Growing up watching the Nonna generation gather golden blossoms from their gardens early morning, it was difficult for me to appreciate why they considered flowers a food source, after all the more Americanized kids were ripping open bags of Lays Potato Chips. In those days, ethnic food was viewed much differently than it is today and frequently in a less than positive way; especially by the children and grandchildren of immigrants who only wanted to fit in with their school friends….
Who can resist freshly picked seasonal fruit in a flaky crust, especially cherries? Here in Northern California the cherry season has started and this year the crop is especially delicious. Cherry Tart or Crostata di Ciliegie is the ultimate expression of this delicious fruit with a whisper of almond essence.
Pastry crust is one of the simplest elements to prepare when baking, yet I find so many are intimidated by it, don’t be. If you can read you can prepare a delicate, flaky and flavorful pastry crust. The secrets are few, but one must start with a high quality unsalted butter – my preference being the European butters which are now readily available. The butter needs to be cold and cubed, and a small container of iced water as well as the remaining ingredients should be assembled before you start.
Begin with adding the flour, salt and sugar to the work bowl of a food processor or mixing bowl, combine well. Introduce the cold cubed butter and pulse until the mixture resembles small peas. The butter can be added by hand to the mixing bowl using two knives to cut the butter or your fingertips. Add the ice water a few tablespoons at a time to dampen the mixture, adding too much water will result in a dough that will shrink when baked. Gather, chill, rest, roll on a lightly floured surface, chill and proceed….that’s it! Resist the temptation to overthink and over handle the dough and as with anything in life, practice makes perfect.
Italian sweets featuring cherries often use almonds, almond paste or almond flavoring as well; a pairing that brings together elements that grow together. Cherry Tart or Crostata di Ciliegie, is an Italian spin on the classic American favorite, Cherry Pie.
With Father’s Day and the Fourth of July just around the corner this is the dessert you have been waiting for. Start you pastry dough today and let it rest in the freezer until the day before you plan to roll it out. At this time of year I often prepare a few batches of the almond mixture to have on hand in the freezer to line fruit tarts and pies, not only does it add a bit of flavor but it keeps the bottom crust crisp by absorbing some of the fruit liquids.
It’s time to kick the summer baking season into gear, your family and friends will be glad that you did.
Subscribe to La Bella Sorella below:
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 16 Tbs. chilled butter, cut into half inch pieces
- 2 Tbs. granulated sugar
- Pinch of salt
- ½ tsp. pure almond extract
- ½ cup of cold water
- 1½ pound of fresh cherries, washed and pitted
- ¼ to ½ cup of sugar - amount to be used will be determined based on the sweetess of the cherries
- ¼ tsp pure almond extract
- Pinch of salt
- ⅓ cup of ground almonds
- ⅓ cup all purpose flour
- 2 Tbs. granulated sugar
- Butter to grease the springform pan
- Either the day before or early on the morning that you intend to bake the tart prepare the pastry. Mound the 2 cups of all purpose flour, on your counter or in the work bowl of a food processor. Add the 2 tablespoons of sugar and pinch of salt and combine. Add the prepared butter to the flour and either using two knives or your fingertips work the butter until the mixture resembles small peas. If using the food process this can be done using the pulse function but be careful not to over process.
- Add the ½ teaspoon of almond extract to two tablespoons of the cold water and sprinkle the water over the flour, follow with another 1 to 2 tablespoons of the cold water. Bring the contents together to form a ball and gently gather to form a uniform mass; if the mixture seems too dry, add another tablespoon of the water. Divide the dough into two balls, one being slightly larger than the other. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 3 hours or overnight.
- Remove the chilled pastry from the refrigerator and butter a 9 inch springform pan.
- Lightly flour the counter and begin by rolling the slightly larger disc of pastry dough from the center out, moving it regularity to make sure it does not stick. Dust the top and bottom lightly with flour as needed. Once you have rolled out the pastry to a diameter of about 14 inches, large enough to cover the bottom and come up the sides of the springform pan, gently fold it in quarters and place the wedge gently with the point in the center of the pan and carefully unfold. Line the bottom and the sides with the pastry, place the pastry lined springform pan on a baking tray and refrigerate for 1 hour.
- Roll out the second piece of pastry to a diameter of about 10 to 11 inches and chill on a baking sheet.
- Preheat the oven to 375º.
- Combine the pitted cherries, ¼ to ½ cup of granulated sugar, pinch of salt and ¼ teaspoon of almond extract in a large bowl.
- Combine the ground almonds, flour and sugar - mix well with a fork.
- Remove the springform pan and pastry top from the refrigerator. Cover the bottom of the pastry shell with the ground almond mixture followed by the prepared cherries.
- With a small round cutter, make a hole in the center of the pastry top. Carefully place the top over the filled shell. Gently press down the pastry and cinch together the edges. Trim the excess pastry leaving enough to make a simple edging to be crimped with your fingers.
- Reduce the oven temperature to 350º and place the tart in the center. Resist the temptation to open the oven door until 30 minutes has passed. At this point rotate the tart to insure even browning.
- Continue baking until the crust is evenly browned and the cherries filling is bubbling, about 15 to 30 additional minutes depending on your oven.
- Remove to a wire rack and cool for 1 hour before removing the sides of the springform pan.
- Serve warm or at room temperature, perhaps with a scoop of high quality vanilla ice cream,.
Spring and the local farmer’s market were the inspiration for Zucchini Potato Soup, a riff on traditional Vichssoise using predominately fresh zucchini as the primary ingredient. Rich without the addition of any dairy product whatsoever, Zucchini Potato Soup can be served both hot or chilled.
The delightfully satisfying soup couldn’t be easier to prepare, chopping the ingredients is the most difficult part. Actually, as long as the vegetables are chopped with attention to fairly uniform sizes, there is no need to be especially careful with this step as the immersion blender will finish the soup off. The flavor base is derived from shallots which impart just the right balance to the flavor of the zucchini. Fresh water provides the liquid needed to transform these vegetables into a veloute as it does not at all comprise the essential flavor of the vegetables as some vegetable stocks might.
Use either an immersion blender to puree the cooked vegetables immediately or wait until the contents of the pan cools down to do so with a blender. A last minute squeeze of fresh lemon juice heightens the flavors of the soup adding just the right balance of acidity. The veloute may be served at once or refrigerated to allow the flavors to further deepen and serve in the coming days.
Zucchini Potato Soup can be served in shot glasses and passed as an hor d’oeurve with chilled spumante. It is elegant in it’s simplicity while being the ideal first course for friends with dairy restrictions.
- 1 medium sized sweet or white onion, peeled and chopped
- 1 large shallot, chopped
- 2 peeled cloves of garlic, crushed
- 5 or 6 small zucchini, washed, trimmed and chopped
- 2 russet potatoes, peeled and chopped
- 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 1 lemon
- Fresh water, start with 5 cups
- Fine sea salt
- Freshly ground black or white pepper, depending upon your preference
- Fresh minced chives
- Add the extra virgin olive oil to a large stock pot and heat over a medium flame. Once the oil is hot add the chopped onion, shallot and garlic stirring often to soften, not brown. Take your time with this step as you are preparing the flavor base for the soup.
- Add the chopped potato, season with salt and saute for an additional 4 to 5 minutes.
- Add the zucchini and continue to cook for another 4 to 5 minutes, stirring intermittently and seasoning the soup with salt and freshly ground pepper as needed.
- Once the vegetables have had the opportunity to slightly soften and merge in terms of absorbing flavor, pour the 5 cups of fresh water into the pot. Turn the flame to medium high and bring the contents to a boil.
- Reduce the heat, partially cover the pot and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes until the vegetables are soft. If using an immersion blender you may emulsify the vegetables while hot until the contents become a velvety soup. When using a blender, wait until the contents have completely cooled before transferring. If the soup seems to be a bit too thick for your liking, add a bit more water, starting with ½ cup.
- The soup may be serve hot or chilled with a garnish of freshly chopped chives.
Easter Bread as we fondly referred to it growing up, has as many variations as there are borgos in Italy. In our family it was always Aunt Betty, despite having a full time career and raising two sons, who made certain that everyone had their special bread at Easter time. Her golden wreaths always featured colored eggs braided into each lovingly shaped bread.