Summer Crisps: Baking with the best of the season

It's the middle of summer and I feel a certain pressure to cook and eat as many of the delicious foods in season as possible. I don't want September to roll around harboring regrets of not having eaten enough tomatoes, corn, and peaches at the height of their ripe deliciousness. With your own garden or your neighbor's garden or the farmer's markets brimming with the fruits of summer, this is the time to make fresh, quick meals. This means tossing together a bountiful salad for lunch, a quick veggie pasta for dinner, or getting into the habit of topping every breakfast with fresh seasonal fruit. I am obsessed with eating as much of the summer harvest as I can before crawling into the season of root vegetables.

While the heat of the day is not conducive to turning on the oven, I still do it—and have been called a one trick pony with my summer desserts. I gladly accept the title and am willing to turn the oven on to pull together some combination of sweet fruit or even vegetables, toss them with some sugar and spices, a touch of lemon juice and a sprinkle of flour to hold it all together, and top with a crunchy crumble mixture to make the perfect summer crisp—a pie without the additional work of making and rolling out a crust.

The topping for any crisp is easy. It can and should be made in bulk so that a large container can be stored in the fridge or freezer and sprinkled on any combination of fruit throughout the summer. And if there's leftover topping by the time the calendar indicates it's apple season, well, then you're one step ahead of the game for whipping together the first apple crisp to proudly serve when the leaves begin to turn. The topping is a simple blend of sugar, butter, flour, oats, and nuts. Although I like the flavor of walnuts with most crisps, feel free to swap them out for pecans, almonds, or even sunflower seeds.

Next, choose fresh fruit or combinations of fruit to layer below the blanket of crisp topping. Nectarines and blueberries, blackberries and apricots, a medley of all the fresh berries you can possibly gather, or a straight on one-fruit crisp of your liking—delicious, juicy peaches perhaps. Toss them together with some ground cinnamon for flavor. Or, think a little bit outside of the box. Perhaps some grated fresh ginger, a dash of cardamom, a pinch of nutmeg, a sprinkle of lavender, fresh thyme, or Earl Grey tea leaves if you're feeling daring.

While I was mulling over the use of various herbs and spices to create an interesting flavor profile, I realized I was leaving out the mighty vegetable in my quest to make a great summer crisp. Crisps can also be savory. Corn, zucchini, and tomatoes baked with a savory-cheesy topping sounded appealing, but wait, I wanted to stick to sweet summer desserts. Could that be possible with say, just zucchini? There is no shortage of zucchini this time of year and since it is so cheap and plentiful, it's worth experimenting with. In this instance, I chopped it up, tossed it with the aforementioned ingredients, topped it with the couple of handfuls of my stash of crisp topping and threw it into the oven. I wasn't sure how it would turn out but the stakes were low; zucchini is so inexpensive and making the crisp is not time intensive at all. I waited for it to cool, scooped it out onto a plate, took a healthy bite and lo and behold, it worked. The combination of flavors almost reminded me of apples and the texture was perfect. I began to think of other combinations for this summer vegetable and confirmed how versatile a summer crisp actually is.

So head out to your garden or the farmer's market, grab a few summer ingredients that pique your curiosity and mix away. I can almost guarantee that whatever combination you come up with will work out—and you'll be doing your part to enjoy the best of this summer's harvest.

Crisp Topping:

1/2 cup unbleached flour

1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

2 ounces (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

1/2 cup old fashioned rolled oats

1/2 cup coarsely chopped almonds

In a bowl or a food processor, combine flour and sugar. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter or using the processor until it looks like small crumbly peas.

Toss into a bowl and mix in the oats and almonds until combined.

Note: Multiply this recipe and store in the freezer or fridge to be used throughout the summer.

Zucchini Crisp

2 1/2 pounds zucchini, thinly sliced into 1/8 wedges

3/4 cup light brown sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger (1" ginger, peeled and grated)

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

2 tablespoons unbleached flour

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 350.

In a bowl, toss together zucchini, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, flour, and lemon juice until well combine. Spread out into baking pan and dot with butter. Top evenly with one recipe of the crisp topping.

Bake for 45-50 minutes until topping is golden brown, the zucchini mixture bubbles and the zucchini is tender when pierced with a knife.

Swap out zucchini for any combination of fruit or fruit and zucchini and adjust cooking time accordingly.

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