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You’ll go crazy over this crumble

It’s spring, and the appearance of local farmers’ markets signals the beginning of the best time to eat seasonally.

It’s spring, and the appearance of local farmers’ markets signals the beginning of the best time to eat seasonally. When you shop at farmers’ markets, you get the healthy benefit of eating foods at their nutritional peak and at their tastiest, as well as reducing your carbon footprint and supporting local growers.

Early crops at the market include asparagus, beans, greens, lettuce, and rhubarb. As the summer progresses, more bounty arrives by the basketful. Check with your provincial association and harvestcanada.com to find your closest market.

Recognized by its large, green elephant ear-like leaves and long stalks, rhubarb is one of the earliest crops to push its way out of the ground. Depending on region and climate, stalks of fresh, field-grown rhubarb can be found from May through to July.

Rhubarb is a hardy perennial that grows well in our northern climate as it needs a long dormant period (called winter). Stalks vary in colour from green with red overtones to red with green overtones. Variety rather than colour determines sweetness (if you can use that word when it comes to rhubarb), and generally the more slender the stalk, the more tender.

Rhubarb Strawberry Crumble

A crumble is simply fruit topped with a mixture of sugar, flour, butter and often nuts, which bakes into a crisp topping that offers much of the satisfaction of a pie with a lot less work, fewer calories and lower in fat. You can substitute many kinds of fruit for the rhubarb/strawberry mix, or use all rhubarb. Just figure on about 5 cups (1.25 L) sliced fruit, peeled if desired, and add sugar and lemon juice according to the fruit’s sweetness. For juicy fruits such as peaches and berries, add 2 tbsp (30 ml) more flour to fruit mixture. Makes four to six servings.

INGREDIENTS:
Topping:

• 1/3 cup (75 ml) sliced almonds
• 1/3 cup (75 ml) all-purpose flour
• 1/3 cup (75 ml) lightly packed brown sugar
• Pinch salt
• 3 tbsp (45 ml) cold butter, cut into 1/4 inch pieces (5 mm)

Fruit Mixture:

• 4 cups (1 L) sliced rhubarb (1-1/2 lbs/750 g), about 1/2 inch (1 cm) slices
• 1 cup (250 ml) halved (or quartered if large) strawberries
• 2 tbsp (30 ml) each: All-purpose flour, brown sugar and granulated sugar
• 1 tbsp (15 ml) fresh lemon juice

METHOD:

Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C). While oven is heating, spread almonds in a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until just golden and fragrant, 6 to 8 minutes. Do not allow them to brown.

In small food processor, place almonds, flour, brown sugar and salt, process into a fine meal. Transfer to a bowl. With fingers, work in the butter until mixture is very crumbly. Refrigerate 15 minutes or up to 2 days (covered and refrigerated until needed).

Butter a 6-cup (1.5 L) baking dish. In a large bowl, combine rhubarb and strawberries. Combine flour, brown sugar and granulated sugar; sprinkle over fruit and toss well. Sprinkle with lemon juice and toss again. Spread fruit evenly in baking dish and spread topping evenly over all.

Bake until fruit is bubbling and top is browned, 40 to 50 minutes. If top is browning too quickly, cover loosely with foil. Serve warm or at room temperature.

TIPS:

• Preparation/Cooking: Wash rhubarb, then slice or dice according to recipe. One pound (500 g) raw rhubarb yields about 3 cups (750 ml) sliced fruit. If overly mature, it may need to have its fibrous strings removed. Rhubarb browns naturally when cooked, but avoid aluminum or cast-iron pans or it will darken considerably. While quite fibrous, rhubarb is also 95 per cent water, so it cooks down to a sauce-like consistency within 10 minutes of cooking. It tastes sweeter once cooked, so add a minimum of sugar before cooking, then add more to taste after. A squeeze of fresh lemon also brings out its flavour.

• Storage: Wrap rhubarb in damp paper towels to keep the stalks moist, and place in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for a few days. For longer storage, rhubarb is a breeze to freeze; just chop it into pieces and place in airtight freezer bags. Thaw completely and drain well before cooking.

– Barb Holland is a professional home economist and food writer who believes in shopping locally and in season.

 
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