The occasional tapping of wrench against iron, footsteps across the creaking, ancient parquet and the hum of distant voices are the only things to break the silence of a silent apartment. The sun – finally, the long-awaited sun – sneaks in, wary to make too much of a show or to commit beyond today, as I sit and begin my week. Good moods have returned in spades, lighting up my days in a way that no bright ray of sunshine can. Whistling, singing, smiles bursting across rosy-cheeked male faces have a way of cheering me up and pushing me joyously through the day. My own sluggish, lackadaisical mood is reinvigorated and I find myself inspired once again. Things seem to be looking up in Crazy Town, our tiny private island lost in a sea of mankind has burst into summery bloom even as autumn sets in outside my windows. We are, once again, on the right track.
Bad dreams disintegrate into dust, evaporating into the pale, watery light of dawn, fading into a steady, calm peace. Hope fills our days after weeks of worry and woe and we laugh out loud. Autumn, my favorite season, has settled in wrapped in a golden glow and smelling oddly, beautifully of Christmas. As the blogosphere is all abuzz with Thanksgiving, sweet potato casserole, pumpkin pies and roast goose, bright, rich, exotic, warming tagines, ossobuco, curries and stews clutter my brain and I dream of far-off lands and Italy. Although no Thanksgiving finds a place in our humble home and Christmas is one of those remnants of JP’s former life which sneaks across the threshold, inviting itself for a star appearance once only every several years, the holiday season excites me, stirring up childlike images of fairy dust, twinkling lights and snow gently falling out of inky black skies, lighting up a romantically icy world. And we begin counting the days to Hanukkah.
Autumn has me thinking of crostate. Chilly autumn mornings gathered around the old wooden table in Ettore’s kitchen in that large, rambling house nestled in the fields outside Villastanza, the frost gathering on the stalks of corn just beyond the window. Bundled up against the crispness of an early November day, the stimulating aroma of freshly brewed coffee fills the room while the boys spill a tumble of cakes and cookies across the wooden surface, each grabbing up one, two, three of their favorites. A rustic crostata is uncovered * ta da * and takes its pride of place in the center, elbowing aside plates and mugs, turning up its nose at all the packaged goodies who pale in comparison, amid the oohs and ahhhs of the men. A homey, comforting crostata, a buttery, crispy, delicate piecrust filled simply with our favorite marmellata, jam or jelly, hidden snugly under a lattice of more delicate crust. Slices greedily eaten and washed down with milk or caffé latte, nothing rich or heavy to weigh one down, just enough to fill tummies, a soothing, unpretentious treat to wake up to, a sweet kiss to start the day. Then dress the boys, wrap them up tightly in coats, mittens and wooly bonnets and scoot them off to school.
Yes, the humble crostata. Such an Italian treat! Simple, homey and rustic, ready in a flash, sweet and light. How many did I make, blending, rolling out dough, selecting a favorite jam, baking and serving to eager husband and children? Autumn may mean pumpkin and apple pies, cranberry muffins and sweet potato pancakes to others, but this season is inextricably intertwined with, bound to the beautiful crostata. My trip to Italy and a weekend with From Plate to Page brought the crostata back to me! It had been years since I baked one, too many years, yet a gift of marvelous, luscious homemade jams in an amazing, wild, creative combination of flavors was offered to us by Wendy of Sunchowder’s Emporia located in my home state of Florida, one of our generous, incredible sponsors. I ended up with a jar of Black Forest Jam, a stunning confection of blackberries, Callebaut chocolate and Chambord as well as a jar of Pumpkin Spice Butter. Ilva threw together some fabulous individual crostate during the weekend, which had me scratching my head in wonder at how I could have forgotten to bake this favorite goodie for so long. And as soon as we returned home, well, I did.
How many wishes have I wished in my life? Birthday candles blown out in one giant breath? Starlight, star bright, the first star I see tonight? Or standing atop that mountain in Italy outside of Bergamo on San Lorenzo, the night of the falling stars, le stelle candenti, quick quick grab at the first shooting star and make a wish! How many wishes come true? I have my Prince Charming… friendships deep and true have been granted…. two sons grown tall, healthy, handsome, smart and kind. But all of those wishes made over glowing lights and falling stars, coins picked up from sidewalks and eyelashes or fluffy dandelion blooms blown into the wind…well, not many. Yet, I was recently visited by The Fairy Hobmother, a surprise visit generously bestowing joy and granting wishes. He offered me an Amazon gift card and this holiday season will be that much sweeter, that much more brilliant because of his visit!
A special thanks to our generous From Plate to Page sponsors:
Sunchowder’s Emporia whose stunningly delicious jams went into my crostata (order online or find a list of shops who sell the jams);
Taste of Home whose apron is worn proudly as I bake;
Zwilling J.A. Henckels (JP LOVES the knife)!
And The Fairy Hobmother from Appliances Online for the wish come true!
Pasta Frolla (Sweet Pastry Dough):
1 ¼ cups (175 g) flour
¼ tsp baking powder
Large pinch of salt
¼ cup + 1 Tbs (65 g) sugar
8 ½ Tbs (4 ½ oz/ 125 g) butter
1 large egg yolk + 3 – 5 tsp ice water
Place the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a large mixing bowl and whisk to combine.
Cube the butter and toss the cubes in the dry ingredients to coat. Using the tips of your fingers and thumb, rub the butter and flour together quickly until all of the butter is blended in and there are no more lumps. Add the egg yolk and 3 teaspoons cold water and, using a fork, blend vigorously until all of the flour/sugar/butter mixture is moistened and starts to pull together into a dough. Add another teaspoon or two of ice water if needed.
Scrape the dough out onto a floured work surface and, using the heel of one hand, smear the dough inch by inch away from you in short, hard, quick movements; this will completely blend the butter in. Scrape up the smeared dough and, working very quickly, gently knead into a smooth, homogeneous ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 15 to 20 minutes if the dough is too sticky to easily roll.
Prepare the Crostata:
You will need 10 or 12 (more or less, depending on how thick you would like the jam layer) tablespoons jam, jelly or fruit butter total (can be divided into 2 or 4 flavors).
On a lightly floured surface (kept floured), roll out ¾ of the dough to fit a 9-inch (23 cm) pie plate. Gently press into place and trim off excess dough, adding this to the remaining dough. Spoon the jam or jelly into the crust and spread evenly over the bottom.
Roll out the remaining dough and slice (using a knife, pizza or pastry cutter) into ½ to 1-inch strips. Lay over the top of the jam layer as you like, evenly spacing the strips. Press the edges of the lattice strips to the edges of the dough to seal around the sides. Trim. Place the prepared crostata in the refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
Bake the crostata for 20 to 25 minutes until puffy and the lattice crust as well as the bottom of the tart are a deep golden color.
Cool. Serve. Eat.