From a young age, I observed how my mother's everyday life revolved around food. She does not like to cook, and would not spend hours in the kitchen simply for pleasure, but in the typical Italian family, eating is a time of uniting, and she committed to the responsibility with impeccable taste. I would accompany her on marketing trips when I was little—always to the same places where she had special trusting relationships with the butcher, baker, or green grocer.
I have always loved sweets, and I looked forward to Saturdays when my mother would prepare la crostata di mele: apple pie. I think she has a special feeling for apples because any dessert featuring them becomes a masterpiece in her hands. From my bedroom I could smell the scent of the fruit macerating in maraschino liqueur, made from the distillation of Marasca cherries, and I would be drawn to the kitchen table to watch her making the pastry. She always made a small “tasting” tart just for me because she knew I couldn’t wait until Sunday lunch. I loved this ritual, but a small part of me hated to see her imprecision. This was a big difference between Mum and me: Ever since childhood, I have been a very precise person. Everything had to be in order, everything had to be the same, everything had to be perfect. I have neatly arranged closets, precisely comported hair and make-up, while my mum is more casual in her dress and her home.
My mother and I have cultivated a deep relationship of love and friendship, but my perfectionism annoyed her a lot, especially if I criticized the appearance of her desserts. When I was older and allowed to modify the aesthetics of the apple pie, we argued a lot. To her, my fussing was a waste of time. And I can’t argue with that assessment. But deep down I know that Mum appreciates my extreme care and is proud of me. Although she may have imagined me as a doctor, she is happy that my dreams are coming true.
Growing up, I never thanked my mother for our traditions and heritage, but now the time has come.
Sara Bruno is a pastry chef at Papparè in Bologna, Italy, where her latest creation is the Crossfin, a hybrid between a muffin and a croissant: http://www.sarabruno.it
Enza's Crostata di Mele
4 apples, peeled and cut into thin slices
1 c. maraschino liqueur
zest from 1 lemon
5 oz. butter, at room temperature
5 oz. granulated sugar
1 1/4 c. 00 flour
1 egg, beaten
pinch of salt
Marinate the apples in the liqueur with the lemon zest for at least 3 hours.
Mix the butter with the sugar by hand.
Add the flour, then the egg and salt.
Leave to rest for at least 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350 F.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry and press into a 9- or 10-inch tart pan.
Remove apples from marinade, reserving a few tablespoons, and arrange on the pastry.
Bake for about 20 minutes.
Sprinkle with reserved marinade.