksgiving on Saturday, November 29th without a loss of sincere holiday feeling.  Plus we had twice the turkey, twice the pies, and twice the family face time.  Perfect!  I think for once we made it through a holiday with everyone happy!

I had such a great time on (proper) Thanksgiving, cooking with my mother-in-law at her house.  When the boys went to sit in the freezing cold at a high school football game they were sure to lose, we basted the turkey, prepped the vegetables, and armed ourselves for the onslaught of relatives that would come through the door at 2.  Unfortunately, as I’ve already confessed, we did not take photos on that day, and I regret that.  Thankfully the internet has provided many of them for us, as you can see here.  On Saturday, however, I remembered to pull out the trusty Panasonic and snap away, bringing you the beauty that is the “Festive Cranberry-Pear Tart.”  I would very highly recommend this delicious tart for your next holiday meal or potluck party.  It was a huge hit, and tastes just as good at breakfast as it does for dessert.  Then again, I’m a pie-for-breakfast kind of girl.

Festive Cranberry-Pear Tart in a Walnut Shortbread Crust, from Fine Cooking Issue No. 74

For the Shortbread Crust:Shortbread tart crust

1 large egg yolk
1 Tbs. half and half
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
3 Tbs. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. table salt
1/4 lb. (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch dice
1/3 c. walnuts, toasted and finely chopped 

For the Cranberry-Pear Filling:
3 large ripe pears, like Anjou or Bartlett
2 c. fresh cranberries, picked through and rinsedRaw Cranberry Pear Tart
1 Tbs. brandy
2/3 c. granulated sugar
2 tsp. unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1/2 tsp. ground ginger 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground allspice
1/8 tsp. table salt

For the Buttery Brown Sugar Streusel:
1/3 c. plus 1 Tbs. unbleached all purpose flour
1/4 c. packed light brown sugar
1/8 tsp. table salt
2 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted
1/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Make the crust: Position a rack near the center of the oven and heat the oven to 400 degrees F.  In a small bowl, mix the egg yolk, half and half, and vanilla.  Put the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor; pulse until combined.  Add the butter and pulse until the butter pieces are no longer visible.  With the processor running, add the yolk mixture in a steady stream and then pulse until the moisture is fairly evenly dispersed, 10 to 20 seconds.  Transfer the mixture to a bowl.  Using your hands, mix in the chopped walnuts to distribute them evenly.  The dough will be a mealy, crumbly mass.

Cranberry-Pear Tart

Pour the crumb mixture into a 9 1/2 in. round fluted tart pan with removable bottom.  Starting with the sides of the pan, firmly press the crumbs against the pan to create a crust about 1/4 inch thick.  Press the remaining crumbs evenly against the bottom of the pan.  Prick the bottom of the crust all over with a fork and freeze for 10 minutes.  Bake until the sides just begin to darken and the bottom is set, 15 min.  Transfer to a cooling rack.  Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Make the filling: Peel the pears, quarter them lengthwise, core, and cut crosswise into 1/4 inch thick slices.  In a food processor, coarsely chop the cranberries.  In a medium bowl, mix the pears, cranberries, and brandy.  In a small bowl, mix the sugar, flour, cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and salt; add to the cranberry-pear mixture, tossing to combine.  Spoon the filling into the par-baked crust, leveling the filling and packing it down slightly with the back of a spoon.


Make the streusel and bake: In a small bowl, mix the flour, brown sugar, and salt.  Add the melted butter and vanilla.  Combine with your fingers until the mixture begins to clump together in small pieces when pressed.  Sprinkle the streusel over the filling, breaking it into smaller pieces if necessary.  

Bake at 350 degrees F until the fruit is tender when pierced with a fork and the streusel and the edges of the crust are golden brown, about 50 minutes.  If the tart begins to get overly brown at the edges, cover with foil.  Let the tart cool on a rack until it’s just barely warm before serving.  The tart will keep, covered and at room temperature, for two to three days.

**The issue from which I pulled this recipe, the October/November 2005 issue, is a very strong one – it contains one of my favorite cookie recipes (white chocolate, cranberry and oatmeal), a great pot roast recipe, and a mushroom soup with sherry that I love!  You can buy back issues of Fine Cooking here.

Cranberry Pear Compote

Making this recipe I had plenty of leftover cranberries in the bag, as well as leftover spiced pear-cranberry mixture.  I put both of these, maybe 1 1/2 c. of fruit total, in a small saucepan and added about a 1/2 c. of water and 1/2 c. of ruby port.  I cooked the fruit over medium-low heat until all of the cranberries had popped and the pears were tender.  The final product was sweet and flavorful – I can see it would be good over ice cream, but we used it as a second cranberry sauce with our turkey.

Cranberry Pear compote