For many bakers, pie is the first dessert that comes to mind when summer rolls around. But for this Italian baker, the dessert of choice is a crostata, a tart often filled with fruit or cream—or a combination of the two—that is ubiquitous throughout Italy.
Although a crostata shares similarities with pie and with the freeform French galette, it’s distinct from either of those treats. A typical crostata is shallower than a pie but has more structure than a galette, and can be baked in anything from a fluted tart tin to an old pizza pan. It is made with pasta frolla, a sweet, buttery short-crust pastry enriched with egg, and as with all Italian food, its filling varies by region, season, and individual baker.
The most basic, and beloved, version is crostata di marmellata, in which a thick layer of good jam is sandwiched between the bottom crust and a rolled lattice top. Virtually every hotel, B&B, and agriturismo sets at least one crostata out at its daily breakfast buffet, and I have fond memories of waking up in my aunt’s house in Rome to find a freshly baked jam crostata beneath a clean towel on the kitchen table.
Summer is my favorite season for crostatas. Rather than relying on jam from my pantry, I can start with fresh fruit from the farmers’ market or garden—from strawberries at the beginning of the season to figs at the end. The key is to cook the fruit down a bit with sugar to make a quick jam. This both concentrates the fruit’s fresh flavor and avoids a filling that’s too wet.
Perhaps the most appealing aspect of the crostata is how accommodating it is, and how easy it is to adapt it to your own taste. The recipes here offer good examples, because they invite mixing and matching. For the simplest rendition, start with the strawberry jam crostata, a classic breakfast crostata. For something more elaborate, try the caramelized peach and frangipane, or the spiced blueberry and ricotta. Or mix it up by topping the frangipane filling with spiced blueberries, and the ricotta filling with caramelized peaches. You can also substitute the caramelized peaches or blueberries for the strawberries in the classic version. And keep in mind that the Brandied Fig and Chocolate Crostata is delicious baked in the cocoa crust, but it’s just as good in a plain crust (see the cocoa variation in the Pasta Frolla recipe).
Once you’ve mastered the basics, you’ll soon find yourself dreaming up your own filling and flavor combinations.