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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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)
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).