I live with my family in an old farmhouse perched on top of a magical mountain near Assisi in Umbria, Central Italy.
Sixteen years ago, but it feels like a lifetime, I chased insects in unusual corners of the Earth, from the Zimbabwean savannah to the borders of Texas and Mexico.
Bugs? Yes, this was my career as a research entomologist. I have worked at the UN and dined with a couple of ambassadors because of knowledge of bugs. Not everything was glamorous. I travelled far and wide and not always to fun places. Bullet-riddled walls in the streets of Cali were not exactly conducive to biological studies.
Today we run a small farm, producing olive oil using no-till farming practices and without chemicals or fertilizers. The oil is fantastic, but the harvest is unreliable and success is greatly dependent on the weather. We also produce our electricity, rent B&B rooms to travellers and run a cooking school. I am one of those lucky humans that turned my hobby into a job. I have escaped the clock, team-building meetings, and the dullness on the next piece of paperwork stacked on the pile.
It’s been a family decision, and we have never looked back.
We work more hours than before with no Sundays and no bank holidays. When winter comes, we close the house and enjoy the indescribable peace of the countryside.
During the grayest days, I bake. Crostata is one of my favorite sweet treats. It’s a classic Umbrian tart made in all homes at every possible occasion. Umbria is a rural region, and many of us have vegetable gardens with a few fruit trees. As a consequence, there’s always too much homemade jam in storage. This recipe is not only excellent for jam but is also easy to make and delicious. I hope you’ll enjoy it too!
This is a particularly rustic version made with stone ground flour which I buy at a local mill, organic eggs, butter and unrefined sugar. You can also use flours from ancient grains such as spelt or farro as long as they are finely milled and with no bran.
For pastry dough:
- 125 gr cold unsalted butter (1 stick)
- 250 gr (1 and 2/3 cup) stone ground flour
- 125 gr (1/2 cup) light brown organic sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 whole large egg
- 1 teaspoon natural vanilla extract or the zest of one lemon or orange
- 1 1/2 cups homemade fruit preserves or jam
Wholegrain flours pair fabulously with strong preserves such as plum or blackberry. If you do not have homemade preserves, purchase a quality jam with contains a high content of fruit.
To make the pastry dough, cut the butter into 6-8 cubes and place in the bowl of a food processor together with the flour, sugar, vanilla or citrus and salt. Using the blade at high speed, blend until most of the mixture resembles coarse meal, about 2 minutes. Stir in the egg and blend until the mixture forms a dough, one more minute. It is important not to overheat the butter in the dough, so do not overwork.
Roll 4/5th of the dough into a 1/2 cm (1/4 inch) thin disk and transfer into a buttered tart pan so to make a case with the shallow side. Spread a 1 cm (1/2 inch) layer of preserves over the pastry case.
With lightly floured hands roll the rest of dough into several 1 cm (1/2 inch) thick ropes. Carefully arrange the dough ropes over the tart in an open lattice pattern. It is not necessary to weave the lattice. Transfer to the refrigerator for at least 1/2 an hour and up to half a day. Up to this point, the crostata can be frozen. Before using, defrost overnight in the refrigerator and bake.
Preheat oven to 180° C/ 350° F. Bake the crostata in middle of the oven for 45 minutes, or until the lattice is golden. Cool the crostata in the pan on a rack. Do not turn upside down as it will break apart.
Serve at room temperature. In Italy, we would not use a sauce as the pie is rich enough but we would accompany it with a glass of sweet wine or a mug of coffee or tea.
Please visit Letizia’s website featuring her Agriturismo “Alla Madonna del Piatto“. It’s a wonderful place to visit when in Italy.