It’s the first day of summer, not that you’d know it from looking out the window. It’s been a very grey and rainy June here in New York, and, while I am grateful that I haven’t yet had to install the air conditioner and can still happily sleep at night with the windows open and the curtains blowing, I’m also jonesing for summer in the worst way.
Strawberries are the harbinger of hot days to come, so I was pleased to see two whole quarts of them show up in my first CSA share pick-up this past week. Upon getting them home, I was just a little disappointed. Perhaps they’re just as displeased with the torrential downpours we’ve been subjected to for weeks now as I am, because the strawberries, while beautiful, seem to be a little watered-down this year. Not bad, just not as strawberry-y as expected, even the usually-perfect tiny ones. This makes them not so great for popping into one’s mouth straight from the little green cardboard box, but they can be dressed up nicely, and paired with some perfect, tart rhubarb, and I can have a taste of summer even if the sky is not cooperating with the season. On the bright side, it’s still cool enough that I’m willing to turn on the oven in my top-floor, tiny kitchen. Add to that my recent discovery of the most incredible Dancing Ewe Farm sheeps-milk ricotta (available at the Union Square Greenmarket on Fridays–so good I’ve been getting off the train on my summer half-day commute home for the sole purpose of picking up a basket), and suddenly I was on a tart-making mission.
The tart shell is from Alice Waters by way of Smitten Kitchen. I made the apple tart last Thanksgiving to rave reviews, so I figured that crust was a good place to start. I modified it slightly, by upping the sugar a bit, since this filling was more tart than the apple one. The rest was improv, based in part on how much rhubarb I had on hand–I knew I wanted equal parts strawberry and rhubarb. I also wanted the tart to be more fruity than cheesy, so the ratio of fruit to cheese is 4 to 1. The cheese is so fantastic and nutty that I didn’t want to mess with it too much, so I added just a little vanilla to sweeten it up. I wanted really simple flavors, so I stopped there, but if you wanted something more complex, I bet a pinch of cinammon or some grated nutmeg would be delicious in the cheese. Alternatively, some orange zest tossed in with the fruit would probably be delicious, too.
The experiment turned out really well. The only thing I’d do differently next time is to maybe pre-bake the tart for a short time before adding the filling. I covered the bottom with a couple of tablespoons of cornstarch, and I baked the tart pan on top of a pizza stone in an effort to keep it crisp. While definitely not soggy, it still wasn’t quite as firm as I would have liked, so if anyone else tries pre-baking and has success, please leave a note in the comments.
If you have a kitchen full of strawberries like me, this is a fine use of them, though I have many more to make my way through. Next up, strawberry sorbet!
Simple Strawberry Rhubarb Ricotta Tart
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp sugar
⅛ tsp salt
6 tbsp unsalted butter, cold, cut into small cubes
3 tbsp chilled water (+more if needed)
2½ cups strawberries, hulled and sliced
2½ cups rhubarb, chopped into ¼-inch pieces
½ to ¾ cup sugar*
1¼ cup ricotta
1 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp of cornstarch for sprinkling on the bottom of the tart before filling
1 tbsp butter, melted, for brushing the crust
1 tbsp coarse or granulated sugar for sprinkling on crust
*My filling needed 3/4 cup sugar because of very tart rhubarb and the aforementioned slightly anemic strawberries. If you have very sweet berries, you will not need this much.
Sift together flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Add butter cubes and blend with a pastry blender until the largest pieces are pea-sized. Add the cold water and toss with your hands until the dough just barely holds together enough to form into a ball. (You can add a tbsp or so more if your dough is too dry. Since it’s so damp here, I needed very little.) Flatten dough ball into a 4-inch disc, double-wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least half an hour. Overnight is fine, too, if you want to do this prep the night before.
Toss berries, rhubarb and sugar in a bowl and allow to macerate for 15-20 minutes.
Mix ricotta and vanilla in a small bowl until well combined.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. (If you have a pizza stone, put it in while the oven heats up, and place tart pan on top of it when ready.)
Remove dough from refrigerator, let sit for a few minutes, then roll out the tart crust on a lightly floured surface, using clockwise rolling movements to keep it round, until it’s fairly thin, and about 14 inches in diameter. Drape the dough over a lightly greased 9-inch tart pan, letting the extra dough hang over the edge of the pan. (If you don’t have a tart pan, you can also make this tart galette-style–just place the dough on a lightly greased cookie sheet, put filling in the center, and fold the edges over free-form.) Press dough into the bottom and sides of the pan. If you have any tears, just pull a little extra from the overhang to patch up. Sprinkle the cornstarch evenly over the bottom of the crust to help keep it from getting mushy.
Spread the cheese filling evenly over the bottom of the pan. Remove the fruit from its bowl with a slotted spoon. You don’t want the juices in the bottom of the bowl, since they will make the crust soggy. (That leftover juice will be very sweet. I used it to sweeten a small batch of fresh-squeezed lemonade.) Spread the drained fruit over the top of the cheese mixture. Fold the overhanging dough up to form a crust. Brush that crust with melted butter. Sprinkle any leftover butter over the filling. Sprinkle crust with coarse sugar if you’ve got it, otherwise regular granulated works just fine.
Bake tart for about 40 minutes, rotating it a couple of times to ensure even cooking. If the crust starts to get too brown before it’s finished, you can cover with tin foil. Tempting as it may be to eat it straight out of the oven, wait for the tart to cool to room temperature; otherwise, all of the delicious juices will run out when you cut it.
Yields: 1 9-inch tart (8-10 servings, depending on size of slices)
Time to make: 30 mins active prep, 1 hr , 15 mins total cooking time