It seems there are two extremes when it comes to Italian sweets. There are the Rococo extravaganzas turned out by pasticcerie and then there are the home-made desserts: rustic, simple and uncomplicated. One of the simplest of these would have to be crostata di marmellata, a case of crumbly short pastry filled with jam and decorated with a lattice pastry top.
It’s all about getting the basics right. Pasta frolla is the sweet pastry dough of Italy, dating back to the late Renaissance. As with pastry-making anywhere in the world, each cook swears by their own recipe. Some versions call for whole eggs, others for yolks only; some swear a bit of lard is the secret to a tender crumb while others are adamant it’s only butter that should be used. Whatever the recipe, a certain lightness of touch is paramount, as is ample resting time.
Once you’ve got the pastry mastered, it’s a simple task to fill it with jam but it’s important to use a top-quality preserve. Don’t be tempted to cut corners and substitute whatever jam you happen to have in the pantry, unless you happen to stock the absolute top-notch stuff. Home-made jam is a better way to go and it’s a simple task to whip up some of your own.
Rhubarb’s natural tartness is perfect for this recipe because it prevents the crostata from being cloyingly sweet, but you can use any fruit in season and follow your favourite jam or marmalade recipe.
The trickiest part of this crostata is the lattice top. Re-roll the pastry scraps left over from lining the tart tin and chill them well. Then work quickly to form the lattice, returning the pieces to the refrigerator if they become too soft to handle. Don’t get yourself all tied up in knots – this is a rustic dish, after all. Any imperfections can be disguised with a heavy dusting of icing sugar and a generous dollop of cream or mascarpone.
It’s hard to beat a freshly baked tart, especially one that’s made with buttery short pastry and tangy rhubarb jam.