Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Start to Summer

For me, summer is defined by its fruit; strawberries, peaches, nectarines, cherries, blueberries, rhubarb, raspberries. This summer, I have every intention of making the most of all of it.

The rhubarb plants in the backyard are perfect right now, so I was given the suggestion of making something delicious before they go to seed. While picking my rhubarb, I found a few spears of asparagus poking through the overgrowth. My dad decided last year, to grow his asparagus in a different part the garden, so his old plants, next to his rhubarb patch, have been ignored since last spring. The bed he had used before has very quickly, almost completely been taken over by chives, but in spite of that, four thin, perfect spears managed to poke through, and provided me with a bite of the freshest asparagus imaginable. I’m going to keep my eyes on that spot in the garden to see if any more brave asparagus rears its’ head. The new patch won’t be mature enough to harvest for a couple years, so this may be the only home-grown asparagus I’ll be getting for a while.

Back to the topic at hand, while strawberry-rhubarb is the better-known pairing, but the raspberries at my grocery store were, a) much nicer-looking than the strawberries for sale, and b) about half as much as the strawberries. That and Remedial Eating, one of my favorite blogs, recently posted a recipe for rhubarb and raspberry crisp. I found Molly and Remedial Eating only a few months ago, and it’s quickly become one of my favorites. Her photography is beautiful, her stories are funny and sweet, and her recipes make my mouth water.

I love fruit crisps, and I’ve made a lot of them, but they’ve only ever been just “okay.” Something was always a little (or sometimes a lot) off; the fruit would be too sweet, or too sour, too dry, or undercooked, not jammy and tart. The topping would be greasy, or sandy, and would rarely properly crumble. Sigh… The results weren’t ever BAD, per se, just not what I was expecting, and I’d eat my crisp feeling a bit defeated. I had a really good feeling about this recipe though. Maybe it was the photo of the perfect, slumped serving, juices pooling prettily on the plate, topped with whipped cream. Maybe it was how Molly took the time to advise you on how a particular amount of cornstarch in the filling would thicken the juices just so. Whatever the case, I was sold! I made it Saturday night, and again the next day for the Family’s Epic Lobster Dinner (To be described in further detail another time!). It was very much loved, and now I have a new go-to dessert!

A few notes on some adaptations I made for my crisp; I used whole-wheat all-purpose flour in my crisp, because I try to use whole-wheat flour wherever I can get away with doing so. The first time I made the crisp, I discovered that my brown sugar was granite-hard, and I did not have the emotional wherewithal to fix that (I have since found a nifty list of ways to soften rock-hard brown sugar.). I used an equal amount of white sugar, which worked out quite well, but I’m sure the crisp would have been even better with brown sugar. Also, I forgot about my first crisp while it was in the oven (surprise, surprise), so mine baked for about 50 minutes, instead of the recommended 30-40 minutes. Oops. It was fine though! In fact, as you can see in the photo below (I forgot to take any pics before we dug in) the topping is fine! No burnt topping here!

This would be great with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, some barely-sweetened whipped cream or some crème fraiche!

Rhubarb-Raspberry Crisp

(adapted from Remedial Eating)

4 cups rhubarb, sliced ¼” thick

12 ounces raspberries

¾ cup granulated sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch

¾ cup whole-wheat, all-purpose flour

¾ cup Old-fashioned oats

1 cup sugar
(light brown is best, but white works fine)

Pinch of kosher salt

8 tablespoons (1/2 cup) salted butter, cut into 8 pieces, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350°.

In a bowl, combine the fruit, the first amount of sugar and the cornstarch and toss lightly to combine, then pour into a baking dish.

In the same bowl (don’t worry about washing it out. I didn’t!), combine the flour, oats, sugar and salt. Using your (clean) hands, rub the soft butter into the dry ingredients, picking up handfuls and sliding it all between your fingers and palms. Keep going until there isn’t any dry flour lurking in the bottom of the bowl. The mix should now be an assortment of sandy clumps and loose crumbs.

Pick up small handfuls of topping, and squeeze gently to form large crumbs (peanuts to marbles in size). Scatter over surface of the fruit as evenly as possible, making sure you don’t have a big sand-hill of topping in the middle of the dish.

Bake for about 35-45 minutes, until your fruit is bubbling and jammy around the edges and the topping is golden-brown.

Allow your crisp to cool before serving, since the juices will be like napalm right out of the oven. I tend to prefer my fruit crisps at room temperature, because the topping gets a chance to soak up some of the juice.

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