Strolling through my neighborhood Farmer’s Market I discovered an embarrassment of riches. There were beautiful red strawberries bursting with flavor, fat and juicy blueberries, and raspberries with their delicate perfume and jewel-like texture. Last but certainly not least, I spied the blackberries glistening in the sun, their perfume filling the morning air. The blackberries made their way home with me.
These versatile fruits, known collectively as frutti di bosco, are ideal for a crostata, Italy’s answer to the French galette. Lower than an American pie, a crostata can be an open face rustic sort of an affair, either free form or made in a flan ring or a metal tart pan with straight or fluted sides. I think a berry crostata is prettiest with an open face or lattice top, with the berries bubbling and hot from the oven.
As good as a berry crostata is with a simple butter crust, the dessert is elevated to the realm of the sublime if you dress up that crust by exchanging some of the all-purpose flour for almond or hazelnut flour. These flours, or meals, are composed of finely ground nuts, and their flavor complements both fruits and berries. I used almond meal, and to complete the almond theme, I added Mandorla to the filling.
This stunning grappa comes from Distilleria Nardini of Bassano del Grappa, Italy’s oldest distillery. It is an infusion of bitter almond, cherry and Aquavite di Vinaccia with a smooth alluring flavor that enhances the blackberries and marries beautifully with the almond crust.
Accompanied by a scoop of vanilla ice cream, this crostata is a lovely finish to a spring meal. Your family and guests will applaud.
Crostata di More
makes 1 8-inch crostata with lattice top
For the crust
6 ounces (1 ½ sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut in 24 equal size pieces
1 ¾ cups 00 or all-purpose flour
¼ cup almond flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon lievito Rebecchi (or ¼ teaspoon baking powder + ½ teaspoon vanilla)
1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk, white reserved for egg wash
For the fruit filling
12 oz. blackberries, rinsed and dried
⅓ cup plus 2 tablespoons superfine vanilla sugar (see Cook’s Note)
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
½ teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Mandorla Grappa
Vanilla ice cream
Adjust oven rack to lowest position. Place a pizza stone on the bottom rack, and preheat oven to 375 degrees F. for 45 minutes. Allowing the stone to heat thoroughly will promote browning of the bottom crust.
Make the crust: Place the flours, sugar, salt and lievito (or baking powder) in the workbowl of a processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse to blend. Remove workbowl top and distribute butter over flour mixture. Replace top, and pulse until butter is in pea sized pieces. Lightly beat egg and egg yolk (and vanilla extract, if using) in a 1 cup measuring cup or small bowl. Remove feed tube and with processor running add egg mixture, processing just until mixture begins to clump. Do not let mixture form a ball. Remove the dough from the processor, and divide it in half. Form each piece into a disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Remove one piece of dough from the refrigerator. Roll crust for the bottom layer to about ⅛ inch thickness, or slightly less. Ease it into an 8-inch tart pan with removable bottom, being careful not to stretch the dough. Place the tart pan in the freezer while you roll the lattice strips.
Roll second piece of dough to ⅛ inch thickness. Cut 6 strips, ¾ inch wide, making certain each strip is long enough to reach across the tart pan. Set the strips on a parchment lined sheet pan and place in the refrigerator while you make the filling.
Make the filling: Combine vanilla sugar and cornstarch in a medium bowl. Add the berries, tossing to coat. Add grappa, lemon juice, and zest and combine well. Set aside.
Remove the tart pan from the freezer, and place it on a parchment lined baking sheet. Distribute the fruit mixture over the bottom of the tart pan, gently pressing berries down to fill any gaps and form a level surface. Remove lattice strips from the refrigerator and form lattice top.
Lightly beat reserved egg white with ½ teaspoon water. Paint lattice top with egg wash and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of superfine sugar. Place sheet pan with tart directly on the pizza stone and bake 45-50 minutes until filling is bubbling and crust is nicely browned.
Remove from the oven and cool 15 minutes before serving. Serve with vanilla ice cream.
Cook’s Note: To make vanilla sugar, place 2 pounds of granulated sugar in a food safe storage container. Split 2 vanilla beans and scrape the seeds into the sugar, stirring to combine. Add pods. Cover, allow to infuse 1 week.
Nardini Mandorla is available at Wally’s in west Los Angeles (wallywine.com) and other purveyors of spirits