Bright blue skies. Overblown pink peonies – the ones that drip petals onto the table where they sit casually arranged in a glass jug. Those days where it feels almost too hot to think. Boat rides into that deliciously blue expanse that is the Venice lagoon – the rough sea breeze on your face and sun beating down, warm and thick like a blanket. The constant, soothing hum of cicadas. These, for me, are the telltale signs of summer. And strawberries: strawberries are summer.
Like all of the beautiful fruit at this time of year – the peaches, the figs (oh, the figs!), the cherries, the raspberries and, later in the season, the plums too – strawberries need little or nothing doing to them. They are heavenly just as they are, and that of course is where their laid-back-lazy-picnic-lunch-under-the-dappled-shade-of-a-tree charm comes from. Serve with a jug of thick, runny cream: strawberries are the lazy cook’s bliss.
This recipe for a simple strawberry and mascarpone tart isn’t quite as simple as plain strawberries with cream, granted. By virtue of being a tart, it is of course something you need to bake. Nonetheless it is a dessert that is at once improbably easy to throw together and fabulously showy to bring to the table. Not to mention: dreamy and decadent to eat. So much so, I find myself making this often – even on those hot summer days when it is far too hot to think, let alone cook.
As to the eating: think more is more. This is a dessert for those occasions when you fancy buttery, crumbly biscuit to go with your berries as well as copious quantities of soft mascarpone cream, laced with sugar. It’s for dinner parties and al fresco lunches, alike. Pretty as a picture, it makes a fine (and rather fancy) afternoon tea – when enjoyed at 4 o’clock the afternoon with a pot of Earl Grey.
I could also give you all manner of suggestions for conjuring up concoctions with the leftovers, except there never seems to be any tart leftover to play around with.
Crostata di Fragole e Mascarpone
Strawberry and Mascarpone Tart
My ode to strawberries aside, you could of course, just as well make this tart with any fruit of your choosing. Raspberries heaped high, topped with a sprinkling of white sugar – would be divine. And figs, of course – beauteous, voluptuous, indulgent figs, maybe even with a drizzle of honey over the top. I use a 28cm fluted tart tin, with a loose bottom, to make this tart. And feel free
FOR THE PASTRY
400g plain flour
200g chilled butter
170g icing sugar
4 egg yolks
A pinch of salt
FOR THE FILLING
2-3 heaped tablespoons of icing sugar
First make the pastry. Add the plain flour (no need to sift) to a food processor and blitz for a few seconds. Roughly chop the butter, add to the flour and blitz until you have something that resembles the texture of coarse sand. Remove the blade from the processor and sift in the icing sugar and a generous pinch of salt, then give everything a good stir with a wooden spoon until well combined. Add the yolks and the egg and bring the dough together with your hands, until you have something that is smooth and pliable like play-doh. If the dough is too dry and crumbly, add a tablespoon or two of cold water. Roll into a ball, wrap in clingfilm and set to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes, or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 200˚C. On a lightly floured surface, roll the pastry out into a large circle with a rolling pin. You want the sheet of pastry to be roughly the thickness of a pound coin. Gently press the circle of pastry into the tart tin (no need to grease it) and roll the rolling pin over the top of the tin to trim away any excess pastry. Use a fork to prick the bottom of the tin all over. Now, line the pastry with a sheet of baking paper and fill with baking beans, then bake in the oven for 15 mins until lightly golden at the edges. Take the tin out of the oven, carefully lift off and discard the paper and the beans, then bake again for a further 15 minutes until the pastry is lightly golden all over. Remove from the oven and set to one side to cool.
Meanwhile make the filling. Spoon the mascarpone into a large mixing bowl. Sift in the icing sugar, then use a wooden spoon to mix the two together until you have a smooth cream. When the pastry is completely cooled, gently lift it out of its tin and set on a serving plate or cake stand. Spoon the mascarpone cream into the tart case and use the back of a spoon to evenly smooth the filling out. Hull and halve the strawberries, then pile them high over the mascarpone cream.