Writing my cookbook was an interesting experience for me and not just because I was burning through 5-pound bags of sugar at least once a week. When I cook (and sometimes when I bake), I tend to sort of feel it out as I go; recipes are used often, but by no means every day. I probably could never tell you the exact quantity of soy sauce I might use to punch up a quick vegetable stir-fry, or about how many sesame seeds I use to coat tofu before caramelizing it. For just me this is fine, but when I write up recipes for publication I have to be more mindful. (Not that this is a hardship, it’s just worth noting.)
Back in February I had grand plans of keeping a ‘cookbook journal’ as I moved through the testing process; this lasted about one month, tops. And it’s OK, really, because life gets busy and to be frank my brain was a bit addled with keeping track of measurements in both U.S. and metric units, not to mention the repeated sugar high that came along with tasting said recipes. Still, I regret it a bit – much like my upcoming move, I have been very much ‘in the moment’ and haven’t stopped too long to reflect on the process. Maybe this isn’t such a bad thing – it certainly helps to cut down on the over-romanticized drama of it all – but I hope I don’t look back and wonder what exactly was going on because I didn’t bother to write down the details.
And yet so it goes. Here I am on June 7 with two and a half more weekends in San Francisco left before we go to Morocco, the movers come in two weeks, I am nearly done stockpiling all the American goods I want to start off with over there (peanut butter, brown rice, vegan mayo — yes, the essentials), there are a thousand and one boring tiny details I still need to attend to. Fortunately I will be back in California at the end of July for awhile (more on this … at some point) but the normalcy of the San Francisco life I’ve so enjoyed is quickly drawing to a close. I keep reminding myself that this is merely a postponement; we will be back; this is a temporary adventure and I must try to embrace it as such. On my better days this is truly how I see things, and while it’s bittersweet to leave the home I’ve kept for 7 years I’m excited for a new landscape. On my worse days I get into the kitchen and bake things I don’t really need to bake just to distract myself.
Like a few days ago when I realized I still had a lot of strawberries leftover from the weekend that only had a little more life them in them before they would be fit for the compost bin. I’d already made a big batch of strawberry jam with a touch of rhubarb and honey and didn’t quite feel like lugging out my big pots again; I also wanted something a bit lighter and quicker to put together. Enter this strawberry-basil crumble/crisp.
What makes a crumble a crumble and a crisp a crisp? In my mind they are one and the same — though perhaps a crumble has a bit more topping and a crisp is more … crispy. But no matter: the dessert I put together on Wednesday afternoon to use up the last of my parents’ neighbor’s strawberries was delicious and the name for it was merely an afterthought. I perhaps should simply call it ‘luscious’ and leave it at that.
A good example of the ‘little bit of this plus a little bit of that’ cooking philosophy is exhibited here. Normally when baking off fruit desserts such as crumbles, crisps, or even a pie (though I do stick to a consistent dough recipe) I eyeball how much fruit to include, which often depends on how much I have on hand. I may sprinkle in a little sugar or swap in honey but this is in drips rather than tablespoons and isn’t strictly measured. Most of the time these desserts turn out deliciously well, despite my haphazard method. But in this case I had an inkling I might like to share this beauty so was more careful when I made it and noted the quantities I used.
I hope you make this and agree with me that it’s a truly wonderful dish: full of the rich, heady taste of strawberries touched with a hint of basil and honey and not much else. I so love strawberries in season and while I can happily eat fistfuls every morning as-is when I cook with them I want to retain their strawberry-ness without tarting them up with too many other flavors. So there’s a tiny bit of cinnamon here in the topping, plus oats and almond flour and maple syrup, but these are meant to be complements rather than competition.
The topping instructions are applicable to just about any sort of crumble/crisp you might concoct in the coming months when stone fruit is literally rolling off the tables at the farmers market (or you’re drowning in backyard berries). I particularly love a combination of peaches and nectarines spiked with ginger as a base or blueberries and fresh mint. You can’t really go wrong with whatever fruit you choose.
For yes – summer is nearly upon us, at least according to the calendar. Like clockwork the fog has made its morning appearance here in my neighborhood after seeming months of brilliant clear skies this winter and spring. I suppose I don’t mind too much; it’s comforting in its familiarity after all. Will Casablanca have these foggy seasons I wonder? We shall find out soon enough.
This is a very forgiving recipe. If you have more berries, slice them up and make sure to add, say, about an extra 1/2-cup of rolled oats plus a few more tablespoons of Earth Balance to stretch the topping. Throw in some chopped rhubarb or a handful of blueberries if you have any kicking around the fridge. Or simply prepare according to the instructions below for a vibrant, vivid, truly summery treat.
Makes 4-6 servings
3 cups sliced strawberries
4 tablespoons fresh chopped basil
1/4 cup honey
1 cup rolled oats (certified gluten-free if that’s your thing)
1/2 cup almond flour (or whole wheat pastry flour)
generous pinch salt
generous pinch ground cinnamon
1/4 cup maple syrup
2-3 tablespoons Earth Balance margarine (or unsalted butter)
Heat oven to 350 F and have a medium-sized oven-proof dish ready (you could also split this up into 4-6 individual ramekins).
In a medium bowl, toss the sliced strawberries with the basil. Drizzle the honey over the fruit and stir gently with a rubber spatula to incorporate.
In another bowl, whisk together the oats, almond flour, salt, and cinnamon. With a fork and your hands, cut in the maple syrup and the margarine, lightly kneading and tossing until a crumbly, thick dough forms.
Pour the strawberry-basil-honey mixture into the baking dish, and spread the filling evenly across it. Place in the oven and bake until topping is lightly browned and slightly crisp and the filling is bubbly, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and cool slightly before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature.