My least favorite were jam-filled tarts baked in cookie crust called crostata. And yet, of all things I seemed to run into them everywhere… to the point that I started thinking of crostata as a classic Italian dessert. Meanwhile, I had memories of stuffing my face with desserts in Japan despite being full—there’s always room for dessert, as they say. Traditional Japanese confections are certainly intensely sweet, but they go well with tea, and the delicate way they sweeten Western-style confections makes them so universally appealing that you can have several without ever tiring of them.
OK. Let me back up and explain a bit about the meal that led me to the knockout crostata. The typical Italian meal consists of an appetizer, the first course (usually pasta or risotto), and a second course (meat or fish) accompanied by a vegetable. There’s no doubt that Italians are just capable of eating more in one sitting than the Japanese—I’d be amazed if any Japanese person visiting Italy didn’t think so. A Japanese person is likely to be full after the appetizer. What’s that all about? And unlike Americans, who are famous for being two or three times our size and eating tons of food, the Italians aren’t big. Nor are they much taller than us, either.
Back to my nemesis, the crostata. There I am, starting to get full on the appetizer and washing down the first and second courses with wine until I’m so full I can’t move, and here comes the crostata. My stomach already feels like lead, but the cookie crust fills it to bursting. But the thing that totally did me in was that insanely sweet jam filling. The intensity of the sugar made me blink my eyes in astonishment, and as I took a sip of the sweet sparkling wine they poured and felt the bubbles bursting in my mouth, I thought my brain would melt from the shock and had lost all sensation on my tongue. I’m all for desserts that give you that dreamy feeling, but I thought this was closer to torture than euphoria.
Then and there I made up my mind. Italians are convinced that their food and desserts are the best in the world, but I’d shake them up by offering them a totally new taste experience—delicate sweetness. I decided to make a crostata that wasn’t too sweet. But what I ended up with was a weird, completely bland tart with barely-sweet jam. I gave up.
That’s when I realized that the only thing that could ever stand up to the heft of that cookie crust was super-sweet jam or super-sweet chocolate cream. And that the explosive flavor of the crostata was the perfect ending to an Italian dinner party precisely because it could wake up the senses from the satiation that began at the appetizer—or, more accurately, put you into a complete stupor where love and aversion were two sides of the same coin.
And that was probably the moment where my opinion of the crostata began to change…