What happens when you put a classic American pie filling ~ strawberry-rhubarb ~ inside a classic Italian crostata crust? You end up with a lovely springtime dessert.
Rhubarb isn’t really associated with Italian cooking ~ at least not to my mind. The only way I’ve seen it used in Italy has been in the form of a digestivo. (If you know of other ways in which Italians use rhubarb in the kitchen, please share in the comments ~ I’d love to know.)
In the mean time, we can probably all agree it makes a great pie filling, especially when blended with strawberries. Rhubarb’s astringent flavor is tempered by the sweet perfume of the berries ~ and here I’m talking about real in-season strawberries, not the flavorless cottony ones from the supermarket. Rhubarb and strawberries are a perfect example of the popular cooking adage, “What grows together goes together.”
So how did raspberries end up in the mix? Well, for obvious reasons I’ve had a lot of Prince rolling around in my head lately. Raspberry Beret was the running loop as I was assembling this crostata. A quick rummage through the freezer yielded some raspberries I’d frozen last summer. I grabbed a handful and scattered them on top of the strawberry-rhubarb filling, my own miniscule tribute, I suppose.
I worried briefly that the raspberries might make the tart too…tart. But that was not the case. Crostata dough is sweeter than pie dough, and buttery, just right for this sharp, ruby-hued-very-berry filling. For serving? A scoop of vanilla ice cream or a dusting of powdered sugar ~ and a generous helping of Prince (if you can find him).
A note about cooking rhubarb: For years I’ve been using Nigella Lawson’s method of tossing rhubarb with sugar and roasting it in the oven. It’s from one of her early books, Forever Summer. She employs this technique to make a rhubarb fool (one of my favorite recipes of hers). For this crostata, I folded the still-hot roasted rhubarb with small halved strawberries. I then strained out the juice, which would have made the crostata too soupy, and used the fruit for the filling. (PSA: Don’t toss the liquid ~ I reduced it to a syrup on the stove top and have been drizzling it over yogurt and granola for breakfast.)
Sweet, buttery crostata dough makes this Italian riff on an American classic stand out. A handful of raspberries, tossed in for extra tartness, gives the filling floral undertones and a glorious, deep red color. Garnish with a small scoop vanilla ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream, or simply dust with powdered sugar. Hat tip to Nigella Lawson, whose technique for roasting rhubarb in her book "Forever Summer" I've been using for years.
- 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 pounds rhubarb stalks, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch-thick pieces
- 1 cup vanilla sugar (see Note)
- 1 cup fresh strawberries, hulled and halved or quartered
- 1 batch Pasta Frolla
- Unbleached all-purpose flour for dusting the work surface
- 1/2 cup fresh or frozen raspberries (no need to thaw if frozen)
- Powdered sugar for serving
- Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream for serving (optional)
Heat the oven to 375 F.
Combine the rhubarb and sugar in an oven-proof baking dish (I use Pyrex) and toss to thoroughly coat the rhubarb. Cover with foil and bake for 45 to 60 minutes, until the rhubarb is completely soft. Remove from the oven and gently fold in the strawberries (the rhubarb pieces will collapse). Scrape the mixture into a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl to strain out the juices. Reserve the pulp and juices separately. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 F.
Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator and cut it into 2 portions, one slightly larger than the other. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the large portion into an 11-inch circle about 1/8 inch thick or slightly thicker. Carefully wrap the dough around the rolling pin and drape it over a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Gently press the dough into the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Leave the overhang.
Spread the strawberry-rhubarb filling into the pastry-lined pan and scatter the raspberries on top. Roll the remaining piece of dough into a circle about 1/8 inch thick or slightly thicker. With a fluted pastry wheel, cut the dough into 3/4-inch-thick strips and arrange them in a lattice pattern on top of the filling. Trim the overhang slightly and fold it over to create a rustic rim. (Alternately, for a neater rim, you can trim off the overhang; cut more strips and arrange them around the edge of the crostata to form a rim.)
Bake the crostata for 35 to 40 minutes, until the crust is golden and the filling is bubbling. Set the crostata on a cooling rack and let cool for 30 minutes; the filling may look runny but the juices will be re-absorbed as the crostata cools. Remove the ring of the tart pan and let the crostata cool completely before transferring it to a decorative platter. Dust with confectioners’ sugar just before serving. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, if you like.
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NOTE To make vanilla sugar, bury a piece of vanilla bean in your sugar cannister and leave it there to infuse the sugar.
Every Italian home baker has a recipe for pasta frolla, or basic pastry dough. This one is mine. It's richer, silkier, and less rustic than typical pasta frolla, with lots of butter, and confectioners' sugar in place of granulated. The dough rolls out beautifully and is easy to patch if it tears. Be sure to chill the dough thoroughly before rolling, and use a lightly floured surface to prevent sticking. It can be made in advance and stored overnight in the fridge or for up to 3 months in the freezer.
- 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 cup confectioners' sugar
- 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
- Finely grated zest of 1 organic lemon or half a lemon and half an orange
- 1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1 large whole egg
- 2 large egg yolks
Put the flour, sugar, salt, and citrus zest in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse briefly to combine. Distribute the butter around the bowl and pulse until the mixture is crumbly. Add the whole egg and egg yolks and process until the mixture just begins to clump together in the work bowl.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and briefly knead it together. Without overworking it, shape the dough into a disk, patting rather than kneading it. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, and up to overnight ~ until well chilled.
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NOTE Re-roll any scraps and cut into shapes with a cookie cutter. Bake at 350 F for 15 to 20 minutes, or until lightly browned.