Tart or Crostata?

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On the face of it, it is simply fruit ensconced in pastry. The French call it Tart and the Italians call it Crostata and well... while we are at it, the Americans/Brits Pie. Beyond that higher similarity, though, there are deep differences - in technique, meaning and reflection of each culture. The Tart for example is the most technical and the crostata the most forgiving and the pie in between, a blend of technique and comfort. 

Food, as cuisine, is a lens and window into the the soul of the people who make it. It is so for communities, regions, countries, continents. It is the tangible fabric of shared values, common history, perceived outlooks - in short, a whole lot more than the simple plate of fruit and flour on the plate... That really has been my learning for all this time that I have been enmeshed in this life.

Something as simple as this fruit dessert can be a subject of a dissertation! Ha! But, don't worry, I will not subject you to it. I speak of this so dearly because, looking back at my everyday cooking history, the most commonly made item in my kitchen is a tart - sweet or savory. It is ridiculously simple, throughly versatile and has easy portability. Leftovers are always fantastic for the next day and you really don't need utensils to eat it, making it a rather convenient way to nourish oneself.

When I first started making them, I typically made the French version with its cold butter cut into pastry just so, chilled and baked into flaky layers. Pies were not so much my thing, because learning to crimp was a bit tricky and I did not want to make the regular looking ones, because, well.. I am vain! Then, I discovered the crostata! The pastry dough is made with soft butter that is kneaded rather than cut. Ofcourse, the result is different, with the pastry being more cake like than crisp. Ah! In that simple technique and result, you can see such a sharp contrast of cultures - soft vs sure; yielding or determinant

Living in Italy, sometimes, I have too much of the soft and I miss the crispness, especially in croissants, which are called brioche and are more bread-like. So, there is a case to be made for balance.. Of course, the pie strives for it. Yet, for some reason, I prefer to buy my pies than make them. I don't know why...?!

Anyway, with that introduction, let me dive into today's subject. A simple fruit pie made with a pastry is slightly French, slightly Italian. In that, I am not being too tied to the exact coldness of the butter cut in and nor do I chill it. I rolls and bake. In this, I am inspired by the amazing prune (jam) crostatas I devour here and the lattice design they typically have on top. I choose a more whimsical one. Just because. Inside, given the season, I opted for a fresh fruit filling, that is both light and fragrant.

Happy Spring! 

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Italian French Fresh Fruit Tarts

Makes two 5 inch tarts or one 10 inch one with both fruits mixed in.

I use apricots and strawberries in this recipe, because that's what I had but you can substitute all with the same fruit or another from a similar family

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For the filling:

3 ripe apricots, pitted and sliced (for first tart)

1 cup of strawberries, sliced (for second tart)

1/4 cup of sugar

2 tsp potato starch {you can use corn or tapioca, if you prefer}

For the Pastry:

1-1/2 cups flour {sub gluten free blend if you like}

8 T butter, cold to soft, cubed

3 T milk

1 tsp baking soda

4 T sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp ground cardamom or any other spice you like

Egg wash or milk (for brushing on top)

In a couple of bowls, macerate the fruit with the sugar and starch by dividing them equally. Or, if mixing the fruits, all together.

To make the pastry, in a bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, spice, salt and sugar.

Add the cubed butter. If it is colder, leave it in chunks; if softer, rub them into the dry mix. The  butter will help bring together the dough already.

Slowly drizzle the milk in and working quickly, without kneading too much, bring the mixture together into a dough. It should not be too wet. {If it is, add a teaspoon of flour to coat and then cool in the fridge for a few minutes. If not, proceed to rolling.}. At this stage you can store in refrigerator for later use, for up to 3 days.

When ready, bring to near room temperature. Divide the dough into three pieces.

Roll 2 pieces out to about 1/4 inch thickness to fit the 5 inch molds. Press in the dough to the bottom and sides. Trim the excess.

Pile in the fruits.

Roll out the third portion and cut into shapes. Arrange the pieces on top decoratively, overlapping but leaving space for steam to escape. Brush the pastry with egg wash.

Bake in a preheated oven at 350F or 180F for 20 minutes until golden brown and crisp.

Cool for a few minutes, before slicing. Enjoy!