Ode to Sicily and Blood Orange Crostata

blood orange slice cropped

I took one magical trip to Sicily back when I was 18 or 19. It was magical because life was pretty magical in those days. I was in college, but still under the protective wing of my parents, who themselves were still young. Summer days were gloriously long, and summer itself seemed to last forever. I had a fabulous tan.

I still remember the long drive down, thinking, as my sister and I sat in the back seat of our borrowed VW beetle, how different the landscape was from green Abruzzo ~ arid and punctuated with tough prickly pears and tall, Seuss-like agave trees.

map of sicily

We stayed in Mazara del Vallo, on the far western side of the island, with generous friends who turned over one of their beach villas to us. From the shoreline we could see Tunisia and in the car we occasionally caught Tunisian music on the radio, like a stray breeze. Days were spent at the beach and tooling around our corner of the island. In the evenings we would all gather outside between the houses for dinner at a long table. That’s where I received my first marriage proposal, from a four-year-old boy named Guido.

I wish now that I had paid more attention to the conversation, the places we went, what we ate. I have snippets of memories, of pristine seafood, of pasta tossed with fresh tomato sauce and eggplant, of colorful pastries and gelato-stuffed brioches. And citrus trees. Our friends kept a small, neatly tended grove of lemon and orange trees, blood oranges among them; it seemed to me a little slice of heaven.

blood orange crostata 1

I thought about that grove, and the trip, the other day when I came upon blood oranges at my local Safeway, of all places. I scooped up a bunch and used them to make a crostata. Yesterday, as Mother Nature bestowed upon us yet another six inches of snow and single digit temps, I watched from the kitchen table, eating a slice of crostata and dreaming of oranges in Sicily.

Do you have memories of a favorite trip? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Makes 10 servings

Blood Orange Crostata

This brightly flavored citrus tart is a welcome antidote to the late-winter doldrums. The recipe is adapted from one in La Dolce Vita, by Ursula Ferrigno. I had to tweak it (see Note at the end of the recipe). I added a second egg to the pastry dough, which otherwise would not have come together. I also had to use a larger tart pan than what was called for; there was just too much filling (see details in the recipe instructions). I also had to bake the tart much longer than the recipe called for, though eventually it did set nicely. I used blood oranges, and their dramatic color turned to a muted pink once mixed with the eggs and cream in the filling. But the flavor was terrific, tart and refreshing. If you prefer a sunnier looking tart, stick with a good juicing orange, such as Valencia.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups (1 L) freshly squeezed blood orange (or regular orange) juice, strained ~ I needed 19 oranges to get this much juice

  • For the pastry
  • 8 ounces (225 g) unbleached all-purpose flour (about 2 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 stick (4 ounces/115 g) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 large eggs

  • For the filling
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) reduced orange juice from the 4 cups freshly squeezed
  • Finely grated zest of 2 unwaxed oranges
  • 8 large eggs
  • 1 2/3 cups (350 g) sugar
  • 1 cup (225 ml) heavy cream

  • Creme fraiche, for serving (this was a nice touch; don't skip it)

Instructions

Pour the freshly squeezed orange juice into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Let boil gently until reduced to about 8 ounces (1 cup). This will take at least 20 minutes, possibly longer. Let cool while you make the pastry.

Make the pastry

Place the flour, sugar and salt in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the butter has been broken up into small pieces. Add the eggs and pulse until the dough just comes together. Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and pat it into a disk. Wrap in plastic or waxed paper and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Remove the pastry from the refrigerator and, on a lightly floured surface, roll it out into a 15-inch circle. Gently wrap the dough around the rolling pin and drape it over a deep, fluted tart pan with a removable bottom with the pastry. (I ended up using a flared deep-dish quiche pan with a removable bottom. It was 2 1/4 inches deep, and 8-inches in diameter on the bottom but flared up to 9-inches at the top.) Press the dough into the pan and up the sides. Use the rolling pin or the flat of your hand to remove any overhang. Chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Heat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Place the lined tart tin on a baking sheet. Line the tin with parchment paper and weight down with pie weights or beans. Bake for 15 minutes; remove the pie weights and parchment and bake about 5 minutes more, until the base is set. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F.

Whisk together the cooled reduced orange juice, orange zest, eggs, sugar and cream until well blended. Pour the filling into the partially baked pastry shell. Bake for about 1 hour, or until softly set (the center may still be a little jiggly). Let the crostata cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until well chilled. To serve, slice into wedges and garnish with a dollop of creme fraiche.

NOTE I wasn't thrilled with this recipe as originally written because of various issues that kept popping up. However, after tweaking, I ended up with a recipe I felt comfortable posting. It took a lot of oranges--19--to get the amount of juice required, which drove up the cost. Next time around, I would probably decrease the quantity of the filling and use a shallower tart pan (or make two shallow tarts and serve them to company).

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27 Responses to Ode to Sicily and Blood Orange Crostata

  1. Rosa Mayland March 4, 2014 at 9:14 am #

    Magnificent and surely divine! A taste of Sicily.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

    • Domenica Marchetti March 4, 2014 at 12:22 pm #

      Thank you Rosa. The blood oranges really give the filling a bright, tart flavor. Just what we need here in the frozen mid-Atlantic US!

  2. Helen Free March 4, 2014 at 9:41 am #

    I am going to stay with Sicily since you evoked it so beautifully. In 1983, my four year old son and two friends and I were driving from Taormina through central Sicily. We seemed alone in a landscape of intentionally burnt pastures patched on hills. Needing a break and a coffee, we drove off the highway into a silent village. The toothless bar owner kept smiling at us and finally said, “It’s your holiday” and offered us each a packaged ice cream. It took us a minute to realize that it was July 4th and that though we were far from home and cookouts, our good fortune to live in an easier place was something to commemorate.

    And that crostata makes me want to check airfares right now.

    • Domenica Marchetti March 4, 2014 at 12:24 pm #

      Helen, what a wonderful memory. There are so many magical places like that in Italy, still. Writing this post made me want to go back to Sicily, too. My kids haven’t been yet. I’d say that’s reason enough, right?

  3. jamielifesafeast March 4, 2014 at 9:50 am #

    Wowee is this decadent! And sure to satisfy my huge winter cravings for oranges! This is a stunner! I have never seen a crostata that is so thick and rich with a cream filling and a crust like this. I love it and must try it!

    • Domenica Marchetti March 4, 2014 at 12:27 pm #

      Jamie, the crust is a typical crostata crust. What’s nice about it is it stands up to being refrigerated even after baking. I will say that I like my own crostata crust better. It’s more buttery and made with confectioners’ sugar. It also lasts for days in the fridge without losing integrity. Next time I make this I’ll use my crust recipe. But I did really like this filling. It’s the first time I’ve seen a citrus curd filling with cream mixed in. Its’ really luscious (I’m eating a small slice as I write this; no lie).

  4. olio2go March 4, 2014 at 10:44 am #

    Hard work pays off?! This looks divine.

  5. Laney (Ortensia Blu) March 4, 2014 at 2:59 pm #

    That’s a lot of squeezing…but looks very worth it!.I’ve also been pleasantly surprised to see blood oranges in my local market…

    • Domenica Marchetti March 4, 2014 at 8:43 pm #

      Laney, it was a lot of squeezing, and all I had was my hand held lemon reamer. I think I need to invest in a juicer. I couldn’t believe how good these oranges were ~ lots of juice and good tart flavor.

  6. cheri March 4, 2014 at 3:11 pm #

    What a wonderful memory you shared, thanks! Beautiful looking crostata!

  7. Barb | Creative Culinary March 4, 2014 at 4:42 pm #

    I love blood oranges so much; I start to squirrel them away if I find any now knowing they will soon be nowhere to be found. I’m going to try I want to make this SO bad!

    Per your prompt; I remember my first trip to Northern Michigan. I was a Midwestern girl; coming from the suburbs of St. Louis and a friend and I drove to stay in her parents cabin in the Upper Peninsula near Mackinaw Island for 2 long weeks when we were 18. For me it was a magical time. We met two young men who were being paid by their dad to watch the family yacht in Lake Michigan and, ahem, offered to help them with that chore. That alone was a fantastic experience, diving into the waters of a huge lake was not unlike swimming at sea, albeit without sharks!

    We spent each morning in crystal clear Lake Walloon, washing our hair while watching the small fish swim around our legs and maybe as a moment that would speak to the love affair I would develop with food, I recall vividly the forays into the woods for Morel mushrooms. I had never had a Morel and was happy as often as possible to make them dinner; fresh from the forest floor into a skillet with melted butter; oh to have that opportunity ONE more time to eat Morel mushrooms to our hearts content!

    Now I dream more of Sicily but it was nice going back to that time for a bit…thanks!

    • Domenica Marchetti March 4, 2014 at 8:50 pm #

      Barb, what a memory! Thanks for sharing it. We go to northern Michigan every summer, though not to the UP, which I’ve only been to once. The kids swim in Lake Michigan and in the Platte River, and we hunt for Petoskey stones and other beautiful lake rocks. Next summer we’ll have to hunt for morels…

  8. Phyllis @ Oracibo March 4, 2014 at 6:08 pm #

    Not only do I simply adore blood oranges but also crostata! Funny thing about the oranges, once had, never forgotten! I agree 19 is a lot! I also think that it would be better to use a much less deep tart pan and here I thought I had found another reason to use my deep fluted tart pan other than for Treacle Tart! I’ve been working on an orange tart and so far the only thing I’m liking is the orange flavoured creme pastisserie! Made a blood orange sauce that some thought tasted like cough medicine! So many critics! Must try your filling!

    • Domenica Marchetti March 4, 2014 at 8:57 pm #

      Phyllis ~ you should try it with the deep fluted tart pan. My husband thinks the ratio of filling to crust is perfect. And after having a slice this morning for breakfast I have to say, it’s pretty darn good. The addition of cream to the eggs and reduced orange juice is an inspired touch (and it doesn’t taste like cough medicine) ๐Ÿ˜‰

  9. italyonmymind March 4, 2014 at 7:05 pm #

    I can’t wait to try to make this one when blood oranges are in season. Buonissima ricetta Domenica

  10. elisa March 5, 2014 at 4:00 pm #

    What a beautiful crostata!!! Now, how about adding a little Grand Marnier to the filling? (a little Sicilian secret). Grazie for another “winter recovery recipe”…

    • Domenica Marchetti March 6, 2014 at 10:55 am #

      Grazie a te, Elisa. You always come up with the best suggestions.

  11. tori March 5, 2014 at 5:48 pm #

    OH I want to go to Sicily so so badly. It’s one place in Italy I’ve never been. Organize a trip, cara, and let’s go to Mazara del Vallo!

    • Domenica Marchetti March 6, 2014 at 10:58 am #

      Tori, first Abruzzo, then Sicily. See, this is my problem: I always thought I would have seen much more of the world by the time I hit middle age. But all I ever really want to do is go back to Italy. Small country, endless inspiration.

  12. ciaochowlinda March 6, 2014 at 12:24 pm #

    Well, that is a heck of a lot of blood oranges, but I am loving the looks of that tall crostata. I’m sure I’d love the taste even more. Staying with the blood oranges theme – I’ll relate a simple food memory from when we lived in Rome and my husband got in the habit of squeezing fresh oranges for me every morning. When the ones from Sicily came into season – the tarocchi – they were the best. I never got tired of having him present me with a glass of that vibrant, red-colored, freshly squeezed orange juice every morning. Even on subsequent week-long trips back to Rome, when we rented vacation apartments, he would buy a simple plastic orange squeezer and continued to squeeze fresh juice for me each morning. Now that he’s been gone for three plus years, blood oranges will always hold that loving memory for me.

    • Domenica Marchetti March 6, 2014 at 2:10 pm #

      OK Linda, this brought tears to my eyes and I am not easily moved. What a beautiful memory. Thank you for sharing it here. As much as I enjoyed that crostata, I think that a glass of freshly squeezed blood orange juice holds even more appeal. When the kids were little we took them to the Veneto region. It was early March and every morning we would start our day at a local pasticceria with a glass of blood orange juice, followed by cappuccino (or cioccolata calda for the kids) and a cornetto. The most perfect of breakfasts, in my opinion. Un abbraccio.

    • Phyllis @ Oracibo March 6, 2014 at 7:37 pm #

      Thank you for sharing your lovely story Linda. Like Domenica, it brought tears to my eyes. Wonderful memories for you to hold in your heart.

  13. Laura (Tutti Dolci) March 26, 2014 at 5:34 pm #

    Beautiful crostata, just the thing to capture sweet memories!

  14. duespaghetti April 5, 2014 at 8:21 pm #

    We just booked our tickets to for a summertime visit to Sicily – our first ever to the island – and secured our Palermo apartment and Agrigento beach house. My list of foods to hunt down and try is growing daily! Blood oranges may be out of season when we are there, but amazingly in the last year or two they’ve even made their way to the produce department of supermarkets here in the upper midwest. I’ll pick some more up for this crostata, but our family loves them so much that they may eat them all up before I manage to make it!

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