This time of year, the miserable January, where most of us are on the health kick and trying to stave off the cold by diving into salads when all we want are casseroles. I find myself craving dessert after dinner more when it’s the bleak midwinter, which is fine, but how do I satisfy a sweet tooth during the week (weekends are where such delights as crumbles and cake are allowed) and when just a piece of fruit won’t cut the mustard.
Fresh fruit is fabulous – don’t think I’ve gone so far against the hideous ‘wellness’ cult led by Paltrow and Avansino that I now even reject one of life’s simplest and healthiest puds -but I think, why limit yourself to just eating it out of hand? There is life beyond the smoothie. (and I say that as a massive smoothie fiend; so much so I think I ought to own shares in a banana plantation and be on the direct mailing list of Sainsbury’s Basics frozen mixed berries suppliers)
Of course, nothing beats the evocative saccharine burst of a ripe English strawberry in June, or the joy of sinking your teeth into the juicy flesh of a ripe pear, nectarine or peach, or the re-assuring crunch of an apple, but much of the fruit we buy over here, especially during January is out of season so therefore flown in from all four corners of the earth and mostly tasteless and so hard it could be used as war ammunition. We want to eat more fruit, we should eat more fruit (unless you’re one of the truly delusional ‘wellness/clean eating’ lot who seems to believe it’s bad for you now) and if all we have are Belgian pears, South African plums and Egyptian strawberries, we may as well find ways or restoring that ripe taste to make it feel more pleasurable and less of a punishment.
Of course, some fruit is only edible cooked – cranberries and quinces are just two such examples, along with British classics rhubarb and gooseberries – but cooking often will breathe new life into seemingly lifeless specimens. Poached pears are seen as a simple yet luxurious winter dessert in an age where many of us have forgotten what a truly ripe, fresh one tastes like. We all know what crumbles and pies can do for fruit so I don’t need to harp on too much there (but IMO you’ve never lived if you’ve not tried Nigella Lawson’s plum and amaretti crumble, or her strawberry, vanilla and almond one. Both bring summery ripeness to the hardest, sourest imported offenders.)
So I’ve been experimenting with new and exciting ways with fruit without adding needless calories for quite some time now. In the summer, I discovered the delight of grilled peaches (and underripe ones, which are usually what you find on the shelf anyway even in the summer months, work best here as they hold their shape and you wouldn’t know once they’ve seen the fierce heat of a hot grill or the smoking embers of a barbecue as the heat brings out their luscious sweet summeriness) at a friend’s barbecue and as a result got a bit hooked on them for a while, eating them several times a week.
I’m amazed how common fresh apricots seem to be nowadays – I love them dried but never have been convinced by eating them raw, finding them fibrous and bland. A few minutes under a hot grill will change all of that and they taste like apricots SHOULD – just like their bagged, dried brethren only juicier. Like their peach (or nectarine) relatives, they do not need any adornment save for perhaps some fat free Greek yoghurt or fromage frais and a light frosting of granulated sweetener.
This week I made an impromptu dessert with two apples and two plums out the fruit bowl, cutting them into medium-sized pieces (halving the plums) and roasting them with just a light sheen of oil and pinch of cinnamon at 200 degrees C for 11 minutes until lightly scorched. The apples, which weren’t that bad fresh (but one was quite shrivelled and past its best for eating raw), seemed to be sprung back into fragrant, perfumed life and tasted far better than Sainsbury’s pitiful Basics bagged offerings had any right to be. The oven once more had performed a miracle.
A semi-regular supper I cook is roasted pork tenderloin with fruit from Chowhound, which roasts the lean meat alongside sliced pears and figs (though I’ve rung the changes and cooked it with apples, plums and peaches depending on what’s in the house) as the ‘vegetable’ side. It works so well that you don’t even need to steam or boil some extra greens, and I always do far more fruit than the recipe suggests.
There are so many ways to cook fruit that it’s impossible to go through them all here, but I will try and come up with some new and exciting ways to do this. I’m also currently looking at many ways to use those out-of-season plums; and maybe even bring a new twist on a modern deli-counter/antipasti classic using the humble strawberry…the sky’s the limit.
So next time you’re out trying to get your five a day, and you’re bored of either waiting for stuff to ripen in your fruit bowl, or sick of making smoothies, have a think to see what you can do to make eating fruit just that little bit more interesting….promise it’s worth it.