World on a Plate

Exploring culture. One plate at a time.

Category: Fruit

Winter Sunshine

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I got the blues thinking of the future, so I left off and made some marmalade. It’s amazing how it cheers one up to shred oranges and scrub the floor.

~D.H. Lawrence

I love citrus. A large bright family that includes sweet and sour oranges, lemons, limes, citrons, pomelos, grapefruit, tangerines, clementines (Pixies!) and kumquats (ok technically not but we all think it.) Is there any other fruit that can make you feel so happy? Is there another that can come along and enliven a winter dish of beets or simple pasta.

Over the past month I was lucky enough to receive generous harvests from a friend’s backyard "orchard."  Darn those were good.  Eating them out of hand, fresh squeeze o.j. and then this cake that I made was the perfect compliment to an Easter dinner.

It’s such a simple and efficient recipe using every part of the orange–peel, pith, and flesh and when all is done there is just a hint of almond carried through the very moist and dense cake. Weeks after baking this cake for Easter dinner I learned that it’s very close in composition to a recipe from Claudia Rosen and Nigella Lawson.

What’s even better than the cake is the compote–really a quick route to homemade marmalade.  And really what is marmalade but jam with the peel. Ok that’s a bit offhand but for those that like the bright taste of orange on their toast or crumpets this part of the recipe is worth holding on to–and I promise it won’t be around long enough for it to spoil.

Orange Almond Cake

Adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe. And don’t we all know her recipes are thorough… follow this version you will have success.  Let’s just say her recipes assume a generous base of experience by the baker.

Ingredients

6 navel or other sweet oranges

Unsalted butter, room temperature, for pan

1/2 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for pan

1 3/4 cups finely ground blanched almonds (about 6 ounces)

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 large eggs

2 cups sugar

Instructions

Place whole unpeeled oranges in a large pot and cover with cold water. Over high heat bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer gently for 2 hours. Drain off the water and set the oranges aside to cool.

A few hours later:

Preheat over to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9" springform pan.  Cut the cooled oranges in half; remove any seeds. Place 7 halves into a food processor and pulse until almost pureed but still a little chunky.  There should be about 3 cups.

In a small bowl whisk the ground almonds, flour, baking powder and salt together.  In an electric mixer bowl with the whisk attachment beat the eggs with 1 cup sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy.  Stir in orange puree until just combined.  Stir in flour mixture.   Pour into prepared springform pan.  Bake for about 1 hour or until a knife comes out clean from the center.  Cool completely.

Prepare orange marmalade compote:

Chop the remaining 5 orange halves into 1/2" pieces. Place in bowl.  In a medium sized saucepan combine remaining cup sugar with 3/4 cup water.  Bring to a boil until sugar is dissolved.

Add the chopped oranges and reduce heat to medium.  Simmer this mixture gently until the liquid has evaporated and thickens into a syrup about 25 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.

To serve:

arrange chopped oranges and pour any remaining syrup over top of cake. Cut into wedges. Can be stored up to two days in the refrigerator.

Pocket Citrus

            Kumquats_avuillon

"You’ll find that one part’s sweet and one part’s tart: say where the sweetness or the sourness start."

Tony Harrison, ‘A Kumquat for John Keats, 1981

Saturday I fought the elements (hail, downpour, sideway’s rain, cold wind) working at the market. Everything’s a bit out of order as the wet winter weather is holding on longer than usual. One of the items that I was helping Will to sell were kumquats. And surprisingly, many San Franciscans had never tried one before. I found endless entertainment in daring people into trying these little berry shaped citrus fruits. Inevitably, after trying one they would end up buying a handful or two.
Native to Asia, the kumquat is said to take its name from the Chinese, chin kan, or golden orange. Although these citrus orbs are closely related to citrus species, kumquats belong to the genus Fortunella after a plant collector for the London Horticultural Society, Robert Fortune introduced them from Asia to Europe in 1846. Years later the small trees could be found presented to dinner guests in order that they could pick their dessert.

In contrast to citrus which has 8-15 sections, kumquats have only 3-6 sections; also the skin is thin, soft and edible. The fruit grows on an evergreen shrub or small tree with bright green pointed leaves and orange perfumed blossoms.  While there are four different kinds of kumquats, the one you see most often is the olive-shaped Nagami; it’s usually 1 to 2 inches long. This varitety is excellent for cooking with particularly jams as it is bitter.  The other is the egg-shaped Meiwa which is often referred to as the sweet kumquat. They have few seeds. Since they lack the tart-like quality that is ideal in cooking Meiwas are perfect for cold salads or for snacking on. It debuted in the States from Japan around 1910.

Available from December through May when buying kumquats look for a firm skin, bright color and unblemished skin. Grown in China, Southeast Asia, Japan, Europe (Corfu, Greece), and in the U.S. Southern California and Florida they are a bit of a indulgence costwise but some of you pay as much for that morning coffee.
Given its hardiness to weather conditions kumquats make for good hybirds. Mandarinquat is the marriage of mandarin orange and kumquat; it has an edible rind and a sour inside. This can be eaten as is or used as an edible garnish. And when a Mexican lime and a kumquat get together you have a limequat, often see as a a pickling or for a tasty marmalade for crumpets or grilled toast.

Aside from the simple joy you’ll discover of popping the delights into your mouth there are many ways to experiment with this fruit. Candied kumquats make an great decoration and topping for cakes or as pour a kumquat-caramel syrup over fresh vanilla bean ice cream or how about as a main course as offered by Jean Georges Vongerichten in his Spice-Rubbed Chicken with Lemongrass dressing, unexpected spicy and sweet. A homemade liqueur of infused vodka from kumquats; a riff on the tomato themed Catalan toast replaces the tomato pulp with a mash of butter and kumquats or as they do in China where the fruit is preserved in salt and then the salted kumquats along with a few teaspoons of the brine and some hot water is offered as a remedy for sore throats.

The chocolate-obsessed pastry chef Marcel Desaulniers (he’s sexy with his East Coast accent with a hint of Southern) features a Ginger Macadamia Nut Cake with a chocolate kumquat mousse filling in one of his many cookbooks. While the cake and the elegant filling are an inspired meeting the mousse can sing all on its own.

Chocolate Kumquat Mousse

from Death by Chocolate Cakes by Marcel Desaulniers

1/2 pound small fresh kumquats, washed and dried

1 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup heavy cream

4 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate, coarsely chopped and melted

Trim about 1/4 inch from each end of the kumquats. Cut each kumquat into 1/4 -inch-thick slices. (The 1/2 pound should yield about 1 1/2 cups sliced.) Pick out and discard the occasional seed from the kumquat slices. Set aside.

Heat 1/4 cup of the sugar and 1/2 cup water in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. When hot, stir to dissolve the sugar. Bring to a boil. Add the sliced kumquats and stir to incorporate. Bring to a boil again; then adjust the heat to allow the mixture to cook at a slow boil for 12 minutes until the kumquat slices are tender and sweet. Strain the kumquats and discard the cooking syrup. Transfer the kumquat slices to a baking sheet or large plate and spread evenly. Place, uncovered, in the refrigerator to cool.

Finely chop the remaining kumquats with a cook’s knife. Set aside while preparing the mousse.

Place 1 cup heavy cream and the remaining 1/4 cup sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a balloon whip. Whisk on medium-high for 2 minutes until firm, but not stiff, peaks form. Add about 3/4 cup of the whipped cream to the bowl of melted unsweetened chocolate, and use a rubber spatula to fold together until thoroughly combined. Add the combined whipped cream and chocolate to the remaining whipped cream, and use a rubber spatula until thoroughly combined. Transfer 1/4 cup of chocolate mousse to a pastry bag fitted with a medium star tip. Add the chopped kumquats to the remaining mousse, and use a spatula to fold them in together until the mixture is thoroughly combined. Refrigerate the mousse in the pastry bag. Pipe into serving dishes or champagne flutes and chill until ready to serve.

Image: A. Vuillon/Art.com

Paper Chef #9 – Sweet Heat

Pprchef9

This is my first effort at Paper Chef.  If you aren’t familiar, essentially it’s similar to Iron Chef in that the ingredients are nominated and then participants have the weekend to pull an original recipe together. 

This round requests that, dried chili peppers, edible flowers, peaches and a local ingredient appear in the recipe.  The only non-local ingredient in this recipe was a pinch of salt and organic sugar (Paraguay). My choice of local ingredient is Pt. Reyes Blue Cheese.  Everything is better with this cheese. The locally-grown variety of peach is Indian Blood Red.

I’ve been experimenting now with chili peppers for about two years. My fascination deepened on a culinary vacation to Oaxaca. This simple syrup was a idea that came to me late one night after reading Southwestern cookbooks. Thanks go out out to Owen at Tomatilla and the Paper Chef event who have provided the inspiration for bringing the mix of ingredients for this dessert.  It has a mellow, sweet heat that is sure to please.

Sweet Summer Heat

Serves 2

Pepper Pulp

1 dried Ancho chile  (make sure it’s pliable & about 4-5" in length)
2 cups water

Simple Syrup

1 cup water

1/2 cup organic sugar

1/2 cup fresh raspberries

Other

1 firm-ripe large peach

1/8 cup Pt. Reyes Blue Cheese

Organic Dried Lavender

Method

Simmer chile in 2 cups water in a medium saucepan, uncovered. Turning the chile over once or twice, until softened, about 15 minutes. Transfer chile to a cutting board. The pepper "broth" can be saved for another use or discarded.

When cool enough to handle, de-stem and de-seed chile. Now here’s the patience part. You want to separate the pulp from the skin. Take a sharp paring knife and carefully scrape the inside pulp from the skin.  Put this in a prep bowl and cover to keep moist.

Ancho-Raspberry Simple Syrup

Transfer chile pulp to a clean pot. Add sugar, 1/2 cup raspberries, a pinch of salt, and remaining cup water. Bring to a boil over moderate heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Remove syrup from heat and cover pan with lid, then let steep, covered, 20 minutes.

Pour syrup through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, pressing gently on solids. Careful you don’t want the solids; toss the solids.

Assembly

Halve peach lengthwise, pit, and cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Divide, along with remaining cup raspberries, among 2 shallow bowls or plates with recess.  Spoon syrup over fruit. Sprinkle with crumbles of blue cheese and lavender.

Jewel of the Incas

Cherimoya Periodically I work at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market.  Although the work can be at times physically demanding I like talking to San Franciscans about what they are cooking or offer simple preparation tips. This weekend I was a "helper" to the "avocado man"–as the customers call him. 

The avocado season has yielded a large crop this year so the season more or less didn’t come to an end.  In addition to Gwen avocados Brokaw offered Bearss limes, Eureka lemons, Valencia oranges, guavas and cherimoyas. 

Based on the reactions of serious cherimoya lovers at the market–including one 30-ish looking woman who literally jumped up and down as she recounted a year of feasting on cherimoyas in Chile–I had to see what the I had been missing out on.

The fruit won’t win any beauty contests.  The heart-shaped fruit is wrapped in a skin that looks a bit reptilian. Close cousins in this fruit family include U.S. native fruit paw paw; soursop from West Indies; sweetsop (sugar apple) from Latin America and a hybrid of the cherimoya and the sweetsop called atemoya.

The name cherimoya translates in the Incan language as "cold breast." Grown around the world the fruit is native to the Andes region particularly Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia.  The Incans enjoyed this fruit so much they called it the "fruit of the gods." Cherimoyas began cultivation in the area between San Francisco to Santa Barbara when  "avocado root rot" attacked local groves and an alternative crop was needed in the temperate coastal climate.

Growing this fruit is very labor intensive as the flowers need to be hand-pollinated with an artist’s brush (!), harvested-individually and stored with great care to prevent rot.  So you can expect to pay a high price at the market running anywhere from $6-$9/lb. The California growing season begins in mid-January and ends in June.  In the U.K. and Australia this fruit is  commonly referred to as custard apple, yet another reference to its texture.

Called the "tree of ice cream" for it’s flavor profile hinting at it’s custard-like texture and rich flavor.  It becomes ripe over several days at room temperature.  When the flesh gives when you lightly press it should be eaten right away or it can be tucked into the fridge for a brief holding period of two to four days.

The fruit is very digestible.  In fact in my research I found that in Japan the fruit is given as a gift to a sick person.

To eat simply cut the fruit in half and use a spoon to eat the flesh. The skin and black seeds are not edible. To prepare for use in recipes, cut the top and the bottom of the fruit off and slice off the outer skin; slice or cut into medium-sized pieces.

Mark Twain once declared the taste is "deliciousness itself".  An online guide to growing cherimoya in New Zealand suggests that cherimoyas taste like a combining of the "exotic flavours of pineapple, papaya, passionfruit, banana, mango and lemon into one luscious delight." I would say that these are apt descriptions as my first taste was something akin to eating an exquisite ambrosia.

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Buy cherimoyas online @ Melissa’s 3 pounds for $29.00

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Pear-a-dise #2

Redbart_1 Cultivated since before the time of the Greeks, there are now over 5,000 varieties of pears. Three common types of pears are grown throughout the U.S.–the “Common” or European pear (pyrus communis), the Oriental pear (pyrus serotina), and the Asian pear (pyrus pyrifolia). Throughout the U.S. we find Asian varieties called 20th Century, Shinseiki, Korean Giant, Shinko, Chojuro, Niitaka and European varieties such as Bartlett, Bosc, D’Anjou, Seckel, Magness, Maxine, Moonglow, Comice. US production comes from states in the Northwest, plus New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and California. Imports come from South America, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa. The European category tends to have a buttery smooth and sweet flavor; Asian varieties tend to be crisp and depending on the particular variety can range in flavor from mild to tart to all types in between.

Originally grown in Russia’s Caucasus Mountains, pears spread over time to locales as diverse as China, Chile, South Africa, France, Australia, and the United States. By the Dark Ages, the fruit had become a delicacy mainly reserved for aristocrats and clergy. According to the The Great Book of Pears the Rousselet de Reims was Louis XIV’s favored variety and the court at Versailles delighted in pears.

According to Whole Health MD, Bartlett pears (called Williams outside of the U.S.) comprise 65% of all U.S. commercial production. The Bartlett pear came into existence in Berkshire, England in the 17th century, and pear seedlings came to America with the early colonists. Pears were later brought west in the California Gold Rush.

Bartletts are a summer occurrence with Anjou readily available during the winter. According to a Aug/Sept 2002 issue of Mother Earth News, “Almost all pears sold in grocery stores today are heirlooms, with their origins in 15th- through. 19th-century England, France and Germany. Bartlett, Comice, Bosc, Seckel and Anjou are still popular because they have terrific flavor and melting flesh. A buttery feel on the tongue and yielding tissue combine to create this sensation.

Determining ripeness can be a tricky thing. Bosc, Anjou and Comice pears don’t change color when ripe. Bartletts turn from green to yellow to announce its readiness. The Pear Bureau Northwest suggests that you apply gentle thumb pressure near the base of the stem. If it gives slightly, it’s ready to eat. If you’re not ready to eat that pear, put it in the refrigerator. If it isn’t ripe, leave at room temperature checking on it frequently. The fruit will also exude a fragrance when ripe. Pears are available year-round but best from September through February.

Brown-skinned Bosc pears are terrific for roasting due to their low moisture content. The end result is a pear that reduces and caramelizes in its juices. Asian pears also cook well, retaining their crunchy fresh texture when you cook them. There are many ways to serve a pear from drinks, dinner and dessert.

One of my favorite salads is a combination of spinach, sliced pear, blue cheese and toasted walnuts. The subtle sweetness of the pear contrasts perfect with the sharp tang of the blue cheese. However, the pear with young pecorino, black walnuts and honey I had in the hills south of Sienna–a dish so straightforward and too simple s to stand as strong as it does in my mind.

New York’s Craft serves up a ‘Craft Cocktail’—freshly diced pear macerated in Belle de Brillet, a blend of Brillet Cognac and the essence of Williams pears (Poires Williams) grown in the Alsace region of France. Twenty-two pears go into the making of each bottle.

One of my favorite jellies is Napa Valley’s A Perfect Pear’s Cinnamon Pear Jelly. A family recipe the jelly is made with Bartlett pears and has a note of cinnamon. Other products from this specialty food producer include a pear balsamic vinegar and a pear chipolte grill sauce. Pears and cheese are good companions.

Caprial Pence recommends pairing Comice, a creamy-textured, very sweet pear, with Stilton cheese and ruby port; the mellow and juicy Anjou with a soft mild goat cheese and Sauvignon Blanc; and Bosc, a hard, almost crispy pear, with aged white cheddar and Cabernet Sauvignon.

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Pear-a-dise

Woowoo It is, in my view, the duty of an to be crisp and crunchable, but a pear should have such a texture as leads to silent consumption. Edward Bunyard, ‘The Anatomy of Dessert’

My paternal grandfather is in his mid-90s. While at this age he unequivocally states every year that all he needs for Christmas is his health, family, grandkids, and great grandkids it seems to me that everyone deserves something a bit special.

This year I am gifting him with a box of the ultimate in pear pear-adise–Royal Riviera Pears from Harry &; David. This pear is one of the finer delights in life—it’s also the signature fruit from the 80-year-old gourmet food and gift basket company based in Oregon. The catalog states that they are "so big and juicy, you eat them with a spoon. Today the cataloger ships over 10,000 tons of pears from their network of family farms.

The company began in the middle of the Great Depression in an effort to save the family orchard. The brothers packaged the pears into gift boxes, got into the truck and drove south to the City by the bay to sell to business leaders. The first catalog was mailed in 1934 and shortly after they began the first ‘fruit of the month’ subscription program. Now, according to Catalog Age roughly 42 million catalogs a year are mailed and each order averages $130 due to a focus on business gifts and fruit-of-the-month programs; Today the company is forging ahead in using sustainable agriculture in its Oregon orchards, from water conservation to composting to natural pest control.

Image: Harry & David; Royal Riviera Pears

Fuyu For You

Fuyu

When I tell friends that I’ve never eaten a persimmon they looked at me in shock. How is that possible. Well I’ve had REPUBLIC OF TEA Persimmon White Tea–does this count? My lack of exposure to “the apple of the Orient” has now been corrected.

The persimmon (Diospyros kaki) is a native of China, and is widely cultivated throughout Asia. Japan, where it is very popular, it is called kaki. Aside from being very tasty, persimmons are also nutritious as they are a good source of fiber, vitamin C and beta carotene. The trick is NOT to eat unripe fruit. I made that mistake and it’s what I can only call bitter and well, fuzzy, furry even. Turns out I ate a Hachiya variety. After some research I found that this variety is rich in tannins, which are also found in red wine and tea. I persevered through this first taste and I have been rewarded.

China is the largest producer of persimmons, followed by Brazil, Japan, and Korea. The United States grows a comparatively smaller crop with most of the domestic persimmon crop coming from California. In Japan, New Year’s celebration food includes dried persimmons used as ritual decoration for the making of mochi, bun-shaped rice cakes made from steamed glutinous rice.

The acorn-shaped Hachiya (pronounced ‘hi-CHEE-ah’) is good for baking cookies and cakes. Keep in mind that it can take a few weeks for the large fruit to reach full sweetness. When they feel soft and squishy they are ready for use. To use in recipes place the Hachiya persimmons stem end down on a cutting board. Slice them in half, then scoop out the pulp. If your recipe calls for puree, place the pulp in a blender or food processor and pulse the blade until the pulp is smooth. I have used my potato masher with great success.

Tony Tantillo has a great tip for speeding up the ripening and eliminating most of the tannins: Place the fruit in the freezer for twenty-four hours. Remove from the freezer and defrost. The fruit will soften so that you can use much as you would a perfectly ripe persimmon. So keeping this trick in mind storing persimmons at room temperature is best.

The smaller, squatter Fuyu (pronounced ‘FOO-you’) it is crisp, lightly sweet and crunchy, like a Fuji apple. According to Alice Waters in Chez Panisse Fruit Hachiya production has been in decline and Fuyu has been on the rise, mostly due to demand from Southeast Asian immigrants. This variety can be eaten as soon as it is picked. There’s a rocket salad with persimmons, pine nuts and pecorino on the café menu this week that sounds delicious. If one was to pair this starter with the grilled Hoffman Farm chicken breast with butternut squash, artichokes and potato has and pancetta–all would be right.

While you can just eat them fresh, pureed persimmon mixed with yogurt and honey for breakfast will brighten your morning.

The best thing about persimmons is that they have a unique flavor. Peak persimmon season runs from mid-October through January. So you have another month for fresh tastes. But remember for eating out of hand and in raw form—it’s Fuyu for you–and me.

Persimmon Wine Recipe

Persimmon Products (dried and frozen persimmons)

Photo:  GardenAdventures.com

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Fertile Fruit

Pomegranate

Buy the pomegranate when it laughs —
its laughter reveals the secret of its seeds.
The garden answers the laughing pomegranate with bloom;
In companionship with the friends of God
you will bloom as they do.

–Rumi

Rich garnet-colored pomegranate juice is seductive. Some might even say it’s not worth the trouble due to the work involved breaking through the leathery skin and then tearing through the bitter membrane to find your reward—pockets of seeds containing juice. With patience and effort reward is close. But we are as a culture don’t have a lot of experience with this particular fruit so maybe this is why most pomegranates wind up as decorative accents in wreaths and holiday centerpieces. Today, with freshly bottled pomegranate juices readily available we can easily endeavor to experiment with the cooking of Armenia, Georgia, Morocco and Iran where the practice of pairing meat and fruit in a meal is common.

The tree and it’s fruit is Native to Iran and popular throughout the Middle East and as far as Northern India. Since ancient times it has been widely cultivated in the drier parts of Southeast Asia, Malaya, the East Indies and tropical Africa. Spanish settlers introduced the tree into California in 1769. Up until recently it has been grown in the U.S. primarily for the Latin population particularly for chiles en nogada, a stuffed poblano chiles with walnut sauce that is served on September 16th to commemorate Mexican independence from Spain. The pomegranate seeds are used to symbolize the red in the Mexican flag.

Pomegranates, the name comes from the French “pomme garnete” or “seeded apple” have a wide cultural history. In Greek mythology, Hades, the god of the Underworld, kidnapped Zeus’s daughter, Persephone carrying her into the underworld. He offered her a pomegranate of which she ate a 6 pieces of the seeds. This action condemned her to spending half of the year with Pluto (winter) and half with the world of the living (summer). Religious scholars also now believe that it was a pomegranate, not an apple, which Eve was offered in the Garden of Eden. In Judaism, the pomegranate is a symbol of fertility and prosperity, relating to the first commandment of the Torah, to be fruitful and multiply. Pomegranates decorated the pillars of the Temple of King Solomon, and they still decorate the handles of Torah scrolls today. In Christian art they symbolize hope. In Arabic folklore and poetry, it is a symbol for the female breast. In modern Greece, they embody agatha, the good things of life. The red color, the resemblance of its juice to blood, and its many seeds link pomegranate to fertility in many cultures.

Many cultures such as the Middle and Near East, Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America have many uses for all parts of this fruit tree. The rind is used to produce an indelible dye, and the root, bark and flower, produce tannins for curing leather and medicines.

Pomegranate fruits are typically presented as a juice. If you can’t find the nifty new bottled juice called “Pom” you’ll need to work on your technique for prying one open. This is done by first cutting off the crown end; score the skin in quarters from top to bottom and break the sections apart; gently scoop the seed clusters into a bowl; remove any pith.

Alice Waters has a technique where you can break open the pomegranate underwater; the plump seeds will then sink to the bottom while the membrane and pith floats to the top. This also helps to prevent stains.

Photo: Purdue Horticultural Department

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