I’m so excited about this recipe I can hardly stand it! Originally inspired by the the article, “Come Together” in the June issue of Whole Living magazine, I have gone down a different road. This week at La Domestique, I’m cooking with oats, which are essential to the topping of a traditional crisp. Have you ever made a crisp before? You should! Crisps are simple to bake yet make you weak in the knees yummy. Comforting oozing hot fruit topped with a golden, lightly crunchy crust- that’s a crisp. Interpret it in your own way. Try a combination you imagined in your mind. Crisps are a great way to try new things and come out successful. What can go wrong? Hot fruit, crispy topping, done. Easy peasy.
When I set about making this crisp I had some deep thoughts. I meditated over how to make the strawberry rhubarb combo uniquely mine. Give it a new hairdo. Maybe some fun new shoes to jazz things up a bit. Then it came to me: fennel seed and black pepper. I know it sounds crazy but it’s crazy good!
Let’s address the pepper first. Black pepper is very in vogue with strawberries right now. People (who are chefs) use it. If you do it right you don’t taste pepper, just a warming heat that compliments the strawberries in a really good way.
Now let’s talk about fennel seed. This spice has a sweet, licorice like taste. Fennel seed, meet strawberry and her friend rhubarb. You guys will get along great! Not only does fennel contribute a licorice flavor to the dish, but it also has a green herbal flavor that adds complexity to this crisp. It changed my life a little bit.
In the end this version of Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp was everything I wanted: comforting, sweet, herbal and fruity with a little bit of heat. The flavors come upon you gradually with each bite. My fennel seed amounts may look strange (3/4 a teaspoon?) but try it this way first. The balance of spices is delicate and too much fennel seed could very easily overpower the dish. I love this crisp, and I hope you do too. At the very least, I hope it inspires you to try something new.
Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp with Fennel Seed & Black Pepper
serves 6 generously
Ingredients For the Fruit Base
1 pound strawberries, hulled and halved
1 pound rhubarb, chopped into 1/2 inch chunks
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
a pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground fennel seed***
a sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper
Ingredients for the Topping
1 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup brown sugar
a pinch of salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground fennel seed***
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit. Toss the strawberries and rhubarb into an 8 inch baking dish. Add the sugar, cornstarch, and fennel seed and toss it all together with your hands. With your pepper grinder set to fine ground, sprinkle the black pepper over the fruit mixture. Don’t go crazy, just give it a few grinds casually as if you were peppering your salad. Trust me, this is so good.
In a medium bowl combine all the ingredients for the topping. Ditch the spoon. It’s easier if you just scrunch the mixture with your fingers so it turns into a crumble. Sprinkle the crumble over the fruit mixture in the baking pan. Bake on the middle rack of your oven for about 45 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the fruit is bubbling throughout. Serve warm. Maybe with some ice cream.
***I buy fennel seed whole at the spice shop and grind it fresh to use as I need it. This ensures the best most intense flavor from the spice. I have a little ($15) coffee grinder just for my spices.