Thursday, April 17, 2008

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble

Ok. I know, I know. Rhubarb in April? That makes sense- it's just coming into season. But strawberries? In April? Not so much.

Here's the problem. Rhubarb is one of the first food plants to be ready to harvest in the Northeast, which means that rhubarb season has officially begun and the first young stalks- tender and flushed bright, coral pink- have finally appeared in my favourite grocery store.

Ok, that's not really the problem. The real issue is that, of course, the store had gorgeously bright stalks of rhubarb stacked strategically, temptingly close to pallets of strawberries. $8 for 8 pounds of berries is pretty damn cheap. But it's really not strawberry season here. Not even close- we have to wait for July for that. I don't think it's strawberry season on the West Coast either, so I am sure that these California strawberries were grown in a hothouse.

We were all set to resist them, thinking that we'd make do with just rhubarb. I was convinced that the strawberries would be, like so many hothouse grown fruits, all pretty looks with a bland, boring taste. But then, curiosity got the better of me and I leaned in to take a closer look at the ruby gems. That was when it hit me- the most fragrant summery scent I've enjoyed in months wafted up from the pallets.

Really, who can resist the idea of strawberry rhubarb crumble? Strawberry rhubarb sorbet? Strawberry rhubarb preserves? Strawberry rhubarb anything?

Not us. We came home with 8 pounds of tasty strawberries.

So, of course, the inaugural dish for the season's first rhubarb had to be a crumble. Perhaps we were blinded by the excitement of bright, summery flavours laced with a lovely refreshing note from the Cointreau- we happily devoured this plain, no ice cream needed... though I am sure a scoop or two wouldn't hurt!

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble

For the filling:
2 quarts/16 ounces strawberries, washed and sliced into 1 inch pieces
8 ounces rhubarb, washed and sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
3/4 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon Cointreau (optional)

For the topping:
1 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cold butter, cut into 1/2 inch dice
1/4 cup sliced almonds
3 tablespoons light brown sugar

Preheat oven to 400'F. Butter a 12 inch baking dish.

Toss rhubarb, strawberries, sugar and Cointreau (if using) in a bowl and set aside to macerate for 15-30 minutes.

To make the crumble topping, pour the flour and brown sugar into a small bowl. With quick movements and using the tips of your fingers, rub in the butter until it is thoroughly combined and has a texture like rough sand. Toss in the almonds.

Pour the fruit mixture into the buttered dish. Sprinkle the topping over the fruit.

Bake until topping is golden brown and fruit juices are bubbling, approximately 40-50 minutes. Serve warm.

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