It’s strawberry and rhubarb season, and we have the entire summer ahead of us, promising an exceptional year for fruit. There’s laughter and conversation in my kitchen, friends are making …
It’s strawberry and rhubarb season, and we have the entire summer ahead of us, promising an exceptional year for fruit. There’s laughter and conversation in my kitchen, friends are making crostatas — free-form tarts with pasta frolla, an Italian pastry dough. The berries and rhubarb are vibrant pink and red hues, flour dusts the air and sunlight streams in. We’re swooning with the smell of baking pastry, and can’t wait to sit down and enjoy the fruits of our labor.
The crostata, a traditional Italian pie, is sometimes made with savory ingredients but is more often sweet and filled with summer fruit.
It’s similar to an American pie, but instead of a flaky crust, is made with a short pastry called pasta frolla. It’s either shaped free-form or baked in a tart pan with a removable bottom. Crostata plays an important role in Italian life and is often served during family gatherings and special occasions.
Some Classic Italian Crostatas
Apple; thinly sliced apples, cinnamon, and sugar.
Pear and Almond; a delicious crostata featuring juicy pears and a nutty almond filling.
Blueberry - made with fresh blueberries, lemon zest, and a touch of honey.
Raspberry and Cream Cheese; decadent filled with sweet raspberries and a rich cream cheese filling.
Plum and Ginger; features ripe plums and a spicy ginger filling.
Is deeply rooted in Italian culture, and its history goes back to the Renaissance. It’s an essential dough for pastries, with a versatility that makes it a favorite with bakers.
So delicious, its crumbly, buttery texture melts in your mouth with a subtle sweetness that complements the filling, and is often flavored with lemon zest, vanilla, or cinnamon.
Cut it into circles or squares to make tart shells, which are filled with fruit, custard, or chocolate.
Use as a base for cheesecakes or as a topping for fruit crumbles.
Fruits frequently used with pasta frolla: Strawberries, blueberries, peaches, and apricots.
They’re often combined with cream or custard fillings that complement the crumbly texture of the pastry.
Famous Desserts Besides Crostata that Use Pasta Frolla
Sfogliatelle: These are flaky pastries filled with ricotta cheese and flavored with orange zest and cinnamon.
Pastiera: This is a traditional Neapolitan dessert made with pasta frolla and filled with ricotta cheese, candied fruit, and wheat berries.
Tiramisu: This popular Italian dessert is made with layers of pasta frolla soaked in coffee and layered with mascarpone cheese and cocoa powder.
Torta della Nonna: This is a classic Italian dessert made with pasta frolla and filled with vanilla custard and topped with pine nuts.
Cook or roast your fruit first, and then fill the blind baked crust and bake again. This increases flavor, and allows you to control how thick the fillings are.
Use sweet and tart fruits together. Blind bake the crust: This helps keep the crust from becoming soggy.
Pasta Frolla Techniques
Use cold ingredients.
Don’t overwork the dough. Overworking the dough can cause it to become tough and chewy.
Use a food processor. A food processor makes it easier to mix the ingredients together quickly and evenly. Pulse the ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse sand. Use a light touch when rolling out the dough.
Strawberry and Rhubarb Crostata
Besides the other ingredients, you will need a 10-inch removable bottom tart pan and
4 cups of fresh strawberries sliced.
Begin with the pasta frolla recipe, and roll out the dough into a 9 or 10-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom.
Freeze the tart shell for 30 minutes, then blind bake in a preheated 350F oven for
10 minutes. Remove and allow it to cool.
Roast the rhubarb compote. Fill the blind baked shell with the compote, up to the top edge and bake at 350 F until the pastry is golden, 20 to 25 minutes.
Arrange the sliced strawberries, standing up, tucked into the compote, and overlapping, into a rosette on top of the cooled crostata.
Pasta Frolla —
Sweet Tart Crust
10-inch tart shell
2 1/3 cups pastry flour
¼ cup sugar
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon lemon juice plus zest of one lemon
11 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (for fruit tarts)
¼ cup cream
In a food processor, pulse together the dry ingredients and lemon zest. Add the cubed cold butter and pulse until it has a sandy texture and there are no butter pieces visible.
Whisk together the wet ingredients and add to the food processor. Pulse three or four times or until the dough comes together.
Remove the dough from the processor and work to even out any dry or wet spots. Flatten into a disk, wrap and chill until firm, about 1 hour, before rolling out.
You can also freeze the dough well wrapped, for up to 2 months.
My gluten free version is on the Food Coop’s Blog “the beet.”
Makes 2 cups
1.5 lbs rhubarb, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
½ cup white wine
½ cup honey
¼ teaspoon black pepper
Pinch of sea salt
2 tablespoons tapioca flour
Preheat the oven to 375 F and line a rimmed baking sheet or casserole with parchment paper.
On the baking sheet, toss the rhubarb in the tapioca flour. Add the other ingredients and stir together.
Bake for 25 minutes.
Cool and use as a tart filling or topping.
Try this technique using other summer fruits, like plums, peaches, berries, and keeping the other ingredients the same.
(More recipes are available at foodcoop.coop/recipes. Sidonie Maroon is culinary educator at The Food Co-op; abluedotkitchen.com. Follow Sidonie on The Food Co-op’s Facebook group, Cooking with the Co-op.)