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Sweet Somethings, Made for Comfort

July 31, 2002|ABBY MANDEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When you get your hands on good peaches or strawberries, it's great to be able to make a fruit crisp, one of those comfort desserts everyone enjoys. But you don't have to start a crisp from scratch if you use this trick: Keep a crisp topping in the freezer.

This topping recipe can be used immediately, stored up to two days in the refrigerator or frozen for a month. Just be sure to wrap it airtight in double plastic bags. It's not necessary to thaw the topping before using. If the topping freezes into a mass, massage the bag to crumble it.

Here, I've combined two fruits in each crisp recipe, though other combinations are possible. These take advantage of summer, when peaches, blueberries and strawberries are readily available. Rhubarb, though often thought of as a springtime crop, can be found at farmers markets and grocery stores into fall.

As a thickener, I prefer quick-cooking tapioca to flour or cornstarch. It thickens the juices without clouding them or thickening them too much. The juices are always clear, slightly runny and not at all "pasty."

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Brown Sugar Crisp Topping

Active Work and Total Preparation Time: 10 minutes

1 cup flour

2/3 cup dark brown sugar, packed

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened, cut into 4 pieces

3/4 cup pecans

Place the flour, sugar, cinnamon and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Process quickly to mix, about 2 seconds. Scatter the butter and pecans over the flour. Pulse the processor on and off until the mixture is crumbly but not massing together, about 20 to 30 seconds.

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Strawberry and Rhubarb Crisp

Active Work Time: 30 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 1 hour, 50 minutes, plus 1 hour cooling

1 1/2 pounds rhubarb, cut into 1/3-inch thick slices (about 5 cups)

2 1/2 pints strawberries, hulled, cut in half or quarters if large (about 4 1/2 cups)

1 1/4 cups sugar

3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon quick-cooking tapioca

2 tablespoons orange juice

Grated zest from 1 orange

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

Brown Sugar Crisp Topping

Vanilla ice cream, for serving

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Set aside a 13x9-inch baking dish.

Place the rhubarb, strawberries, sugar, tapioca, juice, zest, vanilla and allspice in the baking dish. Use your hands to toss until well mixed. Let it rest 20 to 30 minutes, stirring once midway. Be sure the fruit is evenly spread in the dish. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the fruit. Place the pan on a large baking sheet or a large sheet of heavy-duty foil to catch any bubbling juices.

Bake until the top is browned and the juices are bubbling, 65 to 70 minutes. Let cool at least 1 hour before serving. (Alternately, cool completely. The crisp can be refrigerated overnight, covered airtight. To serve, let come to room temperature, uncovered. Reheat, uncovered, in a 350-degree oven until warm, about 12 minutes.) Serve warm with small scoop of ice cream.

8 to 10 servings. Each of 10 servings, without ice cream: 391 calories; 40 mg sodium; 25 mg cholesterol; 16 grams fat; 6 grams saturated fat; 61 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams protein; 4.34 grams fiber.

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Peach and Blueberry Crisp

Active Work Time: 40 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes, plus 1 hour cooling

To easily peel peaches, dip them in boiling water to loosen the skins or use a swivel-bladed vegetable peeler.

9 large firm ripe peaches, (about 4 pounds), peeled, halved and pitted

2 pints blueberries (4 cups)

1/2 cup plus 2 teaspoons sugar (less if fruit is sweet)

3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon quick-cooking tapioca

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Brown Sugar Crisp Topping

Vanilla ice cream, for serving

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Set aside a 13x9-inch baking dish.

Cut the peaches into 1/2-inch-thick slices over the baking dish (to catch juices) and place in the dish along with the blueberries, sugar, tapioca, lemon juice, vanilla, nutmeg and cinnamon. Use your hands to toss until well mixed. Let rest 20 to 30 minutes, stirring once midway. Be sure the fruit is spread evenly. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the fruit. Place the pan on a large baking sheet or large sheet of heavy-duty foil to catch any bubbling juices.

Bake until the top is browned and the juices are bubbling, 60 to 65 minutes. Let cool at least 1 hour before serving. (Alternately, cool completely. The crisp can be refrigerated overnight, covered airtight. To serve, let come to room temperature, uncovered. Reheat, uncovered, in 350-degree oven until warm, about 12 minutes.) Serve warm with small scoop of ice cream.

8 to 10 servings. Each of 10 servings, without ice cream: 384 calories; 40 mg sodium; 25 mg cholesterol; 16 grams fat; 6 grams saturated fat; 61 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 3.90 grams fiber.

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Harvey's Sauce

Active Work and Total Preparation Time: 15 minutes, plus 2 weeks standing

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