If you crave the juicy, jammy essence of a fruit tart but can only muster languid summer energy to make it, let me introduce you to the crostata.
I met my first crostata through my friend Elizabeth Minchilli. An American food writer living in Rome, she’s made her way through dozens of crostata variations over the years, adopting the best bits from each one, then mixing them together to create her own spin. Her recipe, published in her new book, “The Italian Table,” (Rizzoli, 2019), has a thick, buttery shortbread crust flecked with whole-wheat flour and grated lemon zest, and a glistening, not-too-sweet cherry jam filling. It’s the stuff of my sugar-dusted dreams — and the reason I never offer to bring dessert when going to Elizabeth’s.
But it wasn’t until I tried her recipe that I realized just how dead simple it was. If a pie is, say, a 6 on the easy-to-difficult pastry scale, Elizabeth’s crostata is a mere 2. It’s about as challenging as chocolate chip cookies, but a lot more elegant, with its crumbly topping sparkling with Demerara sugar.
Her big secret is that, instead of rolling out a traditional tart crust, she presses an egg yolk-enriched whole-wheat shortbread dough directly into the pan. The egg yolks make it tender; the whole-wheat flour gives it texture and a mildly nutty flavor. There’s no floury counter to clean up, and no sticky rolling pin. And then she uses a portion of that same dough as the sprinkled-on topping.
As for the filling, while Elizabeth sometimes uses jam she’s made herself, she’ll just as readily open a jar of good-quality, store-bought jam. The only caveat is to make sure the jam isn’t too sweet, which can throw off the balance.
In my adaptation, I take the entirely homemade route, making my own blackberry jam scented with lemon verbena. You’ll notice a small amount of blueberries added to the jam pot as well. While their flavor isn’t pronounced, the plump berries smooth out the seedy texture of the blackberries without having to strain the mixture. Or, you can use jarred jam, either plain, or doctored with some chopped fresh lemon verbena, and a squeeze of lemon juice if it’s on the sweet side.
Then, as a garnish, I scattered sliced almonds on top. They make the tart crunchier and even prettier, without adding more work — in keeping with the spirit of this lovely dessert.