By Letizia Mattiacci
f my many passions and experiences, only a few have determined a fundamental change in my life. My family my husband and daughter and cooking.
Once upon a time I used to chase down insects in unusual corners of the Earth, the Zimbabwean savannah or the Mexico-Texas border, for example.
Bugs? Yes, that was my career. I even dined with a couple of ambassadors as a result, but not everything was quite as glamorous. Bullet-riddled walls in the streets of Cali were not very conducive to biological studies.
Now I cook. I'm among those lucky humans who have managed to turn a hobby into a job. One of those who's escaped the clock, the team-building meetings, the stupefying dullness of the next piece of paperwork on the pile.
It's been a family decision. We moved to the top of an emerald Umbrian hill. We rent out a few rooms. We cook with our guests.
We work more hours than before. There is no Sunday, no bank holiday. When the winter comes however, we shut down the house and enjoy the indescribable peace of the countryside.
During the grayest winter days I bake. Crostata is among my favorite sweet treats. It's a classic Umbrian tart made virtually in all homes at every possible occasion.
Recipe (Serves 8)
This is a particularly rustic version made with white farro flour, organic eggs, butter and unrefined sugar. You can use wholegrain flour and dark brown sugar, which will look almost chocolate-dark with a caramel-like aftertaste.
For pastry dough
Wholegrain flours pair fabulously with strong preserves such as plum or blackberry. If you do not have homemade jam, make sure to find fine quality jam, with a high percentage of fruit.
To make the pastry dough, cut the butter into 6-8 cubes and place in the bowl of a food processor together with the flour, sugar, vanilla extract and salt. Using the blade at high speed, blend until most of the mixture resembles coarse meal, about 2 minutes. Stir in the egg and blend until the mixture forms a dough, about one more minute. It's important not to overheat the butter in the dough, so do not overwork.
Roll the dough into a 1/2 cm (1/4 inch) thin disk and transfer into a buttered tart pan so to make a case with shallow sides. Spread a 1 cm (1/2 inch) layer of preserves over the pastry case.
With lightly floured hands roll the rest of dough into several 1 cm (1/2 inch) thick ropes. Carefully arrange the dough ropes over the tart in an open lattice pattern. It's not necessary to weave the lattice. Transfer to the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes and up to half a day. Up to this point the crostata can be frozen. Before using, defrost overnight in the refrigerator and bake.
Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Bake the crostata in middle of the oven 45 minutes, or until the lattice is golden. Cool the crostata in the pan on a rack.
While it's easy to idealize a "nonna" cooking for the kids in a bucolic kitchen, rural realities were different.
Participating in a grape harvest is great way to meet people, break a sweat (and bread), and pick up delicious recipes.
Celebrity chef creativity is fine. Calling Italian dishes Italian when they're personal twists is not.
The joy of Umbria isn't merely art and nature, but craftsmen who make even little things ornate, including paper.
First, a trip to flowery Spello; later, zucchini and raisins cooked up to celebrate.
More In Provincia