Sweet spring strawberries meet tart rhubarb and a toothsome cornmeal topping in a dessert well worth adding to your repertoire.
If you live in the northeastern part of the United States, you’re likely familiar with that most glorious and reliable harbinger of spring: rhubarb.
Sometimes called “pie plant” for its frequent use in baking, this old-fashioned vegetable, with its elephant-ear leaves and ruby red stalks, possesses a distinctive taste and a tart acidity that needs be gentled through sweetening and cooking — but not too much of either! An overdose of sugar and rhubarb will lose its delightful sprightly flavor; too much time on the simmer turns rhubarb into an unrecognizable puddle of mush.
Rhubarb is the locavore’s ultimate ingredient: a good percentage of the rhubarb consumed in New England and its environs is pulled from backyard plants. Though it does appear in supermarkets, the stalks you find in stores are often past their prime, flaccid, and lacking in juiciness and flavor. If you don’t have a clump of your own, farmers’ markets are the next best source. Some varieties have fat, thick stalks while others (usually the later varieties) send up more slender shoots. Both taste great as long as they show more red than green. To harvest rhubarb, tug the stalks from the base of the plant using a slight upward twisting motion (cutting stalks is not as healthy for the plant). Remove and discard the enormous green leaves, as they contain poisonous oxalic acid, and then trim off the whitish part at the base of the stalks. Cut the stalks into 1-inch lengths, cook, and enjoy!
This scrumptious cobbler recipe is from my Storey book, Chowderland.
A cobbler is such a wonderful way to showcase spring and summer fruits of all kinds. I have worked out the proportions of this recipe carefully so that the amount of biscuit topping is just right — not too cakey — for a one- to one-and-a-half quart dish. Its sweetness is pegged to the strawberry and rhubarb filling, so if you use very ripe, sweeter fruit, you might want to decrease the sugar by a tablespoon or two. A hint of cornmeal adds a pleasing, slightly gritty texture to the cobbler dough.
Makes 4 – 6 servings
- 2½ cups hulled and sliced strawberries
- 2½ cups cut-up rhubarb
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ teaspoon grated orange zest
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon cornmeal
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ cup sugar plus 1 teaspoon for sprinkling on top
- 5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut in about 10 pieces
- ⅓ cup whole or low-fat milk
- Lightly sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream for serving
- Preheat the oven to 400° F. Generously butter a shallow 1- to 1½-quart baking dish, such as a deep pie plate or 8-inch square dish.
- Toss the strawberries and rhubarb with the sugar, orange zest, lemon juice, and vanilla in the prepared baking dish. Place the dish in the preheated oven and bake for 10 minutes. Stir before adding topping.
- For the dough, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and the ¼ cup sugar in a food processor and pulse to blend.
- Distribute the butter over the flour mixture and pulse until the butter chunks are about the size of peas.
- Slowly pour the milk through the feed tube, pulsing until the dough begins to clump together. (To make by hand, whisk the dry ingredients together in a bowl, work the butter in with your fingertips, and stir in the milk with a large fork.)
- Transfer to a lightly floured board, knead a few times to bring the dough together, and roll or pat out into a shape a bit smaller than the top of the dish. Either crimp the edges and place dough over fruit or cut into rounds, squares, or triangles and arrange atop the fruit. If using one large piece of dough, cut several deep slashes to let steam escape. Sprinkle with the remaining teaspoon of sugar.
- Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until the topping is golden and the fruit is bubbly. Serve warm or at room temperature, with whipped cream or ice cream.