Alan Pirhofer, the executive chef of Erba (4520 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-989-4200), says his "Michigan apple" crostata-a rustic Italian fruit tart, often baked freeform-was a chance improvisation. "I was in the park with my daughter, Nola, and met a guy who happened to have a bushel of apples in his truck," he recalls. "I took them to the restaurant and whipped up this crostata." Rosemary adds a warm, piney note to this comforting meal ender-one so good our critics think it's the best new dessert of the year.
Alan Pirhofer's Apple Crostata (Makes eight individual tarts)
For the apple filling:
10 Granny Smith apples (or any tart apple), peeled, cored, cut into segments lengthwise,
then segments cut in half
2 sticks unsalted butter
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon fresh-ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons finely chopped rosemary
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
1/2 to 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (depending on moisture of apples)
(1) Mix apples with cinnamon, nutmeg, rosemary, brown sugar, salt, and pepper.
(2) Heat a large sauté pan over high heat and melt the butter, cooking until it becomes golden brown.
(3) Add the apple mixture and stir until the sugar melts and becomes syrupy, about 2 minutes.
(4) Remove from heat and add 1/2 cup of flour and stir-the mixture should be sticky, not wet (add more flour if needed).
(5) Transfer the apples to a cookie sheet and let cool to room temperature.
For the crust:
2 cups unbleached flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 sticks cold unsalted butter, chopped into small pieces
1 tablespoon good quality vanilla extract (Nielsen-Massey is a good choice)
2 tablespoons ice water
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
(1) In a food processor with dough blade, briefly pulse together the flour, sugar, and salt.
(2) Add the butter pieces and pulse until the mixture resembles cornmeal (this can also be done by hand with a pastry blender).
(3) Combine the vanilla and ice water and add to the flour mixture; pulse until fully incorporated, about 30 seconds.
(4) Remove the dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead until it comes together, adding a bit of flour if it's too sticky; form into a ball and flatten into a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 3 hours.
(5) Refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to a month.
To make the tarts:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
(1) When dough is chilled, remove from plastic and on a floured work area roll out to a 1/8-inch thickness. Use a small plate (5 to 6 inches in diameter) to cut circles in dough.
(2) Press each dough circle tightly into a 4-inch tart mold (there should be a 1-inch overhang) and fill with 3/4 cup of filling; fold hanging dough over apple mixture to cover the edges.
(3) Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the crust browns nicely. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.
Photograph: Tyllie Barbosa