We’ve been the champions of the Tuscan staycation this year, working throughout August when almost everyone else was on holidays, carving out weekends and mornings to spend exploring our region or simply having a break at home. We made small videos and long naps.
In one of our weekend getaways we drove to Val di Luce and the Abetone, in the Tuscan Appennini. We met with the same friends who hosted us two years ago and we committed to find again enough blueberries to make jam for the winter.
We were escaping from the August heatwave, brimming with expectations. A light drizzle welcomed us in the mountains, and we sought refuge in Niccolò and Fulvia’s house, a cosy apartment with lots of wood, cushions and wholesome food. A hot tea and the hug of a second jumper were welcomed. The plans to fill up our baskets with blueberries were just postponed to the following day, when we decided to venture in a shorter walk, along an abandoned ski slope. There will be raspberries growing there…
Heavy clouds were following our car while we were approaching the raspberry clearing, but the sweet heady smell of ripe berries was stronger than the fear of being caught by the rain. The ski slope was steep, completely covered by bushes of raspberries as tall as my waist.
We advanced slowly, picking tiny scarce raspberries. The season had been merciless even in the mountains, scant of water. But they were sweet, and wild, and the morning passed happily under a light rain, with the taste of raspberries on the tip of my fingers and on my tongue.
The following day was clear and crisp. We had an appointment with blueberries. We took a chair lift to reach the Val di Luce and there we were welcomed by a landscape which you would hardly associate to the idea of Tuscany: an ample green valley, nude mountains, grey sky and stone trails to an abandoned shelter. Blueberry bushes all around us.
Picking blueberries by hands is a zen exercise, you cannot rush it: each berry is picked individually. You go slow, and savour your lucky harvest, as to find a reason to believe that you are really filling up your basket with wild berries, grown in a breath taking scenery, and that they will become the jam that will wake you up throughout the winter with a piece of toast and a coffee in the morning.
WECK® glass jars 290 ml flat – MCM Emballages Weck Distributor
This year I followed exactly the same recipe I made two years ago, adding a few bay leaves to simmer with the berries. They enhance the underwood flavour, adding a subtle balsamic note to the jam, turning it into an addicting spread.
My first idea was to top a slice of sourdough bread with fresh ricotta and slather it with the blueberry jam, then this evolved into a crostata with ricotta and blueberry jam, the closest you could get to an Italian cheesecake.
Blueberry jam and ricotta crostata
The shortcrust is rustic, as it features not only plain wheat flour but also whole buckwheat flour, something which typically appears in cakes and pies baked in the mountains, filled with wild berries.
Prepare this cake the day before and let it sit in the fridge to slice it into firm wedges. Choose a good ricotta and, if it is too wet, let it drain in a colander for an hour. Serve this cake to end a Sunday lunch with friends, in the afternoon with a cup of tea, or in thin slices after dinner, while you’re enjoying a movie or the last episode of your favourite tv series.
- 200 g of cane sugar
- 250 g of unsalted butter at room temperature
- 2 eggs
- 400 g of plain wheat flour
- 100 g of whole buckwheat flour
- Zest of 1 organic lemon
- 1 pinch of salt
- 400 g of blueberry jam
- 500 g of fresh cow ricotta
- 1 egg
- 80 g of sugar + 2 tablespoons to sprinkle over the crostata
- Zest of 1 organic lemon
Rub the butter and the sugar with your fingertips just until combined and there are no large lumps of butter remaining.
Mix in the beaten eggs and then rub in the two flours, previously sifted with salt and lemon zest. Try to work quickly so that it does not become greasy, press the dough together, wrap it in cling film and let sit in the fridge for several hours or even overnight.
When it’s time to finally bake your blueberry crostata, preheat oven to 200°C.
Remove the short pastry from the fridge, divide it in a half, then knead it until softened and roll it out on a floured surface with a rolling pin in a 5 mm thick sheet. Keep the second half in the fridge until needed.
Line a 26 cm round loose bottom baking pan with the short pastry and remove the excess dough.
Spread the blueberry jam on the bottom of the crostata.
Whip the ricotta with sugar, one egg and the grated zest of one lemon, then spread it onto the blueberry jam.
Roll out the remaining dough and cut long strips to decorate the surface. Sprinkle with sugar.
Bake the crostata for about 35 minutes, or until golden and bubbling.
Let it cool down for a few hours before slicing it.
It keeps well it in the fridge for a few days.
Vote for the Saveur Blog Awards
You brought us up to the finals, now we’d need your support for the the last step! We are humbled to be in such an incredible company, among talented friends and bloggers. Now it is up to you, again, to vote for your favourite bloggers. As the Saveur Team suggests, vote early and often, as you can vote multiple times in each category through September 6th. You can do it here!
In the meantime, we’ll keep adding more and more ideas for your weeknight meals with an Italian twist!
I did not read as much as I wanted this summer, I mostly fell asleep and left more than a book on my bed side table. They are all there, and I am waiting for Autumn to immerse myself in my favorite readings. For the moment, though, I enjoyed many articles and I’ll share them with you!
- Stanley Tucci: ‘It is vital that families have a meal together – nothing is more bonding’. Food was the centre of family life. I grew up in an Italian family that loved food. It was integral to who we were and the way we lived. Thanks to my mum and my grandparents on both sides, there was always amazing food. My grandmother Concetta was constantly cooking. She made her own pizza and pasta.
- Italy’s Most Rewarding Small Towns—and Why They Beat Rome, Florence and Venice. Novelist Andrew Sean Greer dispenses advice to travelers headed to Italy: Skip the big cities. I do agree with the article, though I’d suggest to skip San Gimignano too and opt for others town like Castle d’Elsa and Colle Val d’Elsa in my area.
- Why we fell for clean eating. The oh-so-Instagrammable food movement has been thoroughly debunked – but it shows no signs of going away. The real question is why we were so desperate to believe it. A long reading, but something we all should read and ponder about. After I finished this article I was sad, and angry, and disillusioned, and worried about this so-called clean-eating trend. We all have a responsibility towards who’s reading our blogs, and I won’t get tired of saying that eating is a pleasure, is a human act, and we can not define food clean or dirty. Enjoy a slice of this cake without feeling guilty.