Baked Oatmeal with Blueberries and Walnuts

June 2, 2013 § Leave a comment

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I have a thing for cookbooks. Most definitely not a problem, but certainly a thing. I’ve been involved in the book industry since finishing my college degree, right from a torturous few months working for Borders, through becoming an editor. Needless to say, I love reading, but I love books just as much, if not even more. Whimsical or classic cover designs, the promise held by a tight, uncracked spine, or the love inherent in a browning, well thumbed tome. And of course that smell – of the fresh ink and sharp clean edges of an untouched new title, or of the dusty histories all around in a used book store.

I suspect that without the lure of cookbooks, I might not have become a cook. They were my gateway drug to this wonderful world and still, when cooking becomes a chore or I get stuck in a pasta-pesto rut, an hour or so flicking through glossy pictures or passionate explanations is usually enough to bust through the ennui and get my butt in the kitchen. It was while working in said terrible job at Borders that I took advantage of my staff discount to bring home a copy of Sally Schneider’s A New Way to Cook. It was my first real cookbook, and from it I made a Szechuan-pepper crusted steak and what I thought were chips in UK parlance and turned out to be chips of the US variety, transatlantic culinary translations haunting my cooking experiences from the very start. But errors aside, it was a good meal, and Nigella came next, and Nigel not long after, and it all snowballed from there.

Nowadays the books come in and out of use depending on my moods, fads, and the season. I love discovering anew one tome or another that has languished at the bottom of the pile: flicking through brings a journey through memories of past meals, other kitchens and homes and countries. Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Every Day is a book that never spends long out of rotation. Last week we had orzo salad with broccoli pesto, muesli with marcona almonds and the wonderful baked oatmeal. I remember the oatmeal recipe doing the blog rounds when Heidi’s book was first published but I don’t recall why I didn’t immediately start making it once a week. My bad. I’m here to persuade you not to make the same mistake.

The dish is simple: line a well-buttered casserole with a layers of banana and blueberries (or huckleberries should you be so lucky), top with cinnamon-dusted oats and walnuts, pour over a milk and maple mix, top with more blueberries and nuts and melted butter. You end up with something that’s halfway between a flapjack and oatmeal, a golden, crunchy top hiding the softer milky interior. I made ours the night before and just popped individual servings into the microwave for a couple of minutes, before pouring over a good glug of raw milk (our current obsession). The dish would make a great do-ahead recipe for a brunch, and you can play around with the fruit and nut combinations – I’m thinking some sort of cherry and almond version might feature in our lives this week while the cherries are at their glorious peak. I know it’s a bit against the wholesome focus of Heidi’s cooking, but I’m sure a handful of chocolate chips wouldn’t go amiss in the right setting too. I look forward to a future day when I come across that recipe for the first time in a year or two, and it reminds me of slightly bleary eyed breakfasts in the late spring of 2013, when my little boy was just learning to eat his own oatmeal, and we all had blueberry handprints on our clothes.

Baked Oatmeal with Blueberries and Walnuts

Yields 6-8 hearty servings (would easily serve more as part of a larger brunch spread)

2 cups/200 g rolled oats (not instant)
1/2 cup/60 g chopped walnut pieces
1/3 cup/60 g sugar or maple syrup
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
Scant 1/2 tsp fine-grain salt
2 cups/475 ml milk
1 large egg
3 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 ripe bananas, sliced into 1/2-inch/1cm pieces
1 1/2 cups/185 g blueberries, huckleberries or other mixed berries

Preheat the oven to 375F/190C and make sure there is a rack in the top third of the oven. Generously butter the inside of a baking dish, roughly 8inch/20cm square (I used a smaller rectangle dish).

In a small bowl, mix together the oats, half the walnuts, the sugar, if using, the baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.

Arrange the bananas in a single layer in the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle two-thirds of the berries over the top. Cover the fruit with the oat mixture.

In the now empty bowl that had the oats, whisk together the maple syrup, if using, the milk, egg, half of the butter, and the vanilla.

Drizzle the milk mixture over the oats as evenly as possible. Gently give the baking dish a couple of taps on the countertop to make sure the milk moves through the oats. Scatter the remaining berries and remaining walnuts across the top. If you are making the dish ahead and planning to reheat it in servings, drizzle the remaining melted butter over the top now too. If you are going to eat the dish immediately or reheat in the same dish in the oven, wait to add the butter just before serving.

Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until the top is nicely golden and the oat mixture has set. Remove from the oven and either cool completely, cover well and keep in the fridge overnight, or let cool for a few minutes, drizzle the remaining melted butter on the top and serve. Sprinkle with a bit more sugar or drizzle with maple syrup if you want it a bit sweeter. We like a glug of milk over it too.

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