People, I’m a mess. I’m exhausted. For months and months I have had virtually no free day. There is work, then there is my Masters dissertation, then there’s the day-to-day chores – shopping, (basic, very basic) cleaning, commuting and so on – and that’s it. That’s the bulk of my energy gone. Last summer, when I was offered a job halfway through my research project and I accepted the former and asked for an extension to complete the latter, I knew it would be hard. I knew it in an abstract, ‘people-say-it’s-hard-so-it-must-be’ kind of way. Well, now I’ve turned into one of those people and I’m telling you: it is so, so hard. As my chapters have each grown in length, my admiration for whoever makes the decision to undertake a PhD has also steadily grown. In my (somewhat muddled) brain, no one in their right mind would ever willingly decide to take on such a big and long research project. I am happy to say that if this dissertation has taught me anything about myself, it’s that come September 27th, I’m DONE with higher education. Over the summer, while I tried to coherently present my data, form some passable arguments and put them into words, the rest of my life has taken a step back. Emails and calls with my family were a lot less frequent. Nights out only occasional. I have cooked and even occasionally took photos of what I made, but only rarely managed to make it into a blog post. The past few weekends have seen my energies slowly but inesorably decline, until the unexpected happened. On Saturday, I felt better. Awake, ready to tackle my Conclusion and, for the first time in months, even excited at the prospect of taking my very own original research project to an end.
I felt like celebrating with a cake, so at 3.45pm, when the referee blew the half-time whistle at the Premiership game B. was watching, we took our punnets and walked to the bramble patch behind our street. This is what I did with those blackberries: crostata, the Italian emotional equivalent of the American pie and the British crumble, as comforting as your mother’s hugs. As is the case with pizza and tomato sauce, there are as many crostata recipes variations as there are Italians. Thinly rolled out or left quite chunky, short or more cake-like, generally speaking it’s a richer pastry than that you’d use for a tart case. It needs to be, since the filling is traditionally only a few tablespoons of jam. I adapted one of the pastry recipes by Pellegrino Artusi, a wealthy businessman who lived in Tuscany between 1820 and 1911 and wrote the famous cookbook La Scienza in Cucina e L’Arte di Mangiar Bene. In the book, he lists three different pastry recipes, but adds that the third, Ricetta C, is the best for crostata. Since blackberries are plentiful right now, it seemed a shame to use jam. I used the berries whole, mixed with some sugar and vanilla. I’ve been lazy and didn’t do a proper lattice top, lucky for me, I have the perfect excuse (I did mention I’m writing a dissertation, didn’t I?). Simply Recipes has a photo tutorial on how to make the prettiest lattice top.
Dedicating more time to this blog features in my list of things to do after my Masters is over. However, I have some other things in the pipeline that will make this space as silent as it has been over the past few months for a bit longer. My parents are visiting me next week, so I will try to be a good host, devoting my time to feeding them British grub (fish and chips? Check. Sunday roast? Check). Further down the line, B. and I might even move house and town. I’ll come back, but in the meantime let’s all cross our fingers for a pass, hey?
Prepare the pastry. In a big bowl, cut the butter in the flour until you the mixture has a sandy texture with some pea-sized bits of butter. Mix in the icing sugar and salt. In a separate bowl, stir together egg yolks, zest, brandy. Add this to the flour and butter mix and quickly and briefly stir to incorporate. With your (cold!) hands, bring together into a dough. Don’t knead, rather gather the crumbs into one ball with your palms. Tip the mixture on a board and keep bringing the dough together. You might need 1 tbsp or so of cold water at this point. Without worrying too much about the last crumbs, flatten slightly the dough and wrap in cling film. Rest in the fridge to firm up until needed. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Take a baking dish or cake tin. I didn’t grease mine (with all the fat in the pastry, it doesn’t really need it) but to be on the safe side, you can do it. Flour the board, flour your rolling pin and take the dough out of the fridge. Start rolling out the dough. As Deb of Smitten Kitchen says, roll, lift, turn, repeat. Work quickly. Stop when you have a round about 7-8mm. Lift one side onto the rolling pin and gently transfer it to the baking dish. Trim the edges – you’ll need them for the lattice top – and put the dish in the fridge to firm up. Bring together the trims into a ball and put in the fridge too. Prepare the filling: in a bowl, bring together all the ingredients and stir briefly. Take the leftover pastry from the fridge, roll it out, cut in strips. Take the baking dish, spread the filling in the pastry case, arrange the pastry strips to form a lattice top. Bake immediately until golden. This might take anywhere between 30 and 45 minutes.