THE EQUINOX IS NOW weeks behind us. The days are growing shorter; a crispness fills the air. Still the autumnal rains hold off. Heavy dews make the boat deck glisten as if it had rained overnight, but the mornings dawn clear; afternoons are still warm and pleasant. At night, wrapped in a shawl, I star-watch across a spectacular night sky. Twilight slowly turns to the deep black of infinity. With it, the Milky Way begins to reveal itself, sweeping like a diamond tiara above the dark, still waters of Winter Cove. The expanse of the universe spanning above my cocoon of the Chelsea Lynn, our Bayliner 3488, makes me feel small and insignificant. And at peace.
Anchorages have been mostly empty as Jim and I have enjoyed a late-season cruise among the verdant Gulf Islands. The hectic pace and heavy crowds of summer cruising have been replaced with a few intrepid gunkholers and a leisurely passage from anchorage to anchorage. Our wandering jaunt through the islands has been slow, a few hours of motoring followed by a couple of days of sitting at anchor. We hiked around Pirates Cove, explored the galleries in Ganges, and wandered the trails above Montague Harbour.
We know the autumnal changes are coming so we’ve stayed close to San Juan Island. The rains will come. Mornings will be enshrouded in fog. The winds will build. But for now, they’re holding off, so we linger another day in Winter Cove. A game of cribbage, a hike, a nap, Verdi’s Four Seasons. A few hours from home, it’s a world removed from our lives in Friday Harbour.
“Whipped cream or ice cream?” Jim asks in the dark, from the galley.
I wrap the shawl tighter around my shoulders, and try to remember if the bright light in the west is Venus or Mars. “One small scoop of ice cream, if you would be so kind,” I reply.
While Jim spent the afternoon trolling Payne Point into Plumber Sound, and cursing the fishing gods, I’m sure, for his unwanted lessons in futility and humility, I prepared a crostata from some of the season’s first Jonagold apples. With its lovely red hue, with just a hint of yellow, the Jonagold is a hybrid of the Jonathan and the Golden Delicious. Sweet and thin-skinned, it is also rm enough to be an excellent baking apple. And unlike the extremely tart Granny Smith, it also doubles as a delightful afternoon snack for the frustrated fisherman.
The crostata is the perfect choice to showcase the apples and to minimize the amount of calories with each dessert serving. Open faced, the crostata can be made thinner like a tart or thick like a pie.
With a rich Italian heritage, the crostata can be traced back to one of the first cookbooks, Libro de Arte Coquinaria (Art of Cooking) by Martino da Como, published circa 1465. It’s the “rustic free-form version of the open fruit tart.”
There are endless variations on the crostata, both sweet and savoury. The sweet ones tend to be served as desserts. Apricots, cherries, peaches or berries can work as a filling, but October in the Pacific Northwest is apple season, and I could think of no better dessert for our October cruise through the islands.
The crostata can also serve as an entrée to a meal. Just change the filling. Meat or seafood can be used as the base. One of my favourites is a vegetarian crostata made of morel, crimini and shitake mushrooms. The recipe is adaptable to your tastes and the ingredients in your pantry. But tonight this is the perfect seasonal dessert to bring to a close the perfect autumn cruise.
Serves 6 to 8
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose our, plus more for the work surface
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 1/2-inch pieces 3 tablespoons ice water
- Or – one sheet of Pillsbury Pie Crust (yes, dear reader, it really is okay to use premade pie crusts. Don’t mention it to Jim, but I do frequently when cruising).
- 3 Jonagold apples, halved, cored, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch-thick slices
- 2-3 tablespoons lemon juice (1/4 lemon)
- 1/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest
- 1/4 cup our 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
- 4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced
- Mix the our, sugar and salt in a bowl.
- Add the butter. Cut in with pastry blender until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. (Or cut into tiny pieces and rub as brie y as possible between your palms.)
- Add the ice water and continue cutting in until moist clumps form.
- Gather the dough into a ball; flatten into a disk. (If the dough still crumbles and does not form into a ball, add another tablespoon of ice water.)
- Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate until rm, about 1 hour.
- Place apple slices in bowl. Toss with lemon juice.
- Combine the lemon zest, our, sugar, salt, cinnamon and allspice in a bowl. Mix thoroughly. Add butter. Cut in with pastry blender.
- Set aside about 1/3 cup of mixture.
- Add remaining mixture to apples and toss gently until apples are evenly coated. Set aside for 10 minutes.
- Position the rack in the centre of the oven. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
- Dust a large sheet of parchment paper with our and roll out the dough on the paper to an 11-inch round.
- Transfer the dough and parchment paper to a baking sheet.
- Spoon the apple mixture over the dough, leaving a two-inch border.
- Fold the dough border over the lling to form an eight-inch round, leaving the apples exposed in the center.
- Pleat loosely and pinch the dough to seal any cracks.
- Sprinkle remaining mixture over the top of the apples.
- Bake the crostata until the crust is golden and the apples are tender, about 28 to 30 minutes. Transfer the baking sheet to a rack; cool for 10 minutes. Slide a metal spatula under the crust to free the crostata from the parchment. Cool the crostata to lukewarm. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream.