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, 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. It’s perfectly sweet and crisp, and it works well on any seasonal fruit.
I love their recipe but I have found one that I love even more (gasp!) and that fortunately doesn’t break the rule: the recipe requires no oats. This Michael Chiarello crostata topping recipe, made with a mixture of cornmeal, flour, butter and sugar, crisps up beautifully in the oven and tastes perfectly sweet, buttery and crisp.
The addition of cornmeal — an uncommon crisp ingredient — adds a wonderful texture, and the subtle corn flavor really complements the 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 Crostatas
Crostata topping comes from Michael Chiarello’s Tra Vigne
Serves 8 to 10
for the topping:
1½ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup cornmeal
½ cup sugar
large pinch salt
1½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon aniseed, toasted (optional)
1 stick unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces
1 large egg, beaten lightly
for the filling:
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
1. Combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt, baking powder and aniseed (if using) 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.