Most Italians living in the U.S., no matter how much they love their adopted country, yearn for the familiarity and beauty of the landscape in their native homeland. Who wouldn't miss the majestic Alpine peaks, the sparkling Mediterranean Sea or the rolling Tuscan hills of the Italian peninsula?
But so many of my Italian friends grow something in their gardens that evokes the Italy they know and love: a fig tree. Granted, they have to insulate it every winter to keep it from freezing. But the payoff is worth it. Come the end of summer, the trees produce succulent fruits that are hard to beat -- perfect for eating out of hand or with a slice of prosciutto, and perfect for making jam that can be used as the filling in a crostata - or pastry tart. The pastry used in Italy -- a "pasta frolla" -- differs from American pastry due to its inclusion of egg yolks and sometimes a whole egg too. In mine I use only one egg yolk and a full stick of butter. It's almost like a rich cookie dough. The trick is to handle the dough as little as possible so that the butter doesn't completely assimilate into the dough. What you want are small bits of butter solids that will melt into the pastry as it bakes, giving it a tender bite rather than a tough crust. I mix it all in a food processor to avoid excessive handling. The recipe is for a 9 or 10 inch tart pan with a removable bottom plate, but if you have a larger tart pan, you can easily make 1 1/2 times the recipe for the dough and add more jam as well. If you don't have homemade fig jam, you can purchase it in jars in specialty shops and even some supermarkets. If figs are not your thing, crostata can be made with any kind of jam. The ones most commonly found in Italy are made with either plum or apricot jam.
1 recipe for pasta frolla
1 1/2 cups fig jam
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 stick of cold unsalted butter
1 T. grated lemon peel
1 large egg yolk
1/4 cup ice water
Place flour, sugar and baking powder into food processor and pulse for a few seconds. Add the butter in small pieces and pulse again, along with the lemon peel, until it resembles coarse sand. Beat the egg yolk slightly with the water and add to the food processor, pulsing until the mixture starts to form a ball. Add more water, a teaspoon at a time, if necessary. Remove from food processor and refrigerate for at least a half hour. Divide the dough into 2/3 for the bottom and 1/3 for the strips. Roll the bottom onto a floured surface and fit it into a buttered tart pan, letting any excess hang over the edge.
Fill the crust with jam. Roll the remaining 1/3 of the dough on a floured surface and cut into strips. Place them lattice-fashion over the jam, attach them to the dough along the rim, then trim the edges of the crostata. Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 25 to 30 minutes until the dough is golden brown.