In my Italian-American family, we have always celebrated Thanksgiving with an Italian twist. We have a five course meal, where only one or two of the courses are American, and the rest are Italian. When I tell my friends we are having ravioli before the turkey, they look at me with crinkled up faces, mouths open trying to form questions, or odd stares. It's what we do for every holiday dinner, even an American one. After the antipasti and primo piatto (first dish) of pasta, we do have an American secondo (main dish) of turkey, with contorni (side dishes) of stuffing, cranberry sauce, and yams. Desserts vary in nationalities, from traditional American pies--pumpkin, apple, etc. to eclairs.
Each year, I try something new. Ever since I had a homemade quince digestivo in Rome (somewhere in strength between grappa and limoncello), I've wanted to make something with quince. Thanks to Dianne, my cooking with quince came sooner than I thought. She handed me a bagful of freshly picked quince one evening after her class.
Quince aren't the prettiest of fruits, especially before they're washed. They have a dark fuzz on them, but clean up nicely with a warm water wash and paper towel scrub. The look like a bumpy cross betwen a pear and an apple. Raw, the flesh is virtually inedible; it's hard, sour and very astringent. The interior color is similar to the inside of a pear. If you cook them slowly, their off-white flesh turns red, and the flavor softens, becoming sweeter and edible. I poached them for 2 1/2 hours, and the flesh turned a rosy color, the taste was quite a bit sweeter but still a little sour.
During my travels in Italy, I sampled several fruit crostatas. The fruit and crust was usually separated by a creamy filling, and they were my inspiration for this dessert. For this recipe, I used a flaky crust, with a sweet almond-cream filling. Dried sour cherries and a crumble topping add different textures and colors to the layers. The crostata is a tasty blend of textures and of sweet and sour flavors. Thanks Dianne! I have enough quince for our Thanksgiving dessert.
Makes one 9-inch crostata
For the crust:
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) very cold butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 to 6 tablespoons ice-cold water
For the almond-cream filling:
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of salt
3/4 cup ground blanched almonds
For the poached quince:
5 cups water
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 vanilla bean
For the crumble topping:
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar
15-20 dried sour cherries
To make the crust, combine the flour, sugar and salt in a bowl. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter until the mixture is the size of peas. Slowly add the first 4 tablespoons of water, one tablespoon at a time, incorporating it with a fork. Form the mixture into a ball, adding the additional 2 tablespoons of water, if necessary. Flatten into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
Meanwhile, poach the quince. In a deep sauce pan, bring the water, sugar, honey, lemon, its juice and vanilla bean to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Peel, quarter, and core the quince and add them to the water. Cut parchment paper in a circle, the size of the pan, and cut a small circle in the center of the parchment paper. (This will keep the quince submerged yet allow the steam to evaporate.) Poach on low for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, until the quince are soft and have turned a rosy color. Cool, drain, and slice into 1/4-inch slices.
To make the almond-cream filling, mix the butter and confectioners’ sugar in a blender until it’s creamy. Add the egg and mix until combined. Add the vanilla and salt and combine. Add the ground almonds and mix until creamy.
To make the crumble topping, cut the butter into the flour, then add the brown sugar. Incorporate the brown sugar with the pastry cutter until the mixture is the consistency of peas.
Preheat the oven to 350° F
Roll the dough out to approximately 11 inches in diameter and 1/8-inch in thickness. Place into a 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. After the 30 minutes, spread the almond-cream filling evenly onto the base. Sprinkle half the dried cherries over the almond-cream. Lay the slices of quince, one on top of the other, forming a ring, on the almond-cream mixture. Add 4 to 5 slices to fill the circle in the center. Sprinkle with the remaining dried cherries, and the crumble topping. Place on a baking sheet (in case the juices run from the bottom) and bake for 55-60 minutes.
Let stand 20 minutes and serve. (It is best when it's warm.) It would go well with caramel gelato (or ice cream) Buon Appetito!