I opened the refrigerator a while back to find an jar of glistening preserves, burnt orange in color. My husband said it was from Emmanuel Roux, known in Tampa Bay and beyond for his flourless chocolate cakes, but couldn’t recall exactly what it was.
“Mango-peach confiture,” said Jennifer, Emmanuel’s curator wife, in reply to my email. And so began the obsessive tasting that culminated in the free-form crostata I’ll soon be telling you about.
Confiture is a word that just doesn’t get used enough, at least in English–so elegant and exotic sounding. It just means preserves or jam, in French. We could also say marmellata, the Italian equivalent, but out of respect for Emmanuel let’s stick with confiture.
“I was raised in a household where for breakfast and afternoon tea there were never less than four or five confitures,” says Emmanuel, whose French family lived in Tunisia for many years. “They were always homemade: berries, apple, orange marmalade, wild plums, green tomatoes.” His own confitures are simply fruit simmered with sugar and flavorings, no added pectin.
The mangoes had come from a neighbor’s tree and the peaches were among summer’s last from a local market. The confiture’s flavor and color mingled the best of two divine fruits, and I loved the texture, too–firm fruit pieces, not mushy like most jam. Of course, I had to ask how it’s done and here’s the story, in his own words:
- Dropped the ripe peaches and mangoes in boiling water to remove the skin.
- Scooped mango flesh out with a soup spoon and cut the peaches in chunks.
- Added approximately the same quantity of organic sugar to fruit, plus juice from a couple of limes in our yard. Grabbed a not-quite-ripe grapefruit from the dying grapefruit tree in our yard, extracted the seeds and crushed them with the flat side of a knife.
- Let it all sit together for some time.
- Cooked the whole thing over high heat to bring to a boil. Then low heat.
- Skimmed the foam with a flat kitchen spoon. You could also use an ecumoire [otherwise known as a skimmer]. Cooled the foam for Maxx [the family Lab], who loves it.
- Cooked for an undetermined amount of time while I was working on something else.
- Caught it just before it started to burn because Jennifer reminded me I had something on the stove.
- Filled clean jars with a ladle. Tried to find matching lids for the jars. Put a lid on each jar and turned it upside down to sterilize the inside lid.
- Stored, shared, enjoyed.
After a few days of spooning my mango-peach preserves into plain yogurt and onto whole-wheat toast smeared with peanut butter, I decided they deserved something more. Hence, the crostata. Crostatas are just tarts made with the Italian pastry dough called pasta frolla. Usually I make them with fresh fruit, but I knew that many Italian cooks fill them with their own homemade jam. So here’s my free-form recipe for a free-form crostata made with Emmanuel’s jam (feel free to substitute).
Mango-Peach Jam Crostata
- With a fork, stirred together 1 1/2 cups flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, grated peel of half a lemon and a pinch of salt.
- Using my fingertips, worked in 6 tablespoons unsalted butter (cut first in pieces) until mealy. Blended in one beaten egg with a fork to moisten the mixture. Gathered the dough into a ball and gently kneaded.
- Pulled off one third of the dough for the lattice top. Shaped the remaining two-thirds into a thick disk.
- Looked for a 9-inch tart pan. Couldn’t find any tart pans (no doubt they will show up when I go searching for cookie cutters at Christmas). Decided instead to make a freeform tart on a baking sheet.
- Remembered to set the oven at 350°F. Too impatient to chill the dough or let it rest, as recipes always advise. Succeeded–ha!–in rolling a ragged 10-inch disk on my granite counter. Transferred it to the baking sheet and trimmed with a pizza cutter.
- Spread 1 cup of the jam over the tart crust, leaving a 1-inch border. Thought of sprinkling slivered almonds on top, but didn’t have any. Folded the pastry edges over the jam. Rolled pieces of the remaining dough to make the lattice top.
- Baked the crostata 20 minutes and took a look. Decided belatedly to brush the lattice top with egg yolk beaten with a little water. Rewarded 15 minutes later with a golden-brown crust (that’s 35 minutes total baking).
- Tasted, shared, enjoyed.