Strawberry Rhubarb Crostata
My birthday falls during the time of year when apples are just coming into season, and growing up, I always had apple pie for my birthday instead of a cake. I loved this tradition mainly because I love apple pie, but also because it was just a little bit different than what most other people did. Actually, now that I think about it, my family was a real pie family through and through: my dad, whose birthday falls in the summer, always requested a peach pie for his birthday dessert.
Apple pie for an autumn birthday is perfect to me, but I’ve harbored a little secret throughout these years: it’s not actually my favorite kind of pie. I mean, I would never turn down a piece of apple pie, but my favorite — very favorite — kind of pie is strawberry rhubarb. The jolt of ruby red filling, sweet-tart juices sticking to your fork and fingers, no matter how many strawberry-rhubarb recipes I bookmark to try each year, I never make any of them before I make a strawberry rhubarb pie.*
And, finally, finally, this past week the stars aligned for me: the organic strawberries were at their in-season price and tasting so, so sweet, rhubarb has arrived at our farmer’s market, and spring was just bursting out everywhere — not just food-wise, either. The hoary azaleas in the woods by us were in full, fragrant bloom, legions of ferns are unfurling in waves, and I even came across some Jack-in-the-Pulpits nestled in amongst the leaves.
In other words, we needed a strawberry rhubarb pie, stat! This year, instead of a traditional double-crust pie, I decided to make a crostata, using a single pastry crust folded up over the fruit filling. I think of the double-crust Pie as a prim and proper lady, with her precisely crimped, fluted edges — and of the Crostata as Pie’s free-spirited cousin who likes to splash in puddles and whose appearance is a bit more rumpled. I kind of like her for a change.
This crust couldn’t be easier to make — it’s the basic butter pie crust I used for the apple cup pies, with the addition of a little cornmeal for texture and that pretty yellow speckle. Lest you panic at the thought of making your own pie crust, I’ll just say that from what I can tell, this one is practically fool-proof so long as you have your butter very cold (frozen, if possible) and use ice water. Make it all in your food processor, let it chill for an hour in the fridge, and you’re ready to go. Plus, it has in it what (in my mind) a pie crust should: just butter, flour, a little sugar, salt and water. None of that junk that’s in storebought crusts…if you can spare the 10 minutes it takes to blend this crust together, I’m telling you, it’s well worth your time.
And, it probably goes without saying that you can use this crust and technique for pretty much any fruit filling you can think of…Pie’s free-spirited cousin Crostata is very tolerant!
*Well, okay, I did make that rhubarb compote last week. But that didn’t really count: for one, it was just rhubarb alone, and secondly, it tasted more like a winter dessert with all that red wine and spice. Different category entirely.
Strawberry Rhubarb Crostata
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal (optional)
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, very cold (stick it in the freezer for 30 minutes beforehand if you remember)
3 tablespoons (plus some) ice water
1 pound organic strawberries, sliced
3 cups 1-inch rhubarb pieces (about 4 average-sized stalks
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 egg, whisked
sugar for sprinkling on crust
1 tablespoon butter, cut into pieces
Combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor; pulse a few times quickly to combine. Take the butter out of the refrigerator or freezer and cut it into 1/2-inch pieces (I usually cut it lengthwise, then cut those long halves lengthwise, then cut all 4 long sticks into 1/2-inch chunks.) Drop the pieces of butter into the food processor and pulse in short bursts about 10-12 times, until the butter is distributed more evenly and the mixture resembles coarse meal, with some chunks the sizes of peas or oatmeal flakes, too. Add the 3 tablespoons water all at once and blend using on/off pulses just until clumps are starting to form, or until you can pinch the dough and it holds together. If it looks a little dry, add a little more water (I usually use 1-2 more tbsp.) Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gather it into a ball. Flatten the ball into a disk, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate it for at least 1 hour.
When you’re ready to bake the crostata, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F and take the dough out of the refrigerator while you prepare the filling. Combine the sliced strawberries and rhubarb pieces in a bowl, and toss with 3 tablespoons sugar. Stir until the sugar dissolves, then set aside while you roll out the crust. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured piece of parchment paper until it’s about 13 inches in diameter. If it looks a little raggedy around the edges, just press and pinch it back together — remember, this isn’t as fussy as a pie crust.
Spoon the filling into the center of the pastry round, spreading it to about 2 inches from the edge of the round. It might be mounded up in the center, and that’s fine. Now fold the edges of the pastry round back up and over the edges of the fruit filling, pressing down in some places where it folds over itself to secure. Brush the top of the pastry crust with the beaten egg, then sprinkle generously with granulated sugar. Place a few dots of butter on top of the exposed fruit filling.
Slide the piece of parchment paper (with the crostata on it) carefully onto a baking sheet, and transfer to the oven. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the juices inside the crust are bubbling and the crust is nicely browned.
Let the crostata cool for about 15 minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer it using a wide spatula (or just by sliding the parchment) onto a cooling rack to cool the rest of the way.