I love the start of summer – it spells sunshine, holidays, Christmas (in Australia at least) and the start of stone fruit season. Plums, apricots, peaches, nectarines – months of sweet fruit with which you can make jams, stew or make fruit tarts (or crostata in Italian) or just eat by the dozen on a hot day.
A few weeks ago, whilst stuck at the airport, I bought My cousin Rosa, a lovely cookbook by Sicilian born Rosa Mitchell. It was full of old black and white family photos and simple Sicilian recipes that seemed to come straight from the heart. Leafing through the book, I found many recipes I couldn’t wait to try. Especially since my trip to Sicily a few months back, I have felt drawn to the cuisine of Southern Italy (oh, if my father were alive – a Northern Italian through and through – I wonder what he would think of this?!?). I loved the look of Rosa’s cakes, particularly pastry she uses for her ricotta cake. I used this recipe (with a few changes) to make an apricot crostata.
It was by far the easiest pastry (in terms of ease of handling) that I have ever made – it was a dream to roll out, and not too rich. It has orange zest in it – what a brilliant addition – and perfect with the apricots I had bought from the Victoria Market yesterday morning. I substituted the Marsala that Rosa puts in her pastry with milk and make a sweet Marsala cream to accompany the cake instead. It makes a perfect dessert for a warm evening – and I know my papa’ would have loved to have eaten a slice.
Crostata with apricots and Marsala cream
200g plain flour
140g unsalted buter, chilled and cut into small cubes
1/2 tsp baking powder
3 tblsp caster sugar
Grated zest 1/2 orange
60g egg, lightly beaten
2 tblsp milk, chilled
2 heaped tblsp good quality apricot jam
4 or 5 ripe apricots, cut into segments (8 per apricot)
125ml thickened cream
2 tsps icing sugar
2 tsp Marsala
Extra icing sugar for dusting
In a mixer with a paddle attachment, beat the flour, butter, baking powder, caster sugar and orange rind for 3 mins or until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add the milk and egg and beat only until it starts to come together. Lightly flour a working surface and knead the dough a few times and then roll. The pastry should be easy to manage and quite thin. Line the base of a 23cm tart tin with a removable base with the pastry, pressing it down and cut off the excess so that the pastry goes half way up the sides of the tin. Prick the base several times with a fork, cover in cling film and place in the fridge for 30 minutes. Roll the excess pastry into a rectangle, wrap it in cling film and place in the fridge as you will be using this to make a lattice.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Place the jam on the pastry base and arrange the sliced apricots in a circular fashion. Top with a lattice, which you can make by rolling out the rectangle of pastry on a lightly floured surface and cutting into strips (with a fluted cutter if you have one). Bake for 35-40 minutes until the pastry is golden. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack. Dust with icing sugar.
To make the Marsala cream, beat the cream, icing sugar and Marsala until soft peaks form. Serve with slices of crostata.