My maternal grandmother was a true Italian socialite. She had the most active social life of anyone that I have ever met. When I was growing up, spending time with her meant going to afternoon coffee dates with her friends. Playing canasta or poker at the country club most of Saturday afternoons and if there was a birthday, wedding, baby birth, baptism or any type of celebration within a 50-mile radius in our city, she was there, my sister and I at her heels.
She was generous, funny, and knew EVERYONE. What she was not, however, was a fan of a kitchen. Unlike my paternal grandmother, Nonna Franca was not a slave to her kitchen. She could cook, but it was easy dishes, something that she could put together fast and be out of there to meet her social circle at the next bingo game.
And being the resourceful person that she was, she had a couple of dishes that she was known for. Her pasta carbonara was hands down the best; I have not been able to duplicate it – and trust me we have tried. Let’s not even talk about her fried chicken - I have yet to find one that tasted as good as hers. And whenever she needed to make a quick and easy dessert, without missing a beat she would whip up a crostata.
As much as we tried and pleaded, she would not do any other type of dessert but that one – Her flan was a close second, but if there were a dessert to be served, we would find a simple jam filled crostata at the table.
No fuss, no muss.
Yesterday, I was in the mood for something sweet and wanted to make something quick and all of the sudden I heard her voice clear in my head “facciamo una crostata!” (Let’s make a crostata).
And that is what I did. There is no trick here; this is as easy as pie (Wait! Did I just say that?). The base is made with sweet pastry dough (pasta frolla) and the filling is up to your taste. The beauty of a crostata is that you can change up to fit your season and mood. Want something sweet? Use any flavor jam. Found those perfect peaches at the market? Use fresh fruit with a ricotta cheese or custard cream to elevate it from a rustic afternoon snack to an elegant dessert. You can even make it savory - but that’s for another post.
Whatever you decide to use, you will still end up with a perfect dessert for those afternoon sweet cravings or a sweetened breakfast choice.
NONNA’S FRANCA CROSTATA
(Measurements in grams, that is the way my grandmother made it, if you need to convert it you can use this online tool to do so)
- 250 grams of all-purpose flour
- 110 grams of sugar
- 1 pinch of salt
- 125 grams of butter (very cold, cut in small cubes)
- 1 egg and 1 yolk
- Finely granted zest of 1 lemon (or orange, or a combo of both)
- Filling - your favorite jam (I used Raspberry)
Put the flour, sugar, salt, and zest in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pulse briefly to combine the ingredients. Distribute the butter around the bowl and pulse until the mixture is crumbly. Add the egg and egg yolk and process until the dough just begins to come together.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and gather it together. Knead it briefly and shape it into a disk. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or until well chilled (overnight is fine).
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Have a 9” tart pan or cake pan at the ready. Remove the dough from the fridge, and reserve 1/4 of the dough to create the lattice top.
Roll it out on a floured work surface. Roll the dough to a thickness of about 1/8”.
Carefully transfer the dough to the pan. Gently press the dough into the bottom corners of the pan. Trim the excess dough from the edges of the pan. If you are using a cake pan, you’ll want to trim the dough below the top edge of the pan since the crostata should not be very deep. Press the extra dough around the sides of the pan so that the edges are slightly thicker than the bottom, making sure that all the edges are of uniform thickness.
Prick the dough on the bottom with a fork in several places. Be careful not to go all the way through or you might have fruit leaking out the bottom!
Roll out the reserved dough and cut it into strips or shapes of your choosing. Spread the jam of your choice over the dough in the pan and use the strips to create a lattice pattern over the top of the fruit.
Brush the exposed dough with cream or a lightly beaten egg.
Bake the crostata for 25-35 minutes. The crostata is done when the dough becomes a deep golden hue. Place the crostata on a cooling rack to cool completely before removing from the pan and serving.