Company's Coming: Gluten-Free Fruit Crisp, Anyone?

We've all been there. A good friend or beloved relative is coming to dinner, someone who has a dietary restriction, whether chosen—vegan, wheat-free, vegetarian, religious—or unchosen, like an allergy to nuts, wheat, garlic, sugar, etc., or an intolerance to certain foods. And I don't know about you, but my initail reaction is to freeze up when it comes to planning the menu.

Gluten-free crumble topping? Done!

This happened recently when a couple we've known for years were coming over, one of whom has ascertained over the years that her system doesn't respond well to gluten. It's not celiac disease, just as my husband's intolerance to lactose isn't life-threatening; it's just something that makes for a "rumbly tumbly," as Winnie-the-Pooh would say.

The main dish was easy—they're meat-eaters, and I'd just bought a grass-fed sirloin tip roast from Carman Ranch that I was planning to slice open, slather with a sorrel-shallot-rosemary-fennel pollen mixture, then roll up and rotisserie. An Astiana tomato risotto using tomato stock from the 120 pounds I'd roasted this summer, and a castelfranco chicory salad with Caesar dressing were easy decisions.

Ready to pop in the oven.

But then…dessert.

Virtually every dessert we normally make has some flour in it. Tarts, pies, crisps, cakes, all flour-dependent. Sorbet was an option, made with the scads of berries I had squirreled away in the freezer, but we were short on time for it to freeze properly. A trip to the store to buy a commercial sorbet was my back-pocket solution, but could I come up with a gluten-free dessert that wouldn't require (another) trip to the store? (The short on time element, remember?)

A crisp for the ages.

A search for "gluten free crumble" led to a recipe on the Kitchn website for a gluten-free topping that merely required grinding up oats in the food processor until they were the consistency of flour. Score!

But their crumble recipe (in my humble opinion) resulted in a clumpy product that didn't appeal to me, so I ground the oats in the processor as they suggested, but then used the "flour" as a substitute for the flour called for in my family's crisp recipe, along with the usual suspects: brown sugar, oats, cinnamon and butter or margarine.

The result was a virtual identical twin of my family's recipe, especially glorious because I used a combination of frozen marionberries from our neighbor's garden and equally incredible Chester blackberries from Ayers Creek Farm—of course the splash of Cointreau in the berries didn't hurt, either. And for the full-gluten experience, you can feel free to substitute one cup of all-purpose flour for the oat flour below.

Gluten-Free Berry Crisp

For the topping:
1 c. oat flour (see instructions, below)
3/4 c. uncooked rolled oats
1 c. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
1/2 c. melted butter or margarine

For the filling:
4-6 c. berries
1 c. sugar
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/4 c. Cointreau, triple sec or eau de vie

Make the oat flour by processing 1 1/4 cups of uncooked rolled oats in the food processor until it has a flour-like consistency. Mix the oat flour together with the other dry ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Pour in melted butter or margarine and stir with fork to combine. Set aside.

Place berries in large mixing bowl. Add sugar, liqueur and cornstarch and mix thoroughly. Put in 9” by 12” baking pan. Scatter topping mixture over the top and bake in 350 degree oven for 50 min. to 1 hr. until bubbling.

Breakfast? Dessert? Company? Try This Versatile Olive Oil Cake!

I've been posting contributor Jim Dixon's recipes for years, and his approach to cooking with whatever's in season with minimal fuss is right up my alley. Right now he's expanding Real Good Food's selection of imported and local goodness—olive oil, spices, vinegars, sauces, etc.—and moving to a new location in order to bring more tastiness to Portland's tables. More on his grand opening in a future post, but for now here's his latest twist on a classic olive oil cake!

Olive Oil Cake with Fennel Pollen

I adapted this recipe from Tenuta di Capezzana, the Tuscan winery and olive oil producer, and it uses more extra virgin olive oil than any other olive oil cake recipe I've seen.

3 eggs
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 1/2 c. extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 c. milk
2 c. whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. sea salt
2 Tbsp. fennel pollen*

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Cut a circle of parchment paper to fit a 12-inch cake pan (I usually make this in a 12-inch cast iron skillet); drizzle some olive oil into the pan, then place the parchment paper and slide it around so it’s well-oiled.

Blend the eggs and sugar together in a medium-sized bowl, then stir in the olive oil and milk. In another large bowl combine the flour, baking powder, salt and fennel pollen. Make a well in the dry ingredients, and slowly add the egg mixture, stirring just until blended.

Do not over mix. Pour the batter into the prepared pan on top of the parchment paper.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 50 to 55 minutes. Let the cake cool completely, then loosen the sides with a knife, and invert onto a serving plate (hold the plate against cake pan and flip…hopefully it will come out in one piece). Remove the parchment paper, slice, and eat.

* In response to a question posed on Facebook about the taste of fennel pollen, Jim had this to say: "Fennel pollen, more accurately called fiore di finocchio in Italian since it contains bits of flower and pollen, has the same flavor as fennel seed but a bit more delicate. It's a key ingredient in porchetta, and the stuff we sell at Real Good Food comes from Monte San Savino in Tuscany, where a lot of the roadside porchetta trucks get their stuffed suckling pig roasts. I like it on salmon, too."

Dave's To-Die-For, Sky-High Biscuits

We are rich with talented friends who also happen to be great home cooks. Bruce's pork vindaloo. Denise's Korean mandoo dumplings. Jeff's tarte tatin. Kathryn's shrimp and grits. Wendy's cakes. Dana's curried squash.

Here at home I have the good fortune to have a husband who smokes his own bacon, bakes six loaves of organic sourdough every two weeks and loves to make breakfast on the weekend, particularly if it involves baking up a batch of scones or biscuits to go with his Julia Child-worthy cheese omelets. (Did I mention he's also become quite the home bartender, whipping up cocktails at the drop of a hat?)

So when I stumble downstairs on Saturday morning and see him bustling around the kitchen with flour on his hands and the oven warming the house, I know by the time I get the dogs fed and finish my first cup of coffee he'll be pulling out a pan of his signature baked goods and setting them on the counter with butter and jam.

I know, how lucky am I?

Dave's To-Die-For, Sky-High Biscuits

2 1/4 c. (285g) all-purpose flour*
3/4 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. sugar
4 tsp. baking powder
1/3 c. (75g) very cold butter
1 c. milk

Preheat oven to 450°.

Place flour, salt, sugar and baking powder in food processor and pulse for a few seconds to combine.Cut butter into small pieces and add to food processor. Pulse half a dozen times and check for the size of the butter pieces. Repeat if necessary until the butter is in pieces roughly the size of peas.

Put flour mixture in a mixing bowl and add the cold milk. Toss together gently until barely combined. As soon as the dough holds together, turn it out on a lightly floured counter. Gently "knead" the dough a few strokes until it is a mostly a cohesive ball. The fewer kneads the better.

Pat out the dough with your hands into a rectangle 1/2" to 3/4" inch thick, depending on how tall you like your biscuits. Cut into 2-inch circles (you should get approximately 6 to 8), and place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet or sheet pan. Leftover dough can be gently combined and patted out again to make more biscuits.

Bake at 450° for 8 to 10 minutes until tops are lightly browned. Butter and eat while still warm, preferably with honey or a selection of homemade jams.

* Dave always weighs the flour and butter rather than measuring it in cups or measuring spoons.