When I was little, strawberries were one of my favorite foods. And, frankly, they still are. I greet the arrival of strawberries to the market with something akin to glee; something, admittedly, rather childish. I get giggly and squirmy and, let's face it, a bit competitive. I want those berries, and have them I will, Greenmarket crowds be damned.
This weekend's berry haul was particularly tasty - tart and sweet in that way that only berries really are, and absolutely beautiful to boot. I ate a full pint dipped in crème fraiche and topped with dark brown sugar one night, cooked another quart into a batch of strawberry-rhubarb compote, and decided to make some crostatas with what was left.
Crostatas are free-form cousins to pies and tarts, and they're ridiculously easy to make. Hate transferring your rolled-out pie crust to your pie plate or tart pan? Don't have a pie plate or tart pan? Crostatas are for you, my friend. A little food processor action, a bit of rolling, a spot of folding, and you have a finished dessert. The best part? They're beautiful and show off the jewel-like fruit in a way normally reserved for lattice-top pies, and they impress people in a rustic, Tuscan sort of way.
Go ahead. Show off.
For the pastry:
1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 cup polenta
2 tsp. turbinado sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 stick butter, very cold or frozen, cut into 1/2-inch bits
3 tbs. ice water
For the filling:
5 stalks rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pint (1/2 quart) ripe strawberries, hulled and cut in half lengthwise
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tbs. butter, cut into small bits
1 egg, beaten
Softly whipped cream or crème fraiche, for serving
Place the flour, polenta, sugar salt and butter in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Pulse together until the mixture is mealy and most of the butter is about the size of small peas. With the processor running, stream the water in one teaspoon at a time until the mixture begins to come together in one or two big clumps. You may not need all the water, depending on the humidity in your ingredients and the air. (Alternately, you can make the pastry in a medium bowl, using a pastry blender. A food processor is super-fast, but a pastry blender works well, too. Make sure to chill the bowl ahead of time.)
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and mold into a large disc. Wrap in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator. Let the dough rest for at least an hour; it can sit in the fridge for up to 36 hours before you use it.
When you're ready to make the filling and bake the crostata, take the dough out of the fridge and let it sit; this will help take the chill off a bit. In the meantime, pre-heat the oven to 400°F. Combine the strawberries, rhubarb, sugar, vanilla and salt in a medium bowl. Stir to coat the fruit in the sugar, and continue to stir until it begins to dissolve. Set aside while you roll out the pastry.
You can use the pastry to make one large tart or several (three or four) little ones. No matter what size you're after, the method is the same. Lightly flour a piece of parchment paper and place the dough in its center. Flour your pin and use it to whack the disk of pastry once or twice, then start rolling it out from the middle outward, spinning it if you need to, until you have a roughly circular shape about 1/4 inch thick. Transfer the crust (on the parchment paper) to a cookie sheet.
Spoon the filling into the middle of the tart, leaving about two inches of crust as a border. Starting anywhere you'd like, fold the pastry up over the filling. Continue to fold in triangles as you go around the tart (Refer to the photo above; it's easy to do once you take a look at a finished version, I think.) until all the edges are folded over the filling, leaving a nice circle of pretty fruit exposed. Using a pastry brush, paint the crust with the beaten egg; this will give it a nice sheen. Dot the exposed filling with the butter.
Place the tart in the oven and bake for 25-35 minutes, depending on your oven, rotating the tart halfway through baking. Bake until golden-brown and bubbly; the crust may leak some juices, but should hold up pretty well in any case, despite the liquid. Once the tart is done, remove it from the oven and transfer it, on its parchment paper, to a cooling rack. Cool at least slightly before slicing. Serve topped with crème fraiche or whipped cream.