For the current edition of Cook the Books, we are reading Erica Bauermeister's The School of Essential Ingredients. The novel's first chapter after the Prologue (titled "Lillian") kindled my interest, with its description of the relationship between a girl and her emotionally absent mother. I was moved by Lillian's efforts to make her mother "see" her. This is how the chapter ends:
Her mother looked up [...], and her eyes met her daughter's.
"Why, Lillian," she said, her voice rippling with surprise, "look how you've grown."
As the novel progressed — each chapter dedicated to one of the students of Lillian's cooking class — my attention started to wander. I found myself craving vivid colors over pastel hues, fireworks over "sweet, soft candlelight," deep purple-blue mirtilli over "a watercolor world of soft purple." So, blueberries became my first ingredient.
The second ingredient was mascarpone, the creamy delight whose delicate flavor asks the palate to pay close attention. I made mascarpone at home for the first time two years ago, and I am still as excited today about the result I obtain as I was then. Mascarpone is mentioned in the chapter of the book titled "Ian," in the context of making tiramisù. I talked about the principles underlying the recipe I use to make that dessert in this post.
It was not my tiramisù that I was inspired to prepare with the fresh batch of mascarpone I had made: the idea that formed in my mind was to pair mascarpone e mirtilli in a tart. Last year, I had done something similar with mascarpone and strawberries (photo on the left). Mascarpone e mirtilli made a nice alliterative combination. A third "m" for the alliteration was contributed by panna montata (whipped cream), to be added to the mascarpone (details in the recipe below).
Finally, pasta frolla to hold the creamy + colorful combination of dairy and fruit. In particular, my variation that uses barley flour and almond meal to add more facets to a classic Italian recipe. The resulting tart shows mostly a calm surface, broken only in a few places by peeking blueberries: the color they provide bursts out when the knife breaks the integrity of the whole.
Ingredients for my variation on the pasta frolla (sweet shortcrust pastry) theme:
- 1/3 cup (superfine) vanilla sugar
- 1/2 cup regular flour
- 1/2 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
- 1/4 cup whole-grain barley flour
- 1/4 cup almond meal
- 3 oz (6 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
- 1 large or extra-large egg, lightly beaten in a small bowl
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract (if you don't have vanilla sugar)
Put the sugar in the food processor and, if it is not superfine, let it run for a little while, then add the flours and mix briefly. Add the butter and pulse a few times, until the mixture has the consistency of coarse meal. Empty the food processor's bowl on your kneading surface. Make a well in the center and pour the egg in it. With the help of a fork incorporate the egg into the flour mixture. If you use don't have vanilla sugar, add vanilla extract. Knead lightly just until the dough comes together into a ball, shape it into a thick disk, wrap it in plastic, and put in the fridge until well chilled. I usually do this in the evening and let the dough rest in the fridge overnight.
When you are ready to bake the tart, preheat the oven to 350 F. Roll the dough into a rough circle 1/8-inch thick. Lightly dust the work surface and the rolling pin with flour. I use plastic wrap, floured, as a rolling surface, which makes the subsequent move onto the tart pan easier. Cover the pan with the dough, making sure it comes up to the edge all around, and pierce it in a few places with a fork. The amount of pasta frolla I get is enough to cover my 9.5-inch fluted round tart pan (with removable bottom). (Leftover dough can be shaped it into a cookie or two.) Cover the bottom of the crust with a piece of parchment paper wide enough to come up a bit along the side. Bake until the border is light golden. Check the crust after 15 minutes, and if you see that it has risen in the middle, gently push it back with the back of a spoon, then put it back in the oven and complete the baking. Take the crostata out of the pan and let cool.
Ingredients for the filling:
- 7 oz. (200 g) frozen blueberries [see the Note below]
- 2 teaspoons sugar (I use superfine)
- 3 tablespoons vanilla sugar
- 250 g (about 9 oz.) mascarpone
- 1/2 cup chilled heavy whipping cream
Note: I have a strong tendency to save things, including some foods, for a future not otherwise defined. I pace myself so that I don't run out of those foods too early. As a result, for example, a new blueberry season has started and I still had in the freezer some of the blueberries that we picked at a local farm last summer. This explains why the mirtilli I used in the tart were frozen.
Place the blueberries in a small saucepan and add the sugar. Warm until the blueberries thaw and start juicing a bit. Remove from the heat and let cool.
Mix the vanilla sugar and mascarpone. Whip the cream and then fold it gently into the mascarpone. Spread half the mascarpone cream over the crust, distribute the blueberries over it (see photo below) and then spread the rest of the mascarpone cream over the blueberries (see photo above).
A rich dessert, to be sure, but one to enjoy every now and then. Would you like to have a slice?
This post has the roundup of the event.
If you missed this edition, this post lists the two books that are next on our reading list.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the crostata con crema al mascarpone e mirtilli audio file [mp3].