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There are several certainties when you visit the Salento: you will see fields dotted with gnarly trunked olive trees that are over a thousand years old; you will meet passionate and uncomplicated locals who will generously share their shop/home with you, should you stop and talk to them and you will taste some of the best olive oil in the world. And there is a high probability that you will eat superb food. My love for the Salento, a place that is tremendously rich in its simplicity, is strong.

I met Viviana, one such generous local, at Masseria Li Veli, a winery in the province of Brindisi. We had stopped there for lunch as part of our Southern Puglia tour in April. Though the focus of our visit was on the wine (including local varieties Verdeca, Malvasia Nera and Susumaniello), the light lunch included abundant servings of seasonal antipasto (I counted six different types), eggplant pasta and a spectacular pastry cream crostata. I love trying to replicate dishes back at home, so I asked a few questions about the cake, which we ate with a glass of bubbly Pezzo Morgana 2016 Reserve. To my surprise, the chef Viviana arrived in the dining room to have a chat with me about the cake. She smiled when we told her how much we loved her cake and wanted to make it back in Australia. She described the recipe as I took notes: a simple shortcrust pastry base; topped with a lemon scented crema pasticceria, which was cooled completely before spreading it on the base and a shortcrust pastry crumble on top. The base was also a shortcrust crumble. Then she gave me the oven temperature and cooking time. It is not often you find a person so eager to share their recipe (which often, is a closely guarded secret. I have known people to omit a key ingredient when relaying a recipe!). Grazia Viviana! I hope I have done justice to your heavenly crostata.

To make the pastry cream I tweaked that recipe in Adriatico for Torta Pasticciotta (which happens to be in the Salento chapter of the book) and used a shortcrust pastry recipes from my blog for the crumb. I have been trying to reduce sugar in most of my recipes because I am enjoying the taste of it less and less. You might think that this is heresy for someone like me who frequently has cake for breakfast; but I still love the cake, I just want it to be half as sweet as it was. So you will find this recipe is fairly low in sugar, with online recipes for the pastry cream online using 200g of sugar for the same amount of milk, whereas in this recipe I use 70g. It is honestly sweet enough. In a similar vein you will find that the pastry has less sugar than many online. If you have a sweet tooth you can increase the quantity of sugar as much as you like in the pastry cream without altering the method or the other ingredients. If you would like to increase the sugar in the pastry to 100g, follow the same method and decrease the flour to 300g. It will work just as well, but the result will be sweeter.

A few updates from me:

  • PUGLIA COMES TO VILLA FLORETTI – A WORKSHOP – flowers and Pugliese food combined make for a lovely Saturday at the stunning Villa Floretti on the Mornington Peninsula. Join me and host Richelle Marks for a day of cooking, eating and posies at Villa Floretti Flowers in Boneo (between Rosebud and Cape Schank). Kicking off at 10am, we will be sharing some home made biscotti, before making two types of Pugliese pasta, matching sauces and a Pugliese dessert (maybe even this one). Enjoy a walk among the 5 acres of proteas, picking flowers for your own posy before sharing a leisurely lunch (if weather permits on the wisteria covered terrace overlooking the garden) and a glass or two of wine. The workshop is limited to 12 people.
    • WHEN: Saturday 12 October 2019 10.30am to 2.30pm
    • WHERE: Villa Floretti, 105 Curzon Rd, Boneo
    • COST: $200
    • Booking and enquiries via Richelle Marks on or 0418599197
  • SOUTHERN PUGLIA TOUR – there are still places left on the tour which is being run through Southern Visions Travel and runs from 1 May – 7 May 2020. More details on my tour page
  • COOKING CLASSES IN MELBOURNE – I have added some classes for the start of 2020 and there are still just a few spots for 2019 classes. Click here for more details
  • MY COOKBOOK ADRIATICO – is on sale for 25% off on Booktopia, and Amazon – there is free shipping as well on the former. So if you want to buy the book for around $40AUD (hardcover, stories from my research, hundreds of location and food photos all by me and 84 recipes on glossy paper) – now is your chance!

Stay warm and healthy as we ease into this last month of what has been a long, cold and wet Melbourne winter (with more of its fair share of illnesses). Paola X

crostata con crema di viviana

To make the pastry cream/custard:
500ml full cream milk
1 organic lemon, zest only
4 large eggs, yolks only
70g caster sugar
45g cornflour
pinch fine sea salt
To make the pastry:
330g plain flour
60g raw sugar
8g baking powder
good pinch fine salt
110g unsalted butter
1 large egg
1 tsp pura vanilla essence
icing sugar for dusting, optional

Butter and line the base and sides of a 28cm cake tin (mine had a removable base) or a tart tin.

Start by making the pastry cream:
Remove the zest from the lemon in thick strips, removing as much of the bitter pith as you can. Place the strips of zest in the milk and place on the stove top on medium heat until it warms through. Take off the heat and set aside to infuse while you prepare the other ingredients. Place the eggs, sugar, salt and cornflour in a large heat-proof ceramic bowl and whisk until thick and creamy (I used an electric whisk).

Place the milk back of the stovetop on medium heat and warm until hot but not boiling. Pour the hot milk into the eggs in slow, steady stream, whisking the whole while so the eggs do not scramble. Scrape the mixture back into the saucepan and cook on low heat for at least 15 minutes (you will need that long to make sure you cannot taste the cornflour in the custard), stirring the whole time, until the mixture is thick and coats the back of a wooden spoon. Strain off the lemon zest and discard, and pour the custard into a heat-proof bowl or jug. Set aside, covered, to cool completely (or put it in the fridge if you are in a hurry).

To make the pastry:
Place the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl and whisk by hand briefly to combine. Chop the butter into small dice; whisk the egg with the vanilla. Add the egg and butter to the flour and working quickly with your fingertips, rubbing the wet ingredients into the dry ones until you make large crumbs. Line the base of your tin with half of them. Flatten the base with a back of the spoon and push some of the crumbs so they ride up the side of the tin slightly (making a space for the custard to be placed a bit later). Bake for about 5 minutes until pale golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.

Assemble the crostata:
Spread the cooled pastry cream onto the base, leaving an edge of just under a centimetre around the edge. Arrange the rest of the pastry crumb on top and around the sides where there is no custard.

Bake for 30 -35 minutes in a static oven at 180C or until pale golden on top.

Allow to cool completely in the cake tin (so if yours has removable sides, you can remove the sides after about 15 minutes). Dust with icing sugar before serving, if you like. The crostata is also nice cold from the fridge a few days later. Make sure you store it in an airtight container.


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