My vegetable pipeline flows unimpeded in winter and spring. Brussel sprouts, various leafy greens, root vegetables, purple sprouting broccoli, leeks and spring onions provide ample material for dishes. And I always manage to stretch my stash of winter squashes until the early months of the year.
In the fruit department, on the other hand, come January, I start counting down the days to the first berries, cherries, peaches and plums. I dream of chain-eating blueberries, of biting into a ripe peach or plum, juice dripping down my fingers. I check blackberry bushes as if my look could somehow create berries on the bare brambles. When the longed-for fruit finally does arrive, I celebrate. Our household consumption of fresh fruit increases substantially and I use it everywhere I can, including in some savory dishes: Strawberries and raspberries brighten salads, peaches make an amazing frittata, and purple blackberry risotto appeals to both the eyes and the palate.
I also make cobbler. A light, crisp crust draped loosely over a deep layer of tender, juicy fruit: This, in a few words, is a cobbler.
My first encounter with cobbler occurred at a restaurant in Alpine County, in the Sierras, not long after I moved to California from Italy. My husband ordered it for dessert and I was intrigued by the golden, delicate topping balanced over a thick layer of deep purple berries. It was unlike anything I had ever encountered.
The cobbler concept inspires me because it gives the fruit center stage. The topping has a supporting role and should be slightly self-effacing. My cobbler — originally inspired by a recipe for apricot cobbler from Gourmet magazine — is rich in fruit and light in everything else, sugar in particular. I have made it with various types of fruit but the version I present here combines peaches and berries with some rhubarb, whose tartness provides a nice contrast. You can serve it as dessert, maybe accompanied by a dollop of ice cream. I like to serve it for breakfast, unaccompanied.
If you have the fruit available, preparing the cobbler takes little time and, since it is eaten warm, you don't have to wait long after taking it out of the oven to bring it to the table. The combination of flavors and textures is just about perfect.
Ingredients and method:
For the filling
1 pound peaches, preferably organic
3 ½ ounces rhubarb
4 ounces blackberries or raspberries, preferably organic
4 ounces blueberries, preferably organic
2 tablespoons sugar, preferably ultra-fine
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ teaspoon good quality vanilla extract
1 tablespoon cornstarch
For the topping
½ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup whole-wheat pastry flour (I recommend locally grown and milled Foisy wheat)
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 pinch of fine sea salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
½ cup well-stirred buttermilk or kefir, possibly homemade
Prepare the filling
Wash, peel if possible (do not worry if some of the skin ends up in the mix), pit and slice the peaches in a 9 ½-inch glass or ceramic deep dish pie plate (1 ¾ inch deep). Keep slices to less than ½ inch thick. If the peach is large, cut slices crosswise.
Trim and dice rhubarb. To better distribute the distinctive rhubarb flavor, dice rather small (¼-3/8 inch).
Add the berries. Distribute the sugar, lemon juice and vanilla over the fruit and toss gently. Sprinkle the cornstarch over the fruit and, again, toss gently.
Prepare the topping
Place a rack in the middle of the oven. Heat the oven to 400 F.
Sift together in a bowl the first 6 ingredients of the topping. Rub the butter into the dry ingredients with your fingertips or use a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
Stir in the buttermilk or kefir with a fork until just combined. Do not overmix the batter.
Assemble and bake the cobbler
Make sure the layer of fruit in the pie plate is even. Drop the batter over the filling by tablespoons, leaving some space in between to allow the topping to expand.
Place in the oven and bake until the topping is golden, about 30 minutes.
Cool slightly, about 15 minutes, and serve warm.
Simona Carini also writes about her adventures in the kitchen on her blog www.pulcetta.com