Any fan of Italian food has probably encountered ravioli or other pasta filled with lush, savory-sweet pumpkin, called zucca in Italian. Usually a sweet winter squash rather than true pumpkin, zucca also appears in a rustic tart called crostata. While these are certainly intended for dessert, I keep these free-form tarts chunky, rather than custardy, as in the American tradition. I also hold both sweetness and spice in check so the squash flavor will shine. Either butternut or the drier, nuttier kabocha squash are great choices.
Makes enough for 1 10-inch crostata
A store-bought pie crust will work just fine for crostata, but making your own isn't difficult.
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling the dough
3 tablespoons sugar
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, cold and cut into small pieces
5 to 6 tablespoons ice water
In a food processor, pulse the flour, sugar, and ¾ teaspoon salt several times to combine. Scatter the butter pieces over the flour mixture and pulse until combined and the mixture resembles coarse crumbs with some pea-sized pieces, about 10 3-second pulses. Add 5 tablespoons ice water and pulse until the mixture looks shaggy and just holds together if you pinch a bit but is not yet fully cohesive, about 8 3-second pulses, gradually adding more water, a teaspoon at a time, if necessary.
Pour the mixture onto a clean work surface and gather it into a rough rectangular mound about 12 inches long. With the heel of your hand, sharply press down and away on a small portion of the dough mixture, smearing it across the work surface; continue down the mound, little by little, until all of the mixture has been smeared into a separate pile. Gather the mixture into another rough 12-inch rectangle and repeat the smearing process. Transfer the dough to a piece of plastic wrap, knead it once or twice until cohesive, pat it into a neat 7- to 8-inch disk, wrap, and refrigerate until very firm, at least 1 hour.
Rest the dough at room temperature for about 10 minutes. Lay a large piece of parchment on the work surface, dust it with flour, place the dough in the center, dust the top of the dough with flour, and place a large piece of plastic wrap over it. Roll the dough into a circle at least 14 inches in diameter and about ¼ inch thick; remove the plastic wrap and trim the circle into shape if necessary. Slide the parchment sheet with the dough circle onto a large rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate while preparing the filling.
CROSTATA DI ZUCCA
Makes 1 10-inch crostata, serves 8
Cut the squash into consistently sized pieces so it will cook evenly, and note that you'll need a large nonstick skillet with a cover to par-cook the squash.
2½ pounds butternut or kabocha squash (about 1 medium-small squash), trimmed, peeled, halved, seeded, and flesh cut into ½-inch-by-1-inch chunks (about 5½ cups)
3 tablespoons butter
¼ cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons heavy cream
½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1 recipe Crostata Dough, rolled for a 10-inch crostata, on a parchment-lined baking sheet, cold
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons sliced almonds, toasted and cooled, for garnish
Lightly sweetened whipped cream, for serving
With the rack in the lower-middle position, heat the oven to 400 degrees. In a very large nonstick skillet over medium heat, bring about ' cup water to a boil. Add as much squash as will fit in a single layer, cover, and cook until pieces are barely tender, shaking the pan occasionally to prevent sticking and adding more water if the pan runs dry, 4 to 6 minutes. (It's fine if the squash browns a little.) Remove the cooked squash to drain on a paper towel-lined plate; repeat the process to cook the remaining squash in as many batches as necessary, adding about 1/3 cup water for each batch.
Return the skillet to medium heat, add the butter, and heat until melted. Add the brown sugar, cream, lemon juice, cinnamon, and a pinch of salt, bring to a strong simmer, and cook, whisking constantly, until sugar dissolves, about 1½ minutes. Add the squash and toss to coat.
Spread the squash (along with the brown sugar-butter mixture) in the center of the rolled crostata dough, leaving a roughly 3-inch border around the edge. Gently grasp an edge of dough and fold it up and over about 2 inches of the filling. Repeat to work your way around the crostata, overlapping the dough every 2 to 3 inches; gently pinch the pleated dough to secure it. Brush the dough with the beaten egg.
Bake until crust is deep golden brown and squash filling is tender, about 25 minutes. Set the baking sheet on a wire rack and cool the crostata to room temperature. Loosen the crostata from the parchment with an offset or long metal spatula and carefully slide it onto a serving plate or cutting board. Sprinkle with almonds; slice and serve with whipped cream.
SQUASH AND APPLE CROSTATA
Makes 1 10-inch crostata, serves 8
Follow the recipe for the Crostata di Zucca, making the following changes:
1) Decrease squash quantity to 1½ pounds.
2) Peel and core 2 large baking apples (about 8 ounces each) and cut the flesh into 1- to 1½-inch chunks (about 3 cups).
3) In a very large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, melt 1 tablespoon butter, tilting the skillet to cover the cooking surface. When the foaming subsides and the butter begins to smell nutty, add the apples, toss to coat, spread into a single layer, sprinkle with a pinch of salt, and cook until barely softened and starting to brown, about 2½ minutes, tossing to ensure even cooking. Scrape apples into a large bowl and set aside.
4) Return the skillet to the heat and adjust to medium, and use it to par-cook the squash as directed. Continue with the recipe as directed, adding the apples along with the squash to the sugar and cream mixture.