Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Cooking with Fruit

Get creative with fruit this winter; it’s a healthier way to get a sugar high!

Fruit are good for us, storehouses of vitamins, minerals and plant phytochemicals they provide fiber and natural sugars to the body. But when there is a nip in the air like we have these days and one longs for warm comforting food, the same chilled fruit we loved in Summer inspires little desire – all that chewing is too much work.

But wait! Consider a dusting of sugar, a sprinkling of spice, or a splash of wine and you will see how fruit is instantly 'uplifted' to a new level (no pun intended).

The easiest, quickest thing you can do with fruit is drizzle a warm sauce such as a spiced caramel sauce or a warm vanilla scented custard over them. Fruit by themselves can also make sweet salads to eat as or accompany spicy dishes, rather like a raita. Slice up a selection of whatever fruit you have handy oranges, green apples, fresh figs, halved grapes, dust with icing sugar and cinnamon and set aside so the sugar draws out the natural juices stir in some hung yoghurt a spoonful or two of cream and dig in! Or sprinkle fruit with sugar and zap in the oven or microwave this works especially well with citrus fruit such as pomelos, grapefruit and even oranges. Take it one step further with a dusting of cinnamon and a drizzle of wine prior to cooking and you have a party piece! Just pour on some spiced custard! Or add a sweet accent to winter salads by tossing in some briefly cooked fruit.

Failing an oven or microwave and if you want to avoid adding sugar, grilling or pan roasting fruit caramelizes its natural sugars on the surface, intensifying inherant flavours and softening it up.

Whatever fruit is handy tossed into a mélange like a salad are great but individual fruit have their own special pairings, marriages made in heaven as they say and to help you gently orchestrate the bounty of the season here are some suggestions...

Strawberries with their vibrant colors are hard to walk past. Chocolate, cream, mint, champagne… strawberries pair well with a number of fine things and there is no best way to savour them. If you manage to resist eating them as is, top breakfast pancakes or stuff desert crepes with them.
Hull and quarter them, mascerate them in a bit of sugar and put into martini glasses, top with a generous swirl of Reddi Wip Whipped cream (also available in a low fat version) and dust with bitter chocolate flakes. Another way to savour strawberries is to cook them into your favourite pudding or cake. Even Indian desserts – strawberry Basundi is like strawberries and cream in a glass for instance and strawberries chopped into gulgulas prior to frying add a lovely tart accent.

Apples might lack the physical oomph of strawberries, but they are also far more versatile, easily marrying into savoury as well as sweet dishes. Skewer chunks of apple and cheese on toothpicks for healthy finger food – beer drinkers will love them because the salty sweet mix of flavours complement the caramel tones of beer. Toss cored apples, cheese and cucumber chunks with celery, a clove of chopped garlic, mint and raisins in olive or a nut based oil, salt and lemon juice for a great salad to accompany a heavy roast. Stewing apples with a little ghee, sugar and a stick of cinnamon results in a silky puree that might look like baby food bu is loved by adults as well. Just spoon into our handy quiche or tart shells and top with ice-cream or sweet cream cheese. Or try this layer peeled, sliced apples in a baking dish, drizzle with a little sweet red wine or orange juice and sugar and spread over a layer of thick sour cream (whip 1 part sour yoghurt with 3 parts cream). Top it all with an additional sprinkle of sugar, place in a 190 degree oven for about 30-40 minutes or until the apples are soft sugar is caramelised. Now while it is still hot sprinkle the merest amount of grated parmesan or other hard salty cheese over it and serve. Be prepared for that special silence at your table that signifies people lost in overwhelming flavours.

Like apples fresh figs can enhance both sweet and savory dishes and rich as they are in potassium, iron, fiber and plant calcium, they are a happ addition to any meal. The jury is still out on whether figs are the sweetest fruit, but they certainly are one of the oldest fruits recognized by man. The fig has been enjoyed for centuries and it sweet, delicious flesh, was used as a sweetener before the advent of refined sugars. In fact cooked figs were used as sweeteners in lieu of sugar in historical times, and this usage still continues today in North Africa and the Middle East. Because they spoil quite easily plan on using your figs the day you buy them. Serving them as they are at the end of the meal obviously comes to mind -- they are, after all, fruit and are a great addition to a cheese platter -- but they also pair well with thinly sliced prosciutto as a starter. Serve them like they do in Italy, cut and wrapped in prosciutto or serve them the french way wrapped in prosciutto and grilled. Skewer Figs on toothpicks with cheese and serve with a caramel sauce spiced with crushed brined green peppercorns.The combination of sweet juicy figs and salty cheese is offset with the herby green peppercorn and caramel flavours leaving a lingering aftertaste and a pleasant back of the throat warmth.

If you can’t use figs right away, one way to make them last is by placing them in a wide mouthed jar and covering them with good red wine. Cover with a lid and leave to marinate in the refrigerator for at least 3 weeks. When you want to use them drain, (reserve the wine which can be used for another batch of figs and will become more and more syrupy with each use) and stuff each fig with a teaspoonful of cream cheese. Serve as a starter with wine or as part of a cheese platter.

Here is gastronomist Rushina's recipe for Figs and Strawberries in Red Wine reduction
She says, I love this simple yet elegant dish in which the red wine reduces to a dark and syrupy texture with the sugar and the marriage of intensely musky figs and tart strawberries is heavenly. Serve hot or warm with cream or warm cinnamony custard on a cold evening.

16 ripe figs
16 Strawberries
1/3 cup sugar
red wine
Preheat the oven to 170 degrees centigrade. Cut a cross down, but not through, each fig so you can spread them enough to stuff each one with a strawberry and place them in a baking dish just large enough so they are packed tight enough to stand. Sprinkle over sugar, and pour over enough good red wine to the base of the dish. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the figs are cooked through but hold their shape.

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