Welcome to the wonderful months of summer.
When children are out of school, the thermometers flirt with triple digits, the air smells like sunscreen, air conditioners buzz and lightning bugs flicker.
And in my world, it’s when the June gloom fog burns off at the beach by about noon and you can maybe get away without wearing a jacket at night.
Another really exciting thing about summer is all of the fruits that pop up in the market. Strawberries, blueberries, mulberries, cherries, figs… Summertime is fruit time, and if there is one thing I love (other than tomatoes) it is fruit.
Yep, I was the weird kid who liked candy, but loved fruit.
Here in the LA restaurant scene, all the available ripe fruit means lots and lots of fruit desserts on the menu. Fruit parfaits, fruit tarts, fruit cobblers, fruit crisps, fruit ice creams and gelatos.
I am in fruit heaven.
So when my favorite cherry stand told me that this week was their last week of the season – they’ll be back in November – I scooped up about three pounds of the little guys and brought them home.
It was time to learn how to make a crostata.
Crostatas are those illusive desserts that lately I’ve seen on menus with a note to ‘let your server know well in advance if you’d like one for dessert’. Of course, that phrase ups the appeal no matter what it’s describing, and I always tell my server as soon as I order appetizers that here is the heads up for the twenty minutes they need for the crostata.
I learned yesterday that although they are quite delicious, the crostata is not as difficult to make as I might have thought.
A Crostata is a free-from tart, known in France as a Galette. Basically, making a Crostata is making a pie without using a pie pan. So if you have a cookie sheet and are just really craving a slice of pie, Crostatas are just the thing for you!
Last night we were trying to find a great name for Crostatas. We came up with:
The Independent Pie
The Casual Pie
The Nonchalant Pie
The Indifferent Pie
The Impromptu Pie
The Laid Back Pie
And then, somehow, I got the nickname (aka food-porn name) Giada Crostata. I laughed so hard I cried. Awesome.
But I digress…
As you all know, I cheated last week and used store-bought pie crust for my Cherry Pie for time’s sake. Not this time. I was making this thing from scratch. I even bought myself a Pastry Sheet to roll out the dough on.
I decided to make four individual pastries, so I divided the dough into four balls and rolled them into 8 inch rounds.
While the dough chilled, I got to work on pitting the cherries.
And splattering cherry juice all over myself and the kitchen walls. It kind of felt like a crime scene. Weapon, cherry pitter.
I couldn’t find an exact recipe I liked for the filling, so I made up my own. I tossed the pitted cherries with Sugar, Cornstarch, and Balsamic Vinegar.
Filled the rounds, leaving about an inch around the outer layer to fold up and pinch into the crust.
We blobbed a little (ok a lot of) whipped cream on them and devoured them after an amazing Summer Solstice dinner.
And I started plotting for what I would fill them with next.
You know its a great recipe when Brad wakes up the next morning still wishing we had just one more Crostata left…
Balsamic Cherry Crostatas
Crust: (Adapted from Food&Wine)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cubed
1/3 cup ice water
2 pounds Sweet Cherries (I used Stella cherries – Bings are good, too)
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon corn starch
2 tablespoons Balsamic Vinegar
2 tablespoons butter, cubed
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg white
To Make The Crust:
In an electric mixer, mix the flour and the salt. Add in the butter and mix until the butter forms pea sized pieces.
Slowly drizzle in the water and mix just until moistened. Move dough to a floured surface and knead 3 or 4 times, until it sticks together as a dough. Divide dough into four separate pieces and roll out into four 8-inch rounds. Chill until ready to fill.
To Make The Filling:
Mix pitted cherries with the cornstarch, sugar, and balsamic vinegar and allow to sit for about 15 minutes.
Place the four dough rounds on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Evenly divide the filling amount the four rounds, leaving a one inch border around the edge of the rounds. Top the filling with additional cubed butter.
Fold up the outer border around the cherries, pinching the dough to keep it together. Brush the crust with the egg whites and sprinkle the entire tart with the additional sugar.
Bake for 45 minutes in a preheated 350° F oven or until golden brown. Allow to cool and harden. Reheat for 15 minutes at 325ºF before serving.