I left my home in Washington State in 1996 and remember writing the word ‘Rome’ in my journal; I had never traveled out of the country and had absolutely no reason to think I would be going to Europe let alone Italy, any time soon. But I did. In December of 1997 I traveled with a group of college students to Rome and spent a little more than two weeks helping in the construction of bedrooms for a church family there. I’d only known The Professor a month before leaving on that trip – we were just good friends and had even discussed the fact that neither of us were looking for a relationship.
I helped cook for the group of close to 30; our hosting family were Italians who spoke both Italian and English and even though I didn’t know a single word of Italian, I loved being in the kitchen and feeding our crew. One of my jobs was to set my alarm for 3am each morning and walk to the local bakery for bread. I remember the streets being nearly empty but as the sun began to rise, tall apartment buildings took shape as I walked that stretch from our apartment to the neighborhood bakery. It was bustling with women – all speaking Italian in a rapid cadence; neighbors greeting one another, quick to place their orders, pay and head out the door to the next market.
The neighborhood knew ‘Americans’ were in town and since I was an unfamiliar face, they were pretty sure I belonged to ‘that group.’ All I could do was stand in front of the case, point to the type of bread I wanted and hold up my fingers to indicate how many of each I was going to purchase; then I handed all the Italian currency I had in my pocket to the clerk – she made the transaction, returning any change coming to me. Back at the apartment, we gathered in the dining hall, broke off chunks of fresh, warm-from-the-oven bread, heady with the smell of yeast and slathered real Italian Nutella all over that beautiful bread. Makes my mouth water just typing this.
I made that trek every day and I loved it; and somehow I also knew I wanted to return to Italy with The Professor.
Fast-forward to 2014 and The Professor and I have been married for almost 17 years; the ‘just friends’ thing didn’t last very long and in fact, we were married a little less than 8 weeks after I returned home. And my dream of going back to Italy with The Professor has been realized as this was our third trip to Italy – all of which have been connected to the Jovial Culinary Getaways. We both learned so much as participants in the Gluten-Free class and I’ll be sharing a few more posts but we left Italy eager to learn more – more about the culture, more about the people, more about the food.
We ate incredibly well: ciabatta, bagels, foccacia, pizza, salad, stuffed ravioli, fish stew, gratined tomatoes, lamb, rabbit, risotto, cannoli, gelato, cake, cupcakes, pie and a jam crostata similar to this one – and it was all gluten-free – and it was all amazing.
NOTES: This has been my go-to crust for making pies, crostatas, galettes and tarts; I prefer the flavor of butter versus shortening and adding a small amount of mascarpone cheese gives another layer of flavor that isn’t overpowering and helps keep the dough tender and workable. Cream cheese can certainly be substituted for mascarpone OR omit the mascarpone and add 2 Tablespoons butter for an all-butter crust – either scenario will work just fine. As with their gluten counterparts, cold is your friend when it comes to working with pastry; my ingredients, including the flour, is chilled in the freezer for about 30 minutes prior to using. Once the tart is filled and the top crust added, a quick 15-minute chill in the freezer before baking ensures all ingredients are cold and results in a nice ‘puff’ to the pastry. We make our own GF flour mix using brown and white rice as well as a small amount of buckwheat flour, potato and tapioca starch; you can also use a ready-made mix but omit the xanthan gum if your mix already contains either psyllium or other type of gum.
GLUTEN-FREE JAM CROSTATA
Makes one, 9-inch crostata
- 268 grams Gluten-free AP flour mix, cold (freeze for at least 30 minutes)
- 1 Tablespoon sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon xanthan gum (omit if your mix already contains xanthan)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon baking powder
- 10 Tablespoons unsalted butter, well chilled or frozen
- 2 Tablespoons mascarpone cheese, well chilled
- 4 Tablespoons ice water
- 300 grams your favorite jam – I used a homemade strawberry, plum, rhubarb jam
TO MAKE THE CRUST:
- In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade, combine flour, sugar, xanthan gum, salt and baking powder; pulse a few times to blend
- Add butter and mascarpone and pulse until mixture resenmbles coarse gravel; add water and pulse until dough just begins to come together in a ball
- Remove dough onto a plastic sheet and press together into a ball; wrap tightly and chill for at least one hour or overnight
TO BAKE THE CROSTATA:
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
- Roll out three-quarters of the dough to a 11-inch circle; transfer to an ungreased fluted 9 ½-inch tart pan. Ease the dough into the pan covering the entire surface including the corners and edges. Run the rolling pin across the edges of the pan to remove any excess dough
- Spread the jam evenly across the unbaked crust with a spoon
- Roll out the remaining dough to a 10-inch long rectangle. Use a pastry wheel or sharp knife to cut ½ inch strips of dough. Arrange strips of dough across the tart horizontally, leaving ½- inch space between them, then rotate the pan slightly and place the strips of dough on top of the first strips at a 45-degree angle.
- Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until the filling is bubbly and the crust is browned.
- Let the tart cool completely before serving.