Special equipment: 1 ovenproof pie dish approximately 8-inches diameter by 2-inches deep (approximately 1 1/4 quarts capacity)
If I had to choose one thing that cooking could not make better, I'd have put good money that it would have been a bad (as in unripe and tasteless) strawberry. I'd almost be embarrassed even owning up to trying to improve it, were it not for the fact that I read an article by Simon Hopkinson, a revered British chef, in which he advised using said strawberries in a pie. So I did. Well, that's not quite true: I am lazier than him, so I made a crumble. I don't know what, how or why it happened, but this is a crumble of dreams. The oven doesn't, as you'd think, turn the berries into a red-tinted mush of slime, but into berry-intense bursts of tender juiciness. This is nothing short of alchemy: you take the vilest, crunchiest supermarket strawberries, top them with an almondy, buttery rubble, bake and turn them into the taste of English summer on a cold day. Naturally, serve with lashings of cream: I regard this is obligatory not optional.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Put the hulled strawberries into your pie dish (I use a round one) and sprinkle over them the sugar, almond meal, and vanilla extract. Give the dish a good shake or two to mix the ingredients.
Now for the crumble topping: put the flour and baking powder in a mixing bowl and rub in the cold, diced butter between thumb and fingers (or in a free standing mixer).When you've finished with it, it should resemble rough, pale oatmeal. Stir in the sliced almonds and turbinado sugar with a fork.
Tip this over the strawberry mixture, covering the strawberries in an even layer and giving a bit of a press in at the edges of the dish. Set the dish on a cookie sheet and bake in the oven for 30 minutes, by which time the crumble topping will have darkened to a pale gold and some pink-red juices will be seeping and bubbling out at the edges.
Let stand for 10 minutes before serving, and be sure to put a pitcher of chilled heavy cream on the table alongside.
The crumble can be assembled 1 day ahead. Cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator until needed. Bake as directed in recipe, but allowing extra 5 to 10 minutes cooking time and check crumble is piping hot in the centre. Crumble topping can be made and frozen in resealable plastic bags, for up to 3 months. Sprinkle topping direct from freezer over fruit, breaking up large lumps with your hands. The assembled but unbaked crumble can be frozen, wrapped in a double layer of plastic wrap and a layer of aluminum foil, for up to 3 months. Defrost for 24 hours in fridge and bake as above.
From NIGELLA KITCHEN by Nigella Lawson. Copyright 2010 Nigella Lawson. Published by Hyperion. Available wherever books are sold. All Rights Reserved.
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