Bright, tangy, and tart. Once the temperatures start to heat up, I am all about lemons in my food. They not only add an incredible explosion of flavour, their dazzling, sunny appearance always brightens up my mood.
The classic lemon tart comes in nearly unlimited variations. Perhaps best known internationally might be the iconic Meyer Lemon Tart. Yet it seems almost every place around the world has its own little twist making their own local lemon tart.
Italy is a country that has a long history growing lemons. You could even claim, the modern lemon as we know it today was first cultivated in Italy.
In fact, trade with the Middle East during ancient Roman times resulted in a type of fruit remotely resembling lemons brought to Italy; albeit it was much smaller and nearly inedible. Those fruits were later crossed with local bitter lemons and almost a thousand years later resulted in the famous Sfusato d’Amalfi, todays Amalfi lemons.
Today, lemon trees are found everywhere in Italy, from north to south but are still the most abundant along the Amalfi Coast and Sicily.
Lemons do also play a huge role in the Italian kitchen from salads and appetizers to starters, mains, desserts and cakes, lemons go a long way.
Considering al this, it’s quite surprising Italy is not thought to be the origin of the lemon tart. Indeed, this credit is usually given to France, even though some contest it could have been indeed England to bring about the first versions of the modern lemon tart.
There might be a good explanation, though. Italy’s own lemon tart version the lemon crostata, literally means lemon pie. The original lemon crostata recipe does indeed spot the typical pie crust topping.
Crostata was first mentioned in the famous Libro de Arte Coquinaria (the Book of the Art of Cooking) by Martino da Como, published around 1465. Whilst it is not exactly known when the lemon tart was first created, sources point to a timeline around the 1800s.
There you go!
The below version of an Italian lemon crostata is made without the topping, but it tastes equally delicious and is the perfect refreshing end for a summer meal.
Lemon Crostata Recipe
For the dough
300 g all purpose flour
100 g sugar
200 g butter, diced
pinch of salt
For the lemon custard
3 lemons, untreated
2 egg yolks
120 g powdered sugar
2 tablespoons food starch
250 ml milk
250 g heavy cream
In a large bowl, add all ingredients for the dough and knead for a couple of minutes until well combined and smooth. Form into a ball, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
In the meantime, finely grate the peel from the three lemons, then squeeze out 70 ml of lemon juice.
In a saucepan, mix the egg yolks with the powdered sugar. Stir in the starch than slowly add the milk and heavy cream. Finally, add the lemon zest. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens.
Remove from heat, add the lemon juice and continue to stir for a couple of minutes until the mixture is starting to cool.
Preheat oven to 180°C.
Grease a 27 cm pie tin and lightly dust with flour.
On a lightly dusted work surface, roll out the dough. Line the pie tin. Pinch the dough several times with a fork.
Fill in the lemon custard and bake on the second rail from the bottom for about 40 minutes until the custard has set and taken on a lightly golden-yellow colour. If the colour gets too dark, cover the top.
Remove from oven and let cool completely.
Dust with some powdered sugar before serving.
Let me know how you liked the lemon crostata in the comments.