Monday, August 28
I had read, over and over again, the praises of the Italian Prune Plum in magazines and in my most treasured dessert cookbooks, yet I had never tried one. When I came across them at the Farmer's Market last year, I was delighted at their miniture size, and their blue-ish purple appearance. Truth be told, they didn't taste all that different to me than say, a Santa Rosa, but I had faith in their superiority.
The recipe with which I chose to christen my prune plums was out of Claudia Flemings Last Course: The Desserts of the Gramercy Tavern, which I've only used several times, but flip through quite regularly. Spiced Italian Prune Plum Crisp is the kind of recipe that has set a standard in my kitchen. I had always considered crips pretty homely, and while delicious, somewhat unsophisticated. This crisp is in another league entirely. Made with flour, ground walnuts, brown and white sugar, and kissed with the essense of cinnamon and cardamom, the topping is gently mixed by fork while melted butter is poured slowly into the bowl, creating nubby, wet crumbs that are sprinkled generously, (and in great quantity) over the quartered plums.
The glory of the Italian Prune Plum lies in its size. Because it is small, and less juicy than other plums, when it is baked, it concentrates in flavor and texture, so that the fruit maintains more of its shape, and because there is less liquid, the flavor is more intense. The crisp topping is just that: Crisp. While so many crisp toppings end up slightly gummy, this mixture ends up with a beautiful crunchy texture, somewhat along the lines of a butter cookie, but with a warm and rich flavor from the ground walnuts. While I usually can't resist the opportunity to try something new, when I saw some gorgeous Italian Prune Plums at Whole Foods on Saturday, I didn't even hesitate before pulling out this recipe again.
I would highly recommend using this crisp topping on any of your favorite fruits, but if you can find Italian Prune Plums, give them a try - it's a wonderful combination.
Spiced Italian Prune Plum Crisp
"Served warm from the oven, this fragrant plum crisp makes a heavenly late-summer treat. The cinnamon and cardamom really bring out the inherent spicy flavors that develop inside cooked prune plums; and the nutty crisp topping is a delectable contrast to the soft, flavorful fruit that bubbles colorfully underneath it."
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (I used half whole-wheat pastry flour)
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon ground walnuts
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom (I used nutmeg instead; I didn't have cardamom)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
2 1/4 pounds Italian prune plums, pitted and quartered (6 cups)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, walnuts, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, the brown sugar, cinnamon and cardamom. Slowly drizzle in the butter and combine with a fork until the mixture is crumbly. Do not allow the mixture to come together in a ball. Break up any large crumbs with your fingers. The crumbs should be smaller than 1 inch in size (otherwise they won't cook all the way through).
In another large bowl, combine the plums and the remaining 1/4 cup of granulated sugar and toss well. Spoon the fruit into a buttered 2-quart gratin or shallow casserole dish, mounding the fruit in the center. Evenly sprinkle the crumbs on top of the fruit.
Bake the crisp until the fruit is bubbling and the topping browned, 50 to 55 minutes. Serve hot or warm.
Serving suggestions: Serve with whipped creme fraiche, vanilla or basil ice cream.
Serves 8 - 10