Nature is amazing. A big statement? Well, yes, but what else can you say? The whole planet is filled with natural marvels and miracles. Some are epic and majestic and obvious, others are minuscule and easily missed. For me, I find that growing things is an incredible reminder of how powerful and determined nature can be. Watching a garden grow, or even a single plant, is humbling and provides a real sense of what it takes for the things around us to come to be.It’s so easy to forget such things as you push your cart through the grocery store, worn out from a day at work, passively ‘hunting’ for food. It’s all too easy to just drop things in the cart, push through the check out and stack things up in the fridge. If your fridge is anything like ours, inevitably, things get pushed to the back, forgotten or ignored and sometimes wasted. It’s a sad moment when you pull a plastic basket of once juicy, ruby hued strawberries out of the back of your fridge and they are shrunken, foliage rusty, a darkened brown-red, no shine, no life left to them. It’s refrigerator discoveries like this that prove the value of growing your own. Now, I’m not suggesting that we all become fully self sufficient, leave our comfortable urban dwellings and embark on agricultural adventures with multi-acre gardens and never shuffle through a grocery store again. Not at all. But if you ever have the space, time and inclination to grow something you can eat, do it.
We have a bed of strawberries in our back yard. It’s a beautiful thing. Strawberry plants are lovely little things. There are many varieties, but almost all of them operate the same way: they produce a deep green tuft of saw-toothed leaves that send out ‘runners’, slim secondary stems that grow many times the length of the plant, spreading out and setting down on the soil. Every so often along the length of the runner, they put down roots and start a whole new plant and then that plant sends out runners and so on. This network of plants means that your strawberry patch can multiply in size over a single season. The little emerald tufts grow and soon pale pink or white flowers emerge, eventually giving way to tiny green fruits covered in closely packed seeds. As that fruit grows the sees spread and the fruit begins to blush and grow. At their prime they are as you know them from the grocery store: firm, deeply red and shiny – the garden’s sweetest jewels.
A bumper crop of strawberries can be put to any number of applications: sweets like strawberry banana bread, or lemon strawberry shortcakes or in more savory dishes like a bright summery spinach salad, but my personal favourite combination is strawberry with rhubarb. Rhubarb is another garden winner who can be depended on year after year for it’s firm, tart stalks (never the leaves!) for pies, jams and chutneys. In the recipe below, strawberries and rhubarb are briefly stewed together to create a tarty-sweet compote to nestle by mounded spoonful into these delicious (and somewhat nutritious) nut crusts. A cloud of tangy honey-vanilla sour cream adds the final ethereal touch.
Strawberry Rhubarb Tarts with Almond Crusts
This recipe has three components: the nut crusts, the fruit filling and the vanilla scented sour cream topping.
The crust recipe here is an adaptation from a recipe in Bon Appetit Magazine. The original recipe can be seen here.
2 tsp softened butter (or margarine) + more for the pan
1 ½ C almonds
½ C shredded coconut (unsweetened)
3 Tbsp agave syrup or honey
2 Tbsp whole wheat flour + more for the pan
½ tsp cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 350°
Butter and flour the muffin tin. Set aside.
Pulse the almonds and coconut in a food processor until very coarsely chopped. Add the butter, agave (or honey), flour and cinnamon. Pulse until the mix looks like a coarse dough.
Divide dough into 12 balls and press each one into the cups of a 12 -cup muffin pan (greased and floured), lining the bottom and sides evenly to make a little tart shell.
Bake for 8-10 minutes until they are a deep golden brown and their surface is dry looking. The bottoms may puff slightly, press them down while they are still warm.
Allow to cool completely before filling.
For the strawberry rhubarb filling:
1 ½ C trimmed, chopped strawberries
1 ½ C trimmed, chopped rhubarb
½ C sugar
1 tsp very finely grated lemon zest
Cook the fruit and sugar over medium heat until very soft and thickened, about 15 minutes. Stir in zest. Allow to cool, spoon into nut crusts. Garnish with the vanilla scented sour cream.
For the vanilla scented sour cream:
1 C sour cream
1 tsp vanilla bean paste (or the scrapings of a vanilla pod)
1 tsp agave syrup (or honey)
Mix all ingredients well. Dollop onto tarts. Enjoy!