A morning baking and an afternoon exploring one of the most beautiful small towns in Tuscany. What better way to spend a Sunday?
For more than 23 centuries, the little town of Anghiari has kept watch eastwards over the upper Tiber valley, one of the main thoroughfares from northern to southern Italy. Perched high on an outcrop, it got its fifteen minutes of glory on 29 June 1440, when it hosted a skirmish between Florence and her allies on the one hand and Milan on the other.
Florence’s victory in the Battle of Anghiari allowed her to dominate the region for the next few hundred years and so the event was immortalized in a fresco on the walls of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, by no less than Leonardo da Vinci. Unfortunately, he never finished the project and about fifty years later it was painted over by Vasari, never to be seen again.
The story of the battle and the painting was expertly explained to me last Sunday by Gabriele Mazzi, the Scientific Director of the Museo della Battaglia e Anghiari. It was during a private tour conducted for members of Instagrammers Arezzo, the community of Instagram users in the local province.
Until recently, Anghiari had been known only as a medieval town but recent excavations have revealed much earlier origins. Mazzi proudly showed us a glass case containing three quarters of a roof tile, two shards of a terracotta pot, and a broken black glaze drinking cup which, were recently unearthed and proved Anghiari’s existence in Etruscan times, years before even Rome got going.
Since I was planning to spend Sunday afternoon in Anghiari with the Instagrammers, I spent the morning baking dessert. It’s strawberry season on mainland Europe and whilst shopping a crate chock full of crimson fruit had caught my eye. It enticed me over with its sugary scent and wouldn’t let me leave the shop without it. There was only one solution: una crostata di fragole—a strawberry tart.
The traditional recipe for crostata di fragole is all about letting the strawberries star. The supporting cast are sweet pastry and crema pasticciera (crème pâtissiere). Since the strawberries were a little tart, I decided to add a layer of homemade fig jam between the pastry and the cream to add a little sweetness.
Once I’d filled my pastry case with jam and cream I sliced the strawberries thinly and then just piled them on top in layers. A quick glaze of the same fig jam dissolved in water and presto! One (hopefully) delicious strawberry tart. The verdict would have to wait for later.
At 15h00 I met the other Instagrammers in Anghiari’s main square and we spent a couple of hours wandering through the medieval streets visiting the annual Mostra Mercato Artiginato. Anghiari consists of concentric circles of ancient streets piled on top of each other (a little like the strawberries in my tart). Many of the building have small workshops underneath which are used by local craftspeople, and once a year they are all open on a Sunday to show and sell their wares.
I discovered a small pottery workshop, run by a husband and wife from my village who make traditional earthenware pottery for cooking. I decided to buy one of their beautiful pots to try some local dishes. More of that later.
At 17h00 we met at the museum for the tour with Dottor Mazzi. He’s incredibly knowledgeable and enthusiastic transmitting his passion for the town’s history with every word he uttered. I adore Ancient history, my college major, and was particulary excited by the Etruscan finds.
After the tour we enjoyed an aperitivo of honest red wine and local salami and then it was back to La Madera for dinner and of course the strawberry tart. My knife cracked cleanly through the pastry and I was soon experiencing unctuous crema pasticciera blessed with a topping of fresh fruit. I was right about the fig jam balancing the tartness of the strawberries: it’s a combination I will try again.
Crostata di fragole
Active time: 30 mins
Rest time: 2 hrs
Baking time: 30 mins
Total time: 3 hrs
For the sweet pastry:
200g (1 1/2 cups) plain flour
100g (3 1/2 ounces) softened unsalted butter
50g (2 ounces) icing sugar
15g (1 tablespoon) ground almonds
2g (1/2 teaspoon) salt
40g (1 1/2 ounces) beaten egg
For the crema pasticciera:
50g (2 ounces) sugar
25g (1 ounce) plain flour
250ml (1 cup) milk
½ pot of fig jam
1 tablespoon fig jam
2 tablespoons water
1 lime zest
Make the sweet pastry:
- Place the flour and butter in a bowl and rub together between your fingers until you achieve the consistency of breadcrumbs.
- Add the sugar, ground almonds, and salt and mix thoroughly.
- Add the eggs little by little mixing with your hands until it comes together as a paste.
- Work the paste gently with the heel of your hand for a minute or so. Be careful not to overwork. Then wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.
- Roll out the pastry and line a patisserie circle or pastry tin. Prick the bottom and again refrigerate for at least one hour.
- Fill with baking beans and blind bake for 20 mins at 180°C. Remove the beans and continue to bake for another 10 mins. Allow to cool completely and then remove from the pastry circle or tin.
Make the crema pasticciera:
- Beat the eggs together with the sugar until they go pale. Then add the flour and whisk to incorporate.
- Bring the milk to the boil and then add half to the egg mixture, whisking to incorporate.
- Pour the mixture back into the saucepan with the rest of the milk and slowly bring to the boil, stirring all the time until it thickens. Pour into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, touching the pastry cream and refrigerate to cool.
- Cover the base of the pastry case with a thin layer of fig jam.
- Pour in the pastry cream and smooth with a spatula.
- Slice the strawberries thinly and lay on top of the pastry cream in concentric circles.
- Place a tablespoon of fig jam together with two tablespoons of water and bring to the boil.
- Using a pastry brush, glaze the strawberries with the jam and water mixture.
- Grate the zest of a lime on top and serve.
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