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Free-Form Fruit Desserts

Posted Apr 22 2011 12:44pm

Rhubarb & Strawberry Crostata

Just as there are open-faced sandwiches, there are open-faced pies, or “free-form pies,” as they’re often called.  Free-form pies are fun to make since the whole idea is to wind up with an irregular, imperfect result.  And whether you’re making a whole-wheat pie or a gluten-free pie, it’s liberating to not have to worry about creating an evenly round crust.  Besides, in terms of food fashion, the rustic look is in!  Ain’t it great when the desired outcome is also the one that takes the least amount of work?  Laziness can occasionally equal brilliance.

Although I’ve opted for spring-fresh rhubarb paired with organic strawberries, you could use any berry along with the rhubarb: blueberry, blackberry, raspberry, even cranberry (although you’d have to sweeten the filling a little more to account for the tartness of the latter).  Since you’re making an unleavened crust, you don’t have to worry about the odd color change that happens when you mix a dark purplish berry with baking soda.

(Note for you food techies out there: the pigments that make the dark purple/red react in an alkaline environment by turning into an odd greenish-blue color.  Not appealing.  Luckily, you can off-set that alkalinity with a strong acid like buttermilk or lemon juice, or you can use baking powder or yeast as leaveners rather than highly alkaline baking soda.)

Rhubarb & Strawberry Crostata

For the crust:
1/2 cup almond flour, preferably freshly ground*
1/2 cup brown rice flour*
1/2 cup coarse- or medium-grind cornmeal
2 T. palm sugar OR sucanat
Pinch of sea salt
1 stick cold butter, preferably from grass-fed cows (Organic Valley or Kerrygold are good choices)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 eggs, preferably from pastured hens
Dash of whole milk, preferably from grass-fed cows

For the filling:
About 4 slender stalks of rhubarb (weighs about 1 lb.)
About 8 oz. ORGANIC strawberries (since strawberries are our #1 most-sprayed crop and you’re eating the whole fruit, it’s worth choosing organic)
1/4 cup palm sugar OR sucanat
1/4 cup brown rice flour*

To make the crust, whisk together the flours, sugar, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the butter, cut it into chunks with a knife, then use a pastry blender (or two knives) to cut the butter into the dry ingredients to make a fine crumbs. Pour in the olive oil and eggs and mix with a wooden spoon. Add a dash of milk and see if the mixture holds together well or is too dry. You should be able to easily form a ball with the crust and not have it fall apart. (If it gets too wet, add more flour.) Cover and refrigerate crust for at least an hour to make it firmer and easier to handle.

In the meantime, make the filling by placing all ingredients in a medium-sized sauce pan. Add just enough water to barely cover the fruit. Simmer uncovered on low for about 10 minutes or until the rhubarb is easily pierced with a knife tip and the mixture has become thick. Remove from heat and let stand while crust is chilling.

Preheat oven to 400F. Cover a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Scoop crust out of bowl and press (or roll, if you’re using wheat flour) the crust into a large and evenly flat circle, going all the way to the edge of the pan — you’re going to be folding the edges back onto the center, so you need to have a pretty large circle to start with. Place cooled filling in center of crust and spread it out to about 2″ from the edges. “Fold” the crust back onto the filling by picking up the edge of the parchment paper and gently encouraging the crust to fall inwards. Keep lifting the paper and nudging the crust over and down until you have a free-form, roundish pie.

Bake for 45 minutes or until crust is brown on the edges and the fruit is gently bubbling. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting into it. Serve with whole-milk Greek yogurt, ice cream, and/or a drizzle of maple syrup.

Enjoy!

* These are gluten-free flours. If you’d like to make a wheat version, use whole-wheat or spelt flour in place of almond and/or brown rice flour. I do think the almond lends the crust a nice nuttiness that compliments the fruit, though, so I would only sub out the brown rice flour. The cornmeal provides a pleasant crunch.

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