Strawberry season is in full swing in Australia and I for one couldn’t be happier. There is nothing better than fresh sweet strawberries when they are in season. I remember when I was a child that my mother would prepare strawberries for us and cut them into pieces, squeeze on some lemon juice and scatter on some sugar. She would put them in the fridge to marinate for a few hours and when they were ready, the most delicious red juice would be at the bottom of the bowl. We would eat them with vanilla ice cream and I would drink any left over sweet strawberry juice directly from the bowl where they had been marinating.
This rustic crostata goes one step further – it puts those sweet red strawberries onto buttery pastry. A few weeks ago I ran a cooking class at Prospect Cottage near Castlemaine – there were nine participants (and a couple of other helpers) who helped me make a magnificent 4-course lunch. The rustic strawberry tart was on the menu and we made a total of five of them between us. Not only were they fun to make, they were very popular – we managed to polish off three of them accompanied by the vanilla bean ice cream we had made during the class.
(credit for photos in montage below to Kathy Yannarakis)
If you make this at home, you could also make the pastry in a food processor, pulsing the cubes of butter to form the crumbly mixture. It is best to buy ripe strawberries when they are in season for that real strawberry taste (I find that the ones bought out of season are bland). The pastry is rustic so it doesn’t really matter if the strawberry juices escape during cooking – it will taste delightfully sweet and when you eat it with vanilla ice cream or cream, maybe it will bring back memories of your childhood too.
Crostata rustica di fragole (rustic strawberry tart)
110g (4 oz or 1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cold from fridge and cut into small cubes
125g (5/8 cup) plain flour
30g (2 tablespoons) caster sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cold milk (or water)
1 punnet strawberries, washed, cleaned and halved lengthways
1-2 tablespoons of good quality strawberry or plum jam
caster sugar for sprinkling
Put the sugar and flour in a bowl. Add the butter and incorporate using the tines of a fork (or use your fingers). The mixture will be crumbly and don’t worry if there are a few chunks of butter visible – this is a rustic pie. Sprinkle on the salt and milk and knead it a couple of times until the mixture is cohesive. Place the ball of pastry on a sheet of cling wrap. Place a second sheet of cling wrap over the pastry and using the heel of your hand, flatten it. Now use a rolling pin and make a rough circle with the pastry, with a diameter of 25-27 cm. Place the pastry in the fridge (still covered by the two sheets of cling film). Preheat the oven to 180C/355F.
After 20 or so minutes in the fridge, remove the pastry. Reshape if needed (it will become pliable very quickly), rolling out the edges of the circle a bit more if needed. Transfer to the oven tray which you will have covered with baking paper. Spoon the jam on the base, making sure you leave an edge of 4 cm. Arrange the strawberry halves in an outer circle on top of the jam, leaving an edge of about 3 cm. Then make an inner circle and even a central circle with smaller strawberries. If the pastry is getting too soft, put it in the fringe for a couple of minutes at this point.
Carefully fold in the borders of the tart over the outer strawberries, pinch them to make sure the juices from the fruit don’t escape during cooking. Scatter some sugar over the pastry on the edges.
Cook for 40-45 minutes or until the pastry is golden. Cool on a wire rack and serve cold with some vanilla bean ice cream or whipped cream.