Sunday, August 5, 2007

Nectarine and Blackberry Crisp

Whenever I have a question regarding a recipe or a cooking technique, I consult the authorities: my mother, my aunt and my grandmother. Sometimes I need to know if I can safely substitute one ingredient for another, sometimes I may need an old family recipe, and sometimes I just need to know if what I plan to do is acceptable.

Let me explain. These women have established some unwritten rules— chicken stock should always be homemade, pie dough should always be all butter (even a tablespoon of shortening can ruin a crust's texture), lamb should be from New Zealand and chickens from a kosher market — that, while sometimes I want to challenge, I ultimately fear breaking.

Another one of their rules regards crisps. Crisp toppings, according to the family arbiters, should not contain oats. Their favorite recipe contains flour, butter, sugar and slivered almonds. Perfectly sweet and crisp, this topping works well on any seasonal fruit and takes little time to prepare.

While I love this recipe and will continue to use it to make various crisps throughout the year, I have found a recipe for a topping I enjoy equally well that is just as simple to prepare and that fortunately doesn't break the rule: the recipe requires no oats. Made with a mix of cornmeal, flour, butter and sugar, this topping becomes beautifully golden in the oven and tastes sweet, buttery and crisp.

The addition of cornmeal — an uncommon crisp ingredient — adds wonderful flavor and texture, and complements any summer fruit. While I love a mix of stone fruit and berries such as nectarines and blackberries, peaches and raspberries, and apricots and blueberries — any seasonal fruit will do.

I know the authorities will approve!

Nectarine and Blackberry Crisp
Serves 8 to 10

1½ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup cornmeal
½ cup sugar
pinch salt
1½ teaspoons baking powder
1 stick unsalted butter
1 large egg, beaten lightly

2 T. sugar
2 T. all-purpose flour
3 lbs. nectarines, pitted and sliced into thick wedges
8 oz. blackberries

vanilla ice cream for serving

Combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt and baking powder in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until well combined. Cut butter into bowl. Pulse until butter resembles the size of large peas. Transfer mixture to large bowl. Make a well in the center of the mixture and add the egg. Using a fork, gently work the flour into the egg until the egg is uniformly mixed throughout the dough. Note: The dough will not form a mass like a traditional dough would. Rather, it will clump together if pressed together.

Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Butter a 13 x 9 x 2-inch glass baking dish or individual ramekins or crème brulee dishes. Stir the 2 T. sugar and 2 T. flour in a large bowl. Add the nectarines and blackberries and toss to combine.

Spoon the fruit into the prepared dish or dishes. Sprinkle the topping over the fruit. Bake until the nectarines are tender and the topping is golden and crisp, about 30-40 minutes for individual servings and close to an hour for a large dish. Cool at least 10 minutes. Serve with vanilla ice cream.