June 6, 2020
It's spring in Seattle. Rhubarb has arrived with their shiny, ruby green stalks, beckoning at me from the nooks of produce areas in local markets. Laura? Buy some! Then peruse your favorite cookbooks and online sites and bake something fabulous! Forget about your 10 lb Covid-19 weight gain and just do it. What happens in quarantine stays in quarantine.
I don't have a long relationship or history with rhubarb. I only have this one hazy and vague memory of being a child and walking around the neighborhood, hand in hand with the wife of a family friend one summer. We were on vacation somewhere, perhaps Vermont or Connecticut. This woman, her name escapes me, was talking to me about all the various plants and trees and flowers, pointing out this and that. She was on the hunt for rhubarb that day and excited about it. We finally found some, and I can still see her happily cutting the stalks from the plants as she cautioned me about their poisonous leaves. This scared me and intrigued me at the same time. How mysterious, the leaves are poison but the stalks are not? Would I die a horrible death if I ate part of a stalk that was too close to the leaves? Seems like risky business this rhubarb. This experience left my curious.
I proceeded to live the rest of my life with ne'er a thought of rhubarb. Until now. I hereby declare to the world that rhubarb is glorious. It has an intoxicating tartness to it that may remind you of a green apple, but 1000 times more spectacular. It is sour, tart, rich, and when combined with strawberries or custard, otherworldly.
Needless to say, I bought some and immediately and quite frantically started searching the web. I came upon a recipe from Dorie Greenspan. If you don’t know of her please make yourself acquainted and do it soon. I could write pages upon pages about her and how amazing and accomplished she is. Among other things, she is an award-winning American cookbook author, a columnist for The New York Times Magazine, and an all-around talent and super cool lady. She makes you feel like you can cook or bake anything and that she is right there along side you.
Dorie’s Strawberry-Rhubarb Double Crisp is incredible. There is crisp on the top AND the bottom, WHAT? There are tiny surprises of spicy crystallized ginger strewn throughout. The filling combines super-tart chunks of rhubarb and sweet strawberries which are cooked down into an almost jammy consistency. I have made it twice this week. It would be truly sad if you didn’t add a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. It’s a cinch to put together and pure heaven.
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup packed, light brown sugar
3/4 cup old-fashioned oats (not instant)
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (Dorie says a pinch)
Tiny pinch of ground cinnamon
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
1/4 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
1 pound rhubarb, trimmed (Dorie suggests peeling, I didn't find it necessary) and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup cold water
3 cups/12 ounces strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350° F. Put a 9-inch square baking pan (glass or metal, I used metal) on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat.
Melt butter and set aside to cool. Combine the flour, brown sugar, oats, ground ginger, salt, and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Mix well and break apart any lumps of brown sugar you might discover. Add the nuts and crystallized ginger and pour in the melted butter. Stir until everything is thoroughly moistened. I do all of this with my hands because why not?
Spoon half the mixture into the baking pan. I weigh it out first because I like to be exact but feel free to eyeball this. Press the crumbs firmly onto the bottom of the pan and make sure to get it into the corners. This will be your crisp crust. OMG!
Scatter the rhubarb slices onto the bottom crust and disperse evenly. Dissolve the cornstarch in the water, mix well making sure there are no clumps. Set aside.
Now, on to the filling. Put strawberries, sugar, and ginger into a pan over medium heat and smash everything together with a fork or potato masher so the strawberries break down a bit and release some of their juices. You don't have to go crazy here but have some fun with it. Let this come to a full, rolling boil, stir often so it doesn't scorch.
Pour the cornstarch liquid into the pot, you can switch to a whisk now, and bring this all back to a boil. Whisk until it thickens and is no longer cloudy (about three minutes). Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Pour over the rhubarb and gently level everything off. Scatter the rest of the crisp over the top of the filling.
Bake this miracle from heaven for about 60 minutes. I like to check my baked goods 5-10 minutes less than a recipe states, just to be sure. Oven temperatures can vary. You are looking for thick, ruby red bubbling of the filling and the top should be a deep, golden brown.
Remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack. Eat warm or at room temperature. Vanilla ice cream brings this crisp to an entirely new level. Enjoy!