Though I arrived at the end of summer (yes, September 26 still constitutes summer in Israel) I didn’t see any fresh berries. Not in the shuq, not in the supermarket, not in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. I resigned myself to having to wait until next summer when I can have fresh farmer’s market berries in New York. But suddenly, strawberries are everywhere. And not just any strawberries – some of the sweetest, freshest strawberries I’ve ever had.
And it turns out that winter is strawberry season in Israel. At what amounts to about $3 a pound, I have been buying them by the bushel. They come from Gaza (apparently along with other berries, peppers, and flowers that are allowed through the blockade) to bring a little sunshine to this pseudo winter (there is a sandstorm outside as we speak…).
While the strawberries are perfect on their own, I had eaten my fill and still had the remainder of my kilo (that’s 2.2 pounds, folks) and didn’t want to risk them going bad. Even a little. I had some frozen puff pastry on hand and wanted a simple recipe that would highlight the fresh flavor of the strawberries. I found a recipe for a strawberry mascarpone tart with balsamic that served as the inspiration for the dessert I ended up making. This would be an ideal recipe for summer since it barely requires turning the oven on (just to lightly brown the crust).
The ricotta filling, flavored with orange zest and vanilla, was reminiscent of a canoli and the macerated strawberries provided the perfect topping. The crust can be totally free form. The tart is a light end to any meal, great for breakfast, just right in summer, and an unexpected treat in winter.
Strawberry Ricotta Tart
1 frozen puff pastry, defrosted and unrolled
2 pounds strawberries, stemmed and quartered
1/3 cup + 1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
12 ounces ricotta
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat the oven to 400F. Roll out the puff pastry into a tart or pie pan. Prick all over with a fork and transfer to the oven (weigh down with another pie pan, beans, or pastry weight if you wish, or keep an eye on it). Remove after about 15 minutes, or when the crust is nicely browned and cooked through. Allow to cool.
Meanwhile, put the strawberries in a large bowl and add 1/3 cup sugar, 1/2 tablespoon of the orange zest, and the balsamic vinegar. Gently mix to combine and set aside to macerate for 30 minutes (up to 45 minutes).
In a separate bowl combine the ricotta, 1/4 cup sugar, 1/2 tablespoon orange zest, lemon juice, and vanilla. Mix thoroughly and refrigerate until needed.
Drain the macerated strawberries (boil the liquid to make a syrup to brush on top, if desired). Fill the tart crust with the ricotta mixture. Arrange the strawberries in concentric circles on top. Serve immediately. Cover the remaining tart with tin foil and refrigerate (it’s excellent cold).