Veggie of the Week - Fresh Fruit
sponsored by Coleman Farms
One of the features of local markets is that they're subject to both dearth and surplus. This has little effect on products with a long shelf life, such as nuts or olives, but things like peas, melons and corn are noticeably absent much of the year from the Farmers' Market, and, if we depend on the market, from our table. Fruit is a bit different, in that while seasonal it can be satisfactorily canned, so we could have peaches from the Market at the New Year, if we'd gone to the trouble to preserve them in Summer. Mostly, we don't, and anyway a canned or dried peach, however nice, is quite different from a fresh one. So most of the fruit from the Farmers' Market gets eaten in season (apples, which can be stored, being the main exception). There's a limit to the amount of fruit a person can eat just as it is, or in compote or pies or cobblers. This week we'll look at some non-traditional uses for fresh fruit.
A traditional use of fresh fruit is in baking - almost always with sugar and a rich crust, or crustiod, in the case of crumble. It can be different. If you make bread, you can take fruit verging on it's expiry date and incorporate it in the dough. I've used bananas and pears this way, plums or stewed apple would also work. The fruit flavor is discernible, even in bread with a strong natural flavor, the texture is moister and the crust browner, because the fructose caramelizes. Pureed fruit can be similarly used in quick breads, such as waffles, though there is added risk of sticking. Fruit can play a bolder role in a fruit pizza. Thinnish slices or wedges of a firm fruit such as apple, peach or pear are good here. You can make a sweet pizza, adding nuts, honey and perhaps some dried fruit, or you can make a main course, savory pizza, using cheese and nuts and sliced onion.
A cheese like feta is good if you want its salt to contrast with the fruit, but you can use gruyere or even jack cheese. For nuts, I'd use walnuts, for their texture, but you might use sliced almonds, and pine nuts would be nice, of course. Heap on whatever fresh herbs you like, basil in particular. If you don't feel like baking from scratch, you can achieve a similar result using bread as a base. The bread could be a special loaf, a thickish flatbread, or one of those bread-like prepared bases in cellophane bags. You can also buy small bags of prepared pizza dough, if you're not feeling kneedy. I'd steer clear of frozen 'pizza bases', which are more like a pastry crust than a pizza crust.
The page linked just above mentions a green bean and plum salad. I can see initial diner resistance to this, because fruit and green beans are eaten from different compartments, 'snack' or 'dessert' and 'vegetable'. Consider taste function rather than traditional application and the combination makes sense, since the acid of the plum 'dresses' the beans and the plums' sweet brings out the sweetness of the beans, with a fairly strong contrast set up between the fruity odor and flavor of the plum and the very 'green' qualties of the bean. The salad is only mentioned, so we don't know what else goes into it, but I'd suggest some thin-sliced white onion to bridge the texture and taste gap between beans and plums, and using thin slices of fairly firm plums. Slivered Asiago and maybe some nuts might also be nice, if you want a fairly complex dish.
I've been using tart apples steamed with mixed vegetables, mostly kale or another Brassica together with onion, peppers and squash. The apple provides a sweet and sour flavor and adds to the aroma - which is dominated by mixed herbs added at serving. The apples more or less dissolve at cooking. Fruits such as pears or peaches could be added uncooked to a dish of cooked squash, something like the yellow straight 'crookneck' (cut lengthwise) which cooks drier than zucchini. Here again the acid in the fruit would complement the squash, and, again, you might want to garnish with a bit of grated cheese and crushed black pepper.
Cuisines as different as German and Persian use fruit in stews. Something like fresh plums will again give a sweet and sour effect as the fruit largely dissolves in prolonged cooking. Peaches (including nectarines) and apples can be used in the same way, though peaches will probably hold together more than the other two fruit. Peaches or even pears would be a nice addition to the stews mentioned in the column on eggplant, where eggplant takes the place of meat.
And finally, there are salsas. Fruit salsas have been popular for a few years, but they're generally based on tropical or subtropical fruit such as mango and papaya. Peach and pear can do salsa too. You might want to increase the acidity by adding lime juice to the diced fruit. Use mint or cilantro, or some combination, depending on what you like and what the salsa will accompany. You can get 'heat' either by using hot chiles chopped fine, or use grated fresh ginger. Either works well with the fruit, but ginger, as we know from dessert uses, goes especially well with either of these fruits. The 'heat' from chiles is immediately apparent, while ginger takes a few moments to develop, and lasts longer, so there's a synergy in using them together.