I seem to be slipping into an “Italian” phase at the moment.
This happens to me periodically and has several different triggers. Sometimes it is the result of a book that I have read, especially a new Italian cookbook, or a particularly beguiling movie I have recently seen. It was at it’s worst when I returned home from a trip to Italy and Paris that I took with the Cupcake Queen 18 months ago. I was totally seduced by Italy and, once I had recovered from the jet-lag and was able to drive without forgetting where I was going, headed straight for a wonderful Italian grocery store in the north-eastern suburbs of Adelaide. I left laden down with smallgoods, cheese, pasta, mustard fruits and all sorts of bits and pieces in jars, that I had previously only seen in the markets of Florence, and our meals had a distinctly Italian flavour about them for weeks!
We are fortunate to have here in Adelaide some wonderful chefs who come from an Italian tradition and, after I have attended their cooking demonstrations, their influence stays with me, informing my food for days or weeks – depending on how vocal the thankless teenagers become in their requests for “plain” food! The trigger for this present bout of what I call “ethnicity envy” are the current editions of a couple of well known food magazines, who have both published their annual “Italian” issues, prompting in me and the Cupcake Queen a wave of nostalgia for that memorable trip. The CQ has had especially wistful memories of a small bakery in Rome where she developed a deep and abiding fondness for their jam crostata – with good reason. Their pastry was perfectly tender with just a hint of lemon, covered with dark berry jam – brilliant!
Now, I’m about to digress a bit here, but hang with me – you’ll see where I’m going very soon.
If you have read my “About Me” page, you will know I feel that my upbringing was marred by cooking that left quite a bit to be desired. It seems that this remark stirred up some defensive feelings in one or two of my (much older – memories failing?) cousins who insist that I am mistaken. They pointed out that my Grandmother was quite elderly when we went to live with her and past her culinary prime. I mentioned this to my mother the other day who raised her eyebrows and agreed with me totally. Her parents were publicans all their lives and Grandma never cooked unless she absolutely had to – fortunately for her (and her hotel guests) she generally had a cook in her employ, thus averting the need for her to extend herself in the kitchen. I have some fond memories of some of her food, but the jam tart that so impressed me as a child was made with a commercial pastry mix (Just Add Water!!), not to be compared with the delightful almond and lemon scented pastry of that Roman bakery.
This recipe for Crostata uses the Italian short pastry – pasta frolla – flavoured with lemon rind, although vanilla can be substituted for the lemon or added to it. As a beginning point for the pastry I used a recipe from a magazine, tweaking it very minimally. I used some beautiful OO flour that I had waiting for just the right recipe – and this is it! We were both very happy with the result – all we needed was Rome to make it perfect.
- 180 gms OO flour
- 60 gms icing sugar
- 60 gms almond meal
- Rind of 1 lemon, finely grated
- 100 gms unsalted butter
- 1 egg, plus 1 yolk, lightly beaten
- 200 gms best quality jam
- Grease 24 cm tart pan. Preheat oven to 170C.
- Place all pastry ingredients in processor and pulse until JUST coming together. Do not over-work the pastry.
- Lightly pat into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.
- Roll pastry out to fit the base of tart pan, approx 5mm thick and cut pastry off cuts into strips.
- Cover pastry base with an even layer of jam, right to the edges. Arrange strips on top in a lattice. Brush strips with beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar.
- Bake at 170C for about 30-35 minutes.