by Jim Hight
It was a hot summer night on the beach. After dinner our Turkish host presented the dessert: a whole watermelon cleverly cut and fashioned into a giant flower lit with small candles. It was so simple. Just the ice-cold fruit, design and candles provided an unforgettable surprise and delight in the dark.
A fresh fruit platter is a tempting addition to any meal. Line a large tray with a bed of large leaves such as chard or kale. Remove stems and overlap more than one layer to hide the fruit juices once the fruit has been eaten. This is not fruit salad so don't cut pieces too small. Strawberries need not be cut. Center pitted fruits such as peaches, pears and apples can be left unpeeled, cut into quarters and treated with lemon juice so they will not darken. Melons look nice cut lengthwise into wedges with rind removed. Use scissors to cut small clusters of grapes.
An asymmetric design is a little easier to work with since things do not need to come out even. Place contrasting colors and shapes next to each other such as thick slices of kiwi next to long wedges of pineapple. Sprinkle blueberries or cherries for an accent.
Next to fresh fruit, simple fruit preparations are some of the best desserts. "It's just apples and blackberries stewed together with sugar to taste and a little cream poured over the top," a friend told me.
The recipe below for Gratin is somewhat effortless. Mixed fruits are arranged in a broiling dish and spread with sour cream (non-fat works). The top is sprinkled with brown sugar and placed under the broiler. Take care so the sugar only caramelizes and does not burn.
A slight variation of this recipe is to fold green grapes, for example, into whipped cream and freeze in the broiling dish. Just before serving, top with sugar and broil. Use a dish that can be frozen and then broiled.
The sherbet recipe is interesting in that the fruit is frozen before it is pureed. The banana provides bulk and smoothness.
The French clafouti, a favorite especially when made with Santa Rosa plums, is about as simple a dessert to make as one can imagine: a pancake batter poured over fruit in a fireproof dish, then baked in the oven. It looks like a tart, and is usually eaten warm. If you have an enameled cast iron baking dish, pour 1/4 inch batter in the bottom of the dish and heat it over moderate heat until a film of batter is set on the bottom of the pan. Then add the plums and the remaining batter and bake it. This bottom layer cannot be done in a porcelain dish.
The Summer Pudding is an old English recipe. It's not really a pudding at all in the sense of custard, but the English frequently refer to any type of dessert as "puddings" or "afters." Don't be put off by the use of bread in the recipe. If enough sugar and fat are added to bread it is close to cake.
When sweetening the fruit keep in mind the fruit sweetens the bread as well. Serve it with cream and it's better than cake. This is traditionally made in a Charlotte pan, but a straight-sided bowl works well.
Let easy fresh fruit dishes star at any meal.
1 papaya or cantaloupe
1 pint blueberries, raspberries or grapes
6 ripe figs, peaches, apricots or plums
1 cup creme fraiche, or sour cream
1/2 cup brown sugar
Peel, seed and slice the papaya into wedges. Lay them like the petals of a flower around the dish, covering the entire bottom. Next, add a layer of berries, slightly inward from the edge, so that a border of papaya is still visible for contrast.
Lastly, halve the figs, or halve and pit apricots or peaches, lay them on the top in the center. To finish, spread the cream over the top in the center. Sprinkle the sugar over it.
Place the gratin dish under the broiler, 4-6 inches away from the heat and broil until the gratin is well browned on top. It is delicious on its own or with vanilla ice cream. This recipe is adapted from The Tastes of California Wine Country by Sonnie Imes.
Try blackberries, peaches or blueberries in place of the strawberries.
2 pints strawberries, halved
4 medium bananas, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup plain non-fat yogurt
1 tablespoon honey (optional)
Place fruit in a single layer on a cookie sheet and freeze until hard, about one hour.
Put half of the frozen fruit, half of the yogurt and half of the honey in a food processor and process until smooth. Remove and repeat with the remaining fruit, yogurt and honey.
Serve immediately or return to the freezer until serving time. This can be prepared ahead and kept frozen, covered for up to 3 days. Recipe is from Jacques Pepin, The Best of Food and Wine.
In place of plums use pitted cherries, pears, blackberries or blueberries. When using berries increase the flour from 2/3 cup to 11/4 cups because the berries are very juicy.
3 cups firm ripe plums, pitted and cut into one-inch pieces
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup orange liqueur
Mix and let stand for 30 minutes.
Drain juice from plums into a measuring cup and add enough milk to equal 11/4 cups
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
Place the ingredients for batter in blender or food processor and blend for one minute.
Grease a 11/2 -inch deep, two-quart baking dish. Place plums in bottom of the dish and pour batter over the top. Bake in a 350° oven for about one hour. When done the top should be puffed and brown. Let cool slightly and dust with powdered sugar just before serving. It will sink down slightly as it cools. This recipe is adapted from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
This chilled plum-colored dessert is made with any blend of raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, red or black currants.
2 pounds mixed berries (about 2 quarts)
1 cup sugar or more
2 tablespoons lemon juice
16 slices white bread, crusts removed
Heat fruit and sugar very gently just a minute or two until the juices begin to run. Let cool and stir gently to dissolve sugar. Taste to see if the mixture is sweet enough. Add a little more sugar if necessary.
The fruit must be sweet enough to also sweeten the bread. Line the bottom and sides of a straight sided two-quart bowl or charlotte mold with slices of bread. Cut bread to fit close together.
Add 1/3 of the berry mixture and another layer of bread. Repeat this twice more ending with a bread layer. Cover the last layer of bread with plastic wrap and an inverted plate which fits inside the bowl.
Put a heavy weight (such as canned goods) on top, pressing the fruit down firmly. Chill for 8 hours or long enough for the juices to soak into the bread.
To serve, remove plate and wrap. Place a rimmed plate over the top, invert the pudding and give a quick rap. Leave the form on the pudding until it is served. Serve with fresh cream or frozen yogurt.
Betty Thompson has taught cooking locally since 1974.
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