Strawberry-Hazelnut Baked Oatmeal

IMG_0663Spring was not kind to the strawberry farmers of the Midwest, this year. When it wasn’t dark and rainy, it was unseasonably cool for longer than usual. Not to be outdone, summer arrived pretty much right on time and the heat kicked in very quickly. All of this led to the strawberries being, at first, “behind schedule” since they rely on plenty of warm sunshine for ripening. Then, it meant a very short season since strawberries don’t like summer heat. Ah well, you can’t expect every season to be perfect every year.

James and I are hoping to do our annual strawberry picking, this weekend — assuming there will be any berries left. Last year, you might recall, we were once again in Wisconsin enjoying berry bliss. This year, however, we’re planning to stay in Illinois and hopefully pick berries that are either grown organically or at least grown on a farm that promises to use minimal pesticides and practice Integrated Pest Management.

Growing strawberries without the use of chemicals and pesticides is not entirely easy and takes a considerable amount of extra work on the part of the grower. So it’s no wonder that most farmers don’t attempt it; it represents a considerable financial risk for the them. Still, strawberries aren’t just well-known for their terrific taste and for being the gateway to summer fruits; they’re also notorious for being one of the most pesticide-laden fruits we can buy. That’s why we’re hoping to support those farmers, this year, who are not only making do with a less-than-stellar growing season, but are also doing their best to raise the healthiest, strongest, tastiest strawberries possible without the aid of chemicals and other poisons.

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Today’s recipe is one of my favorite versions of baked oatmeal we’ve developed over the years (other baked oatmeal variations we’ve shared so far: Cherry-Almond, Pumpkin Pie, Amaretto-Pear, and certainly more to come later). One of the things I like best about summer fruits is slowly discovering the tastes and ingredients that best complement these seasonal treats. In putting together this recipe, for example, I paired strawberries with a few of their natural allies: hazelnuts and vanilla.

Let’s Talk Ingredients

Rolled Oats — They’re also known as “old-fashioned oats”. These are the thicker, heartier oats that take a little bit longer to cook than the quick-cooking type which are merely rolled paper thin so the cooking time is shortened. While you could use quick-cooking oats, we prefer the texture rolled oats provide.

Hazelnuts — Like almost all other nuts, hazelnuts are a very healthy addition to your pantry. Eaten fresh or lightly toasted, their taste is unmistakable. We usually buy them raw which means that — after toasting them — I have to remove their papery brown skin unless I don’t mind it going into the recipe. A lot of recipe books I’ve used over the years say that you merely need to IMG_3683place the hazelnuts in a kitchen towel and rub them together to remove the skin all at once. I’ve never found this to be particularly effective (not to mention, it’s not fun fishing all of that hazelnut skin out of a towel and watching hazelnuts go rolling all over your kitchen floor). Fortunately, the skin on hazelnuts is highly edible and most people agree that it doesn’t really detract from their taste at all. Since this recipe calls for only 1/4 cup, however, I usually just rub the cooled, toasted hazelnuts between my thumb and index finger and the skin comes right off.

Strawberries — Most Americans have become so accustomed to supermarket culture they barely know what “strawberry season” is. Walk into any supermarket produce section even in the darkest days of January and you’re likely to still find fresh strawberries in those little plastic clam shells — giving both the impression that strawberries are grown year round and that they’re hardly anything special. It’s time to wake up and smell the freshness, friends!

Not only are strawberries a special, once-a-year thing, there are also many, many varieties out there — each IMG_0670with their own unique taste and shape. All you’re likely to find in the supermarket are the bloated, picked-before-ripe variety. Instead, why not go to the farmer’s market or your local U-Pick Farm to discover what strawberries are really all about? While you’re at it, you could get enough so you can freeze them at peak flavor and enjoy them for the rest of the year, totally skipping the whole plastic-tasting supermarket strawberries!

For this recipe, we used a variety of strawberry called Jewel. I love their perfect little shape and their sweet, delicate, almost floral taste. We garnished the oatmeal with some Jewel strawberries we bought fresh at the farmer’s market while the mashed strawberries were from our freezer from last year’s efforts.

Lowfat Vanilla Yogurt — I discussed in a previous post how we sweeten and flavor plain yogurt to avoid excess sugar, artificial flavorings, artificial sweeteners, etc. If you would like to make your own, sweetened and flavored yogurt, read this post for some suggestions.

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Strawberry-Hazelnut Baked Oatmeal

A Tales of Thyme & Place Original
Serves 4-6

    IMG_36882 cups rolled oats
    1/3 cup granulated sugar
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    1/4 cup toasted hazelnuts, chopped finely
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1/8 teaspoon cardamom
    1 cup 1% lowfat milk
    1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
    1 large egg
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
    2 cups strawberries (fresh or frozen), mashed
    1 tablespoon maple syrup (or 1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar)
    1 cup lowfat vanilla yogurt (see above)
    additional fresh strawberries for garnish (optional)

    Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Coat an 8-inch square baking pan with cooking spray.

    In a medium bowl, combine the oats, sugar, baking powder, chopped hazelnuts, salt, and cardamom. In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, applesauce, egg, and vanilla.

    Pour the milk mixture into the oat mixture, stir to combine. Pour into the prepared baking dish and spread until evenly distributed; dot the top with butter. Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes.

    Meanwhile, combine the strawberries and maple syrup (or sugar) in a medium bowl; set aside.

    Once oatmeal has baked, allow it to cool for 5 minutes before slicing. Placing a slice on each plate, top slices with the strawberry mixture; top with the vanilla yogurt, garnish with fresh strawberries.

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Fiber-filled oats, hazelnutty goodness, and the cheery taste of ripe strawberries — what a great way to start the day in early summer or any time of year! Putting this oatmeal together is relatively simple and — with a little prep work — it could even be prepared on a busy weekday morning (if you mix the dry and wet ingredients separately the night before). The leftovers can be stored covered in the fridge for 2-3 days (topped or not topped) and reheated for a quick breakfast (I happen to like it served cold as well). Our favorite way to serve it for weekend brunch is to accompany it with a fried egg and a wee side of bacon.

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~ by Jason on June 23, 2011.

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