It has suddenly become high strawberry season at my Greenmarket.
The berries I’ve tasted so far have been very good – plump and sweet. I just hope they’ll still be around when I get back from the trip that I’ll be away on during the week that this post is published, because I haven’t yet made my year’s supply of strawberry jam. What I did make, a few days before we left, was the season’s first strawberry tart.
I make a very simple version, using a recipe from my book The Seasons of the Italian Kitchen. It has only three ingredients: strawberries, sugar, and pastry dough. Well, okay, making the pastry requires other ingredients, but if you have the dough already made up in the freezer, as I often do, it counts as just one. (There’s also an optional fourth item: a beaten egg, to paint a glaze on the pastry before baking, if you feel so inclined.)
For that pastry, I use Italian-style pasta frolla, rolling out the extremely fragile dough between sheets of waxed paper to keep it from breaking apart. Any other kind of sweet pastry dough would also work, of course; even an unsweetened one.
Once the tart pan has been lined with the dough, I fill the shell tightly with fresh strawberries, just hulled, washed, and dried. I like to use small berries so they can stand straight up in the tart. If you’re working with very large ones, you’ll have to quarter them. I sprinkle a few tablespoons of granulated sugar over them – more or less according to how tart or sweet the berries are – and then I roll out the leftover dough and cut strips to make a lattice over the top. With or without an egg glaze, the tart then goes into a moderate oven for about 40 minutes.
It has to be cooled before serving, so the berries can absorb back some of their juices that the sugar has drawn out. But that’s one of the virtues of this recipe: you can make it well in advance. The kinds of strawberry tarts that use a pre-baked pastry shell filled with a layer of pastry cream, sweetened ricotta cheese, or fruit preserves under uncooked berries can’t be assembled until very shortly before being served, or they’ll get soggy. Mine gets even better if made early in the day, allowing the flavors and textures of crust and fruit to blend deliciously at dessert time. It’s best to make a tart just big enough to be consumed at one sitting, however, because even this one will get soggy if it sits around for a day or two.
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BTW, this week I’m in Honduras. Tom and I are on a birding trip with Victor Emanuel Nature Tours. We’ll be staying for a week at The Lodge at Pico Bonito, a luxurious small eco-resort surrounded by lush tropical rainforest and boasting a myriad of gorgeous birds on its 400-acre property.
The lodge’s restaurant seems to be quite notable, so when I return I may do a post about the Mesoamerican specialties I hope to be enjoying there. Wish me many mangoes!