If you fancy some baking this weekend, why not attempt a crostata, an Italian family favourite that’s easy and delicious?

Like a tart or galette, crostata is a fruit pie, the filling changes with the seasons and when no fruit is available it is made with jam. It comes in many forms but the one I am most fond of is free-form and rustic, the filling piled onto a circle of pastry that is folded up to encase it for baking.

The pastry can vary too, sometimes with a proportion of wholewheat flour in the mix but always flavoured with lemon zest. The primary consideration for the pastry is to bake it to a crisp, crunchy shell to contrast with the soft fruit inside.

Costata is usually served warm from the oven with custard, but I took the advice of the late great legendary Italian food writer Marcella Hazan, who suggested serving it cold with the custard piled on top and ‘maybe’ raspberries and icing sugar. Bingo!

The first decision was the fruit. It’s just barely spring here and still chilly, although the shops have had strawberries in since January. The strawberries don’t look or smell like summer strawberries, so I pass by and see rock-hard plums both red and black, rhubarb and blood oranges, before the quinces catch my eye. A round, aromatic stone fruit not unlike a pear, that cooks to a soft, tart squidge sweetened with sugar (in Spain it is known as membrillo and, when cooked down into a paste or set jam it takes on a jewel-like glow that is a perfect pairing with cheeses).

To go with the quince I chose pears that were slightly on the unripe side, and raspberries for a splash of colour.

For maximum flavour I added vanilla to the fruit and orange-flower water to the custard for an all-round fruity halo.

Although there are a few steps to this dish, none of them is fiddly and they can all be done in advance so the final touches are just an assembly job. I made the pastry (but you can use shop-bought shortcrust), cooked the fruit filling and made the pastry cream the day before. You can also skip the custard and serve with double cream or ice-cream (in which case I would dust the top of the tart with Demerara before baking).

It’s an impressive Mother’s Day dessert but also wouldn’t be out of place at High Tea table or as individual pies for a dinner party (although for that would need twice the amount of pastry).

My favourite wine pairing with this dish is a Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos from Hungary – the intense caramel sweetness of this dessert wine is offset with wonderful acidity and fragrant aromas of quince and stone fruit.  Waitrose Cellars has one of the best, Royal Tokaji Blue Label 5 Puttonyos for £14.99


Serves 4-6

For the pastry

200g plain flour

100g unsalted butter, cubed and in the freezer for at least 1 hour

2tbsp icing sugar

Zest of one lemon

1tsp fine salt

1 egg yolk

25ml cold water

(1tbsp cornflour for baking)

Fruit filling

1 large quince and 4 medium pears

80g sugar

1 vanilla pod, scraped

50ml water

Pastry Cream (thick custard)

290ml whole milk

60g caster sugar

20g plain flour

20g corn flour

2 medium egg yolks

1tbsp orange flour water (or rose water, lemon or vanilla essence)

100ml double cream


Make the pastry. Weigh out the ingredients into a food processor (excluding the cornflour) and blitz on high speed until the dough comes together. Add a dash more water if required. Roll the dough into a ball, wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate until needed.

Cook the filling: Peel and core the quinces, cut into chunks and poach with the water and sugar for 15-20 minutes until they start to soften but not fall apart. Core and roughly peel the pears (some peel is fine) and slice into eighths.  Add the pears to the quince for the last 10 minutes of cooking time so they soften. Turn off the heat and when cool, drain off the liquid and reserve the fruit (you can use the sugar syrup for other things).

Make the custard

Put the milk in a saucepan on a low heat.
In a bowl weigh out the sugar, plain and corn flour. Add the egg yolks and use a whisk to combine to a paste, with a little of the warming milk. When the milk starts to simmer, slowly pour the milk into the bowl over the egg mix, whisking all the time. Then return the mixture to the saucepan and keep whisking until it thickens to a paste. Don’t worry if it starts to get lumpy, keep whisking and it will get smooth.

Transfer this thick mix to a bowl, cover the surface with clingfilm and leave to cool. All of this can be done ahead of time.

To bake

Preheat the oven to 190C. On a floured surface with a rolling pin, roll out the dough to a rough circle about 25cm in diameter.  Put this on a lined baking tray (I used foil but it isn’t necessary).

Sprinkle the cornflour over the middle of the pastry and then pile the fruit on top. Gently lift the pastry up towards the middle, creating sides but not covering the middle. It doesn’t need to be neat.

Bake the tart for 25-30 minutes until the pastry is crisp and golden. You can serve immediately with custard or cream on the side, or leave to cool.

Once cool, you can top with the custard:  Lightly whisk the cream and then add it to the set custard, to loosen until you have a thick, smooth consistency. Spoon this on top of the tart, arrange the raspberries if using, and dust with icing sugar.

© Linda Galloway 2023