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In my imaginary (yet-maybe-someday) life, I live on a little Italian hillside - nestled between the dreamy blue-tinged sea and vibrant fragrant hills of grapevine. Golden hues of sun filter across my gardens, overflowing with the scents and tastes of the season. Oodles of strawberries tumble across stonewall waiting patiently for me to pick them in the light morning breeze. I wander happily filling my little basket with these sun-ripened treats (which of course is also filled with a bouquet of freshly picked wildflowers). Spring slowly gives way to the heat of summer….sigh. A girl can dream, no?
In my real life, the closest I get to that little dream is when strawberries appear at our local farms – I can (and do) romp tirelessly around the strawberry patch at our local pick-your-own farm. My little basket slowly fills with these fleeting spring morsels – and I can even buy a little bouquet of wildflowers at the little farm stand. The stuff of dreams.
Strawberry season here in the east is short-lived – 3 or 4 weeks of bushel baskets overflowing with the delicate luscious fruit. The short season perhaps make the strawberry all the more special to me. The store bought variety pales in comparison to the juicy sun-ripened flavor. And with strawberries being one of the worst of the ‘dirty dozen’ fruits and vegetables with pesticide residue, the organic farm picked variety becomes all the more sweeter.
Ok, so maybe I am a tad obsessed with strawberries. (Please don’t judge.) This so-very versatile fruit can be used from appetizer to dessert. My little strawberry recipe file grows bigger with each season – strawberry and goat cheese bruschetta, strawberry, beet and arugula salad, fish tacos with strawberry and avocado toppings. And the dessert list is crazy – strawberry and chocolate semifreddo, strawberry, mint and balsamic gelato and my easy-breezy-company-coming rustic strawberry crostata.
I simply love crostatas – so versatile yet so forgiving. There is something comforting about the making of a crostata – the molding of the simple butter-laced dough around a pile of fruit….perfect in its rustic simplicity.
Crostatas of all shapes and sizes grace the tables and windows throughout Italy – the shortbread-like dough filled with jam or seasonal fruit. Whenever I stay at Simone’s little hotel in Montalcino, I always find a lovely sometimes-still-warm crostata waiting for me – baked with love by his mother and left for guests in their rooms. Italian comfort food - made with love. The stuff of dreams.
Rustic Strawberry Crostata
For the dough: (for 2 crostata)
•2 cups all-purpose flour
•¼ cup sugar
•½ teaspoon salt
•½ teaspoon grated lemon zest
•2 sticks (1/2 pound) cold, unsalted butter, cut into ¼ inch pieces
•6 tablespoons (or more) ice water
For the filling: (for 1 crostata; double if making 2)
•About 2 pounds strawberries (should be about 2 quarts), hulled and thickly sliced
•2-4 tablespoons sugar
•2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
•1 tablespoon flour
To prepare the dough: Combine the flour, sugar, salt and lemon zest in the bowl of a food processor and pulse for a few seconds to combine. Using on/off turns, add the butter and pulse just until the butter is pea-sized. Be careful not to overwork the butter. Add the ice water all at once and pulse to combine. Stop just as the dough comes together. If too dry, add more ice water, teaspoon by teaspoon, until the dough is moist.
Gather the dough into a ball and cut in half. Form 2 disks and flatten with the palm of your hand. Wrap in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator at least 1 hour. (If only making 1 crostata, freeze one of the disks.)
To prepare the crostata: Mix the strawberries, sugar, balsamic vinegar and flour together in a bowl. (I tend to use the lesser amount of sugar, as I prefer my desserts less sweet.) Let sit for about 30 minutes to allow the strawberries to release their juices.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into an 11-inch circle. Transfer to the baking sheet.
Spoon the strawberry mixture in the center of the dough, leaving about a 1 ½ to 2-inch border. If the strawberry mixture is very juicy, reserve some of the juice for another use (read: over gelato!) Gently fold the pastry over the fruit, pleating it as you go to make a border around the fruit.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the crust is golden brown. Let cool for 5-10 minutes and serve with plenty of vanilla gelato or whipped mascarpone!
Joe and Michele Becci are a brother and sister team who love all things Italian. Together, from opposite coasts, they co-author the blog OurItalianTable.com.