I must have made thousands of these tarts when I worked for Antonio Carluccio at the Neal Street Restaurant in London. We used to make them for the Royal Opera House, and people going to see an opera or ballet would have one as part of the poshest picnics in London, in their boxes up above the stage. I once went along on my day off to see Swan Lake and looked up to see all the people in the boxes eating my tarts while I was down with the others in the cheaper seats (eating a tube of fruit pastilles!). Not that I was jealous. I just knew how damn good those tarts were! This is such an easy dessert to make, especially if you have a couple of tart shells in your freezer. You can make it with just about any soft fruit – raspberries, blackberries, strawberries or blueberries, even lightly cooked gooseberries. You are in for a real treat!
First you will need to grease a 28cm loose-bottomed tart tin with a little butter. To make your pastry, cream together the butter, icing sugar and salt and rub in the flour, vanilla seeds, lemon zest and egg yolks – you can do all this by hand or in a food processor. When the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs, add the cold milk or water. Pat and gently work the mixture together until you have a ball of dough, then flour it lightly. Don’t work the pastry too much, otherwise it will become elastic and chewy, not flaky and short as you want it to be. Wrap the dough in cling film and place in the fridge for at least an hour. Remove it from the fridge, roll it out and line your tart tin. Place in the freezer for an hour. Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/gas 4 and bake the pastry case for around 12 minutes or until lightly golden.
To make the filling, split the vanilla pod in half lengthways and scrape out the seeds by running a knife along the inside of each half. Put the mascarpone, cream, vanilla seeds, sugar and grappa into a large bowl and whip until shiny. Have a taste – you should have an intensely rich, fluffy and lightly sweetened cream with a fresh hint of grappa. If you can’t get grappa, you can do it without, or add a swig of vin santo instead.
Once the pastry has cooled, get yourself a spatula and add the sweetened cream to the pastry case. Smear it all round so it’s reasonably level, then cover it with the berries – place them lightly on the cream, no need to push them in. If you want to be a bit more generous than this, feel free, and if you want to mix your berries you can do this too. Next, in a small pan, melt down a couple of tablespoons of jam with 3 or 4 tablespoons of water. Stir until it becomes a light syrup, then, using a clean pastry brush, lightly dip and dab the fruit with the jam.
Sprinkle with the baby mint leaves before eating. Great served either as one large tart or as small individual ones. Lovely with your afternoon tea. Either serve straight away or place in the fridge until you’re ready to eat it.