Whenever we visited Ferrara, my husband's hometown, my mother-in-law would buy a crostata with jam from a local pasticceria.
There are many of them in town, and each has their own favourite crostata on offer. Some of these places are very small and are run by a family, so everything looks and tastes just like "Nonna used to make".
And there are grand places to visit for a sweet treat as well, for example, pasticceria Leon d'Oro, which is placed right in the middle of Ferrara, you can sit there, have a leisurely coffee, stuff yourself with wonderful pastries and watch the crowds visiting the town centre.
The beautiful watercolour of Leon D'Oro above is reproduced with the kind permission of Roberto Cariani. That's Ferrara, romantic and poetic, a true gem of the Northern Italy.
We haven't visited Italy since Eddie was born, but Sasha loved the pasticceria, and we used to go there daily for our elevenses. The choice of pastries is amazing, and you can have a slice of crostata if you fancy a jammy treat.
I have been looking for good recipes of crostata, and found one that I liked the sound of.
My recipe is based on Meg Rivers' recipe Fig & Marsala crostata published in Meg Rivers Home Baking, with a few changes. She adds fennel seeds to the pastry, which I'm sure takes this dish to the next level of sophistication.
First of all, I should confess that I used a roll of ready-made chilled Jus-Rol shortcrust pastry. I know I would have been crucified and vilified on Come and Dine with me, but I don't care. I had guests coming for lunch, and not much time.
1 pack of JusRol short crust pastry (or make your own pastry by all means)
500g dried figs
1 decent glass of marsala (about 300ml+)
2 tbsp vanilla sugar (MR opts for 3 tbsps of dark sugar, but figs are sweet enough, I think next time I bake this crostata, I'll try to skip sugar altogether)
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tbsp nutmeg
You have to prepare the filling ahead of the baking session. Soak the chopped figs in the marsala wine in a small pan. If you don't have marsala, I think sweet port or sherry could be another option. Or any strong sweet wine indeed. Add the vanilla sugar and spices. Bring the pan to the boil and cook over low heat, stirring regulalry, until the filling has reduced by about a half. This might take about 30-40 minutes. Once relatively cool, blitz the mixture with a hand blender. It has to be a thick paste, not a smoothie, so don't overdo it.
Preheat the oven to 180C.
Roll out the pastry in the pie dish, slightly buttered in advance. Trim the edges and save some pastry for the lattice on top. Bake the empty shell for 10 minutes, take the dish out of the oven and spoon the fig filling in, smooth it with a spoon. Cut the remaning shortcrust pastry into ribbons and make a lattice. Bake for another half an hour at 180C until the pastry is golden.
Serve hot with custard or cream. I think the Greek yogurt could be a lovely alternative, or even a good serving of vanilla ice cream.
It is tasty the next day too, you can either eat it cold, or reheat it in the oven.