I’m a firm believer in enjoying the best of both worlds. Why choose one thing over another when you can have it all? As a multicultural, bilingual, dual citizen of both Italy and the U.S., I’ve lived by this mantra my entire adult life. Blending diverse cultures makes life more interesting…and definitely more delicious. Take my new Rhubarb Berry Balsamic Crisp for example. I gave an Italian accent to a classic American dessert and made it gluten-free to boot. It starts with rhubarb, the elusive spring vegetable that thinks it’s a fruit since mainly made into sweet dishes. Known as rabarbaro in Italy, it’s revered on the other side of the pond to make the popular digestive liqueur amaro, whose name means bitter. Rhubarb’s ruby-red rootstocks are bitingly tart and they are often married with strawberries—their springtime lover—whose delicate sweetness tames their harsh bitterness when cooked. I spotted some gorgeous rhubarb stalks at my market and took advantage of its fleeting season to make this luscious [gluten-free] crisp for a friend’s weekend gathering to feed a crowd and please everyone.
Fruit crisp is a quintessential American baked dessert of jammy filling covered by a thick blanket of crunchy, streusel-like topping made of flour, sugar, oats, and butter crumbled together. Every bite is a sensorial duet of soft sultry fruit and crunchy oat topping. The difference between crisps and crumbles (a similar dessert) is the addition of oats in crisps—a favorite ingredient in wheat-free diets. And, by substituting almond flour for wheat flour, my topping is gluten-free and spiced up with a pinch of ground ginger (cinnamon or cardamom work well too). I jazzed up the fruit filling by adding blueberries for vibrant color and flavor, but any berry will do. In fact, if you make my recipe after rhubarb season has come and gone, you can substitute it with blackberries and raspberries for a mixed berry crisp. And, since baked fruit fillings need sugar and a thickener—like flour—to turn runny juices into a silky glaze that binds every morsel, I use cornstarch instead to keep my crisp gluten-free.
(Get my gluten-free breakfast cookie recipe here)
While making a traditionally gluten-laden dessert gluten-free could be considered having the best of both worlds, I didn’t stop there. I added a secret Italian ingredient—aged balsamic vinegar from Modena—to my fruit filling (well it’s no secret now) to enhance the flavors with a rich dolcezza and elevate this dessert to another level! Aceto balsamico di Modena is the gastronomic jewel in Italy’s culinary crown with its syrupy consistency and complex taste created by aging grape must in barrels made of different woods. A spoonful of 12-year aged balsamic in the filling goes a long way (to Italy) to make a big flavor impact. The crisp comes out of the oven in golden glory with a crunchy crust bubbling around the edges with jammy fruit hiding underneath. Served warm or at room temperature and spooned into bowls with a scoop of vanilla gelato on top, my Rhubarb Berry Balsamic Crisp is a luscious dessert that’s the best of both worlds—a classic American with a sexy Italian accent—and satisfying baked treat that’s gluten (and guilt) free. That’s a win-win-win-win in my ‘have it all’ recipe book!
Watch the video tutorial of how to make my Rhubarb Berry Balsamic Crisp and get the recipe below:
RHUBARB BERRY BALSAMIC CRISP (GF)
Copyright, 2023, Deborah Dal Fovo, All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.
I gave this American baked fruit dessert a sexy Italian accent with Balsamic Vinegar of Modena to infuse the rhubarb, strawberry, and blueberry filling with a rich, complex flavor from wood barrel aging. The crisp topping is made with almond flour (instead of the typical wheat flour) and oats, making it gluten-free and guilt free. With its golden, crunchy crust and jammy fruit, this crisp feeds a crowd and pleases everyone. Use the best authentic balsamic vinegar from Modena you can afford and enjoy it warm or at room temperature spooned into bowls and topped with vanilla gelato. Buonissimo!
View this tutorial video on my Instagram feed
Serves 10 to 12
1 pound/453g fresh rhubarb, washed and cut crosswise into ½ inch pieces
1¼ pounds/566g ripe strawberries, washed, hulled, and cut into quarters
1 cup/170g blueberries, washed
Juice of ½ lemon
1 cup/200g cane sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon aged Balsamic vinegar from Modena
1 tablespoon butter to grease baking dish
1½ cups/150g almond flour
¾ cup/150g packed light brown sugar
1½ cups/127g rolled oats
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground ginger (cardamom or cinnamon can be substituted)
8 tablespoons/113g unsalted butter, cut into ½ inch dice
Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C.
In a large mixing bowl, toss together the rhubarb, strawberries, blueberries, lemon juice, sugar, cornstarch and balsamic vinegar.
Generously butter a 2-quart/2-liter baking dish. Arrange the fruit filling in an even, single layer in the baking dish and set aside while you make the topping.
In a medium bowl, mix together the almond flour, brown sugar, rolled oats, salt, and ground ginger. Add the diced butter and toss in the dry ingredients, crumbling it between your fingertips. It will seem dry at first but keep rubbing the butter until it softens slightly (but doesn’t melt) and adheres to the dry ingredients to form soft, moist clumps. Scatter the topping evenly over the fruit filling to cover the entire surface.
Loosely cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and place on a baking sheet. Bake on the center rack of oven for 30 minutes then remove the foil and bake, uncovered, for another 30 minutes until the topping is crisp and golden brown and the fruit filling bubbles around the edges.
Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature, spooned into bowls and topped with a scoop of vanilla gelato or ice cream for dessert. Store leftover crisp in the refrigerator and enjoy with a spoonful of yogurt for a luxurious breakfast.