I’m just back from two weeks in Tuscany, slap bang in the middle of Chiantishire. Before you hit command-W and wish me the pox in a fit of schadenfreude, it rained every single day. In fact, it’s rained pretty much every day there for five weeks, proving utterly true those proverbs that seem to exist in every language about how rain on just one unassuming day in May can completely bugger up your tan.
So what’s a girl and her mum to do? Well, close the kitchen door, put the telly on with the particularly italian programming blend of boobs and gastronomy – and cook!
This recipe is adapted from a wonderful book called “Ricette di Osterie d’Italia – I Dolci” published by the Slow Food guys. It’s a real insight into the way Italians cook their desserts – very simple ingredients mostly based on nuts, lemons and dried fruits, combined in perfectly honed ways to create subtle but delicious flavours, never overly sweet.
The crostata that follows (a really rich pastry topped with an easy creme patisserie and fresh peaches) was a doddle but was so impressive that we kept eating just to make sure we’d tasted it right.
For the pastry:
300g 00 flour
1 egg and 2 yolks
150g caster sugar
100g butter, very soft
zest of 1 lemon
pinch of salt
1/2 a sachet of italian lievito per dolci, which is probably equivalent to a heaped teaspoon of baking powder
Sift the flour into a large bowl and mix in the sugar, baking powder and the salt. Into the middle put all the other ingredients at once, and mix with a wooden spoon and then your hands to get a rich dough. Cover with clingfilm and leave to rest in the fridge for half an hour. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
For the crema pasticciera:
3 tablespoons flour
5 egg yolks
While the pastry is resting, make the crema pasticciera by heating the milk until nearly boiling. In another saucepan off the heat beat the yolks with the sugar until dissolved, then add the flour, and finally the hot milk, stirring continuously. Put this saucepan over a low flame (or use a bain marie) to bring it to boiling point, and cook for 3 minutes until well thickened.
For the peaches:
500g peaches, blanched in boiling water to peel them, and sliced into quarters or eighths, depending on size
Prepare a tart tin with fluted sides by buttering and flouring it, and lining the base with baking parchment. Roll out the pastry on a very well floured surface – this amount of pastry gives more than enough to line a 28cm tin, but if you have a different size, you can use the extra to lay crisscross strips on top, or make jam crostate with the left over bits. The pastry is really rich, and so fairly impossible to get cleanly into the tin. Mine was a complete patchwork, but came out absolutely fine, just remember that it will expand a fair bit due to the baking powder, so you don’t need to leave it very thick.
When your tin is lined, cover it evenly with the crema pasticciera. If your peaches are very juicy you might want to take steps to make sure the base doesn’t get too soggy – I sprinkled a handful of crushed amaretti biscuits over this cream layer which worked great. Then arrange the quartered peaches in concentric rings over the top. Bake at 180°C for 30 minutes – you may need to protect the pastry edges from getting too brown at some point, just use some aluminium foil.