There are some people who grew up with rhubarb. They remember the first time they took a bite of the tempting red stalks, wincing as they discovered that raw and unadorned, rhubarb is no treat. Or they have sweet memories of breakfast porridge topped with spoonfuls of compote, simmered long until soft and sweet.
I don't have any of those memories. Rhubarb wasn't even in my vocabulary until I was about 19 or 20, already in college and working in a Washington, DC office full of men who wore navy suits and loved scotch and Reagan. Someone's wife brought in a pie one day and I was instantly captivated by this funny, tart vegetable masquerading as dessert.
Since then I've cooked with it several times, making crumble and compote, getting excited each spring when the bright, fuchsia stalks pop up in the market again. I brought some home last week, fully intending to make compote or perhaps a rustic crostata, but Eugene asked if I would instead make him something similar to the rhubarb and cherry crumble I made a few summers ago.
I agreed, but without cherries or enough rhubarb to let them fly solo, I pulled out a bag of frozen raspberries I remembered buying a while ago for an occasion like this. I was concerned that the results would prove too tart, but I was blown away by how good they tasted together. Even better than any strawberry or cherry combination I've ever tasted before.
I wanted a crisp topping, so I combined rolled oats with sliced almonds, crunchy turbinado sugar, melted butter, and a touch of sea salt. Relying on just a bit of whole wheat flour to bring it all together. You can really get creative here, substituting things like pumpkin seeds, coconut, flax, or other nuts or flours according to your tastes and what you have on hand.
This was fantastic straight out of the oven. The day I made it, I served myself a bowl and topped it off with a huge dollop of homemade whipped cream that I sweetened with just the barest hint of real maple syrup. It was around noon so I ate the whole thing and called it lunch. Later that same day, I served it the same way to Eugene for dessert.
Eugene was happy. I was happy. And even my mom, who rarely eats dessert, enjoyed a full serving of it when she came by the next day.
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Rhubarb Raspberry Crisp
2 cups rhubarb, sliced in 1" pieces
2 cups raspberries, fresh or frozen
1 cup turbinado sugar ("sugar in the raw"; can also substitute granulated white sugar)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons cornstarch
For the topping
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 cup rolled oats (not instant)
1 cup sliced almonds (can substitute pecans, walnuts, or hazelnuts)
1/2 cup whole wheat flour (can substitute AP)
1/2 cup turbinado sugar ("sugar in the raw")
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8" glass or metal baking dish and place on a large cookie sheet to catch any drips (I like to line it with my silpat or parchment paper to make clean-up easier).
In a large bowl, combine the rhubarb, raspberries, 1 cup turbinado sugar, lemon juice, vanilla extract, and cornstarch. Toss well to coat evenly. Let sit for 20 minutes at room temperature.
While the filling sits, prepare the topping. Melt the 1/2 cup butter and let cool slightly. In a large bowl, whisk together the oats, almonds, flour, 1/2 cup turbinado sugar, allspice, and kosher salt. Pour in the melted butter and use your hands to mix well, squeezing the filling into crumbs.
Pour the filling into the prepared baking dish and distribute all the crumb topping on top. Cut the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter into small pieces and dot the surface of the crisp.
Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the filling is bubbling and the top is golden and crisp. Let cool at room temperature for at least 40 minutes before serving.