Known by many names, free-form tarts are easy to make.
By CAROLE KOTKIN
Plump, plentiful berries and stone fruit beg to be eaten this time of year -- especially when enclosed in a delicious pastry crust. Conventional pies and tarts take time and effort many of us would rather spend on other pursuits in summer, but there's a delicious alternative: a free-form tart, shaped by hand and baked on a sheet pan.
A single piece of dough forms the crust, and its edges are folded over the fruit to keep it contained. The fruit only needs to be tossed with a little sugar and flour to make an irresistible filling.
Call them what you like, Italian crostatas, French galettes and free-form tarts all are fast and easy to make, requiring minimal time and no special baking skills. Your hands, a bowl, a rolling pin, parchment paper, a sheet pan and an oven are the only tools you'll need. Make your own buttery pastry dough or use a refrigerated pie crust.
Once you've tried a fruit tart, fill one with sliced tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, leeks and herbs for a starter or main course.
Here are pointers
UWhen buying berries, avoid baskets with berry stains, which indicate overripe fruit. Look for unblemished strawberries with fresh green caps and no white shoulders. Blueberries should be plump.
UWhen you bring the berries home, spread them, unwashed, on a paper-towel-lined baking sheet and refrigerate. Rinse just before using and drain well.
UTake advantage of other seasonal fruits, too, including peaches, plums, nectarines (thinly slice) and cherries.
UMix them up and you'll have a different dessert each time. Some favorite combinations: blueberries, lemon zest and sugar; peaches, apricots, almonds and brown sugar; plums, cherries and sugar.
UTaste your fruit before adding sugar; if it's more tart than you like, you may need more than the recipe calls for.
UAdding a little flour helps to absorb the fruit juices and prevent them from bubbling over.
UAn egg wash and a sprinkling of sugar give the crust a sparkling finish.
UA heavy-duty baking sheet is best; it will ensure that the crust does not overcook before the filling is done.
UBecause a free-form tart has much less filling than a regular tart or pie, it can be baked at a higher temperature for a shorter time.
FREE-FORM FRUIT TART
The tart may be baked up to six hours ahead of time. Serve it with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
Dough for a single-crust pie (homemade or purchased), at room temperature
1 pound peaches, nectarines and/or plums, pitted and thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
1 cup blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries and/or cherries
1 tablespoon flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/4 cup sugar, plus 2 tablespoons for sprinkling
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat baking mat. On a floured surface, roll dough out to a 14-inch circle, and place on prepared pan.
In a medium bowl, toss fruit with the flour, salt, lemon zest and 1/4 cup of the sugar. Place on the center of the dough, and spread so there is a 2-inch border of dough all around. Fold border over the fruit, making a crease or fold every 4 to 5 inches to enclose fruit and prevent juices from leaking.
Beat egg with 1 teaspoon water, and brush it onto the exposed dough. Sprinkle on remaining 2 tablespoons sugar.
Bake 15 minutes. Lower oven temperature to 375, rotate baking sheet front to back and bake about 20 more minutes, until crust is evenly browned and fruit is bubbling. Using the parchment, slide the tart onto a cooking rack. Makes 8 servings.
Per serving: 166 calories (32 percent from fat), 6 g fat (0.9 g saturated, 2.5 g monounsaturated), 26.4 mg cholesterol, 2.3 g protein, 26.8 g carbohydrates, 1.5 g fiber, 183.9 mg sodium.