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Making as much in advance when having guests for a party or dinner is part of my meal plan. I want to have fun also and enjoy my guests after all that is why I invited them in the first place. But I also want to have a “wow factor” dessert without have to work in a hot kitchen for hours. I don’t want any last minute thing that I have to do to finish it off either. This tart fits all my needs but also makes it look like I’ve spent hours preparing it. If you have a food processor the crust is quickly prepared and there is no rolling out the dough. You just press it in with your hands and mix all the filling ingredients and into the oven it goes. It can be made the day before so that you can concentrate on all the other dishes you are going to prepare.
Cherry Crumble Tart is not sweet and the binder of crushed amoretti is typical of Italian desserts. The only thing you have to watch for is that it has the right amount of sweetness. If you use another biscotti such as ladyfingers that are less sweet then you might have to add a little sugar. I generally use what ever biscotti I have in the house. This tart can be made with other types of fruit such as apples, pears, maybe even figs, although I haven’t tried figs yet.
Ciliege torta della Nonna
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 60 minutes @ 350º F
Yield: 8 servings
2 cups flour
3/4 cups hazel nuts, ground (ground almonds can be substituted)
1 teaspoon baking powder
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
6 tablespoons water, ice cold
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon butter, for greasing the pan
5 amoretti or ladyfingers, crumbled
1 1/2 lbs. dark cherries, fresh or frozen, stones removed
1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
1/2 cup currant jelly
Place the flour, hazelnuts (or almonds) and baking powder in a bowl. Put the unsalted butter and sugar in a food processor. Pulsate the ingredients until they are fluffy and add the egg. Add the dry ingredients and mix until it looks like cornmeal. Add 1/2 of the water and process for 30 seconds. Feel the dough; it should stick together, if it doesn’t add the remaining water. Place the dough wrapped in plastic wrap in the refrigerator while you are preparing the filling.
Rub about 1 tablespoon of butter onto a spring form pan. Press 2/3 of the dough on the bottom and up the sides to about 1” of the side of the pan. The remaining dough will be crumbled over the top.
Put all the filling ingredients in a bowl and coat the cherries well. Taste for sweetness. The type of cookies that you use will determine if additional sugar is needed. Spread the filling in the prepared crust.
Crumble the remaining dough over the top of the cherry mixture.
Place the tart into the middle of the oven and bake for 1 hour.
Release the spring form the pan and allow the tart to cool. Serve the tart warm or room temperature with a spoon full of creme fraiche over the top.
Veneto is the third most important region in Italy in terms of the quantity of cherries produced. The others are Puglia and Campania. Over 15 varieties are cultivated in the IGP district. They are harvested from the end of May to the end of June. The Festa della ciliegia, Sandra, Italy (Sandra Cherry Festival) is held during the first or second weekend of June (check the tourist office for exact dates). Last year we visited Montebelluna during June and feasted on beautiful cherries for breakfast and picked them off the trees at our hotel during the day as we enjoyed our afternoons at the pool.
The climate is suited to viniculture and orchards are grown along side the vineyards producing peaches, kiwi, plums, apples, and apricots and of course cherries. Marostica cherries are large, deep in color, sweet and firm. During this time of year you can stop and buy large baskets of them in stands alongside the road.
This region is well known for the Prosecco vineyards but also for Grappa. The Poli Distillery has a museum with the history of distillation of Grappa in Bassano del Grappa where we made it a point of tasting Grappa. We tried some unusual ones such as chocolate, coffee and strawberry Grappas. I found them a little sweet and preferred the Mascato, Cabernet and Merlot Grappa.
Grappa has been made commercially since the eighteenth century. A colorless, high-alcohol eau de vie is distilled from pomace-the residue (grape skins and seeds) left in the wine press after the juice is removed for wine. There are hundreds of highly individual, markedly different styles of Grappa, which have wonderful character and depth. The flavor is determined by the variety of grapes used. There are also aged Grappas, some so complex that they’re aged in a series of different woods including acacia, oak, birch, and juniper. The ultimate Grappa is a golden-colored. Grappa usually is about 40% alcohol. In Italy it can be found at 90º alcohol.
Living in a wine growning region, we see piles of grape skins ready to be distilled at the end of the grape harvest. Often the distilation column is set up along side the winery and we have even seen them along roadsides where locals can bring their grape skins to be distilled. Many people make their own liquors at home from lemoncello to fruits put up in liquor such as Ciliegie Sotto Spirito.
If you have never had Ciliegie Sotto Spirito, you are in for a treat. It is very easy to make and serving a few cherries in a large brandy glass along with the beautiful red colored Grappa to friends after a dessert as a special treat adds a very lovely touch to end of dinner. I use Grappa to make Ciliegie Sotto Spirito, but other liquors can be substituted.
Ciliegie Sotto Spirito
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Yield: 1/2 gallon
2 lbs. of fresh dark sweet cherries
4/5 quart Grappa, or other liquor of your choice
Distilled water, optional
OTHER THINGS NEEDED
1/2 gallon latched glass jar with a rubber gasket seal
Wash the cherries and remove the stones (removing the stones is optional; however I find that the absorption of liquor is better). On the other hand, the cherries will become mushy in time. If you want the cherries to hold their shape, do not remove the stones but crush the cherries slightly with the flat part of a knife. This will allow more absorption but they will hold their shape better.
Place the cherries in a large latched glass jar with a rubber gasket seal. Fill the jar with the Grappa leaving as little room for air as possible. Seal tightly and place it in a dark cool place.
If you want to reduce the strength, or to make it sweeter, add some sugar to the distilled water and heat it until the sugar has melted making sugar syrup and add it to the Grappa. With 40% alcohol this step is not necessary; however this is a matter of taste. The sweetness of the cherries is sufficient and the flavor is natural.
Allow the cherries and Grappa to stand for at least 4-8 weeks before drinking it. The longer you let it macerate, the stronger the taste will be and the pigments of the fruit will deepen the color.
Note: Pour into smaller bottles. Design your own label for your homemade Ciliegie Sotto Spirito. You will have a very special gift to give to friends and family.
Note: Other types of liquor can also be used such as high quality vodka, Kirsch, and brandy.