Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Lions and Tigers and Pears, Oh MY!
All the great autumn colors are really coming on at La Casa Amarilla in the Poconos. A heady reminder that I'd better get on with thoughts about autumn flavors, while there's still some time to try them on.
Much like apples, grapes are such a market standard that it's easy to forget they truly are seasonal. But then as you open that 1994 bottle of Chateau Talbot you are reminded that it was a crisp autumn afternoon when that whole glorious process began. Personally I'm hard pressed to come up with a better use for grapes than a Grand Cru Bordeaux. However, coming out of my haze I would urge you to think boldly. I have pickled seedless black grapes for a day or two and used them in salads, especially when a Farmhouse Cheddar or pungent Chevre is involved.

Pickled Black Grapes
Wash the grapes and remove them from the stem. Then just bring some red wine vinegar, (diluted with water by about 35%) to a boil. Add some sugar, a few whole cloves for spice, maybe a bay leaf and any other flavors that head in the direction you're thinking. Add the grapes, cover and remove from the heat. When cooled, transfer them to a clear glass or plastic jar and refrigerate 24 - 48 hours.

Pears are yet another treat. There's really a special sweetness to a perfectly ripe pear eaten out of hand, with tones of honey, date and vanilla. It's also a fruit that can be creatively used when it's less than ripe. Pear chutney is a delicious addition to sandwiches. And poached pears are an old classic that's due a revival. Red wine poached pears are what most people think of, but I prefer this lighter version.

Rose Poached Pears with Ricotta Stuffing and Bittersweet Chocolate Sauce
One day before you want to serve this dish, peel 6 slightly under ripe pears, leaving stem attached. I prefer Bosc, but any pear will do. Slice the bottom of the pear flat so that it will stand up on a plate. Place the peeled pears in water with lemon juice to prevent discoloration. Meanwhile pour one 750 ml bottle of rose wine and 1 quart of cold water into a medium pot, filling it a little over halfway full. Add granulated sugar to taste. This will depend entirely on the sweetness of the wine you use. Then add one half vanilla bean, split, with seeds scraped into the wine, the zest of one lemon and 1 tablespoon of rose water essence. Bring the liquid to a boil; add the pears and lower heat. The pears should simmer lightly. Place a clean side towel over the pears, touching the liquid and then place a heat proof plate on top of the pears to keep the fruit submerged. The pears need to cook until a knife point or skewer easily pierces the pear to the center. When the pears are finished, remove from heat, leave the plate and side towel in place and refrigerate until cold.
The following day, mix together about 2 cups of ricotta cheese. Add confectioner's sugar to taste and stir until smooth. Using a melon baller, clean the seeds from the poached pears by scooping them out from the flat base. Fill the resulting cavity with the sweetened ricotta mixture. Place the finished pears on a plate and refrigerate.
Make the sauce. Warm 1 cup of half & half to near simmering. Remove from heat and add 4 ounces of bittersweet chocolate. Stir until chocolate is melted and sauce is smooth. Stir in a pinch of salt and 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract. Chill.
To serve, pour a pool of sauce on a small plate. Place pear in the center of the plate.

While Mama's not supposed to have a favorite child, Big Mary is happily free of such restrictions. And the ruby jewel closest to my hirsute bosom is the pomegranate. Finally, I can celebrate one of the few items that remain seasonal. You just can't find these beauties in July! Yet... But let's not go there. Let's just admire the almost Jurrasic beauty of this tough skinned player. The tart burst of crimson juice is just impossible to ignore wherever it shows up, and the newly developed enthusiasm for pomegranate juice gives some options for enjoying when the supply of the real thing dries up. Pomegranate molasses is another way to provide a jolt of pomegranate personality. This is the thick, tart reduced juice of pomegranates available in specialty gourmet and Middle Eastern stores. So splash that "Pom" juice over your vodka rocks and brush a little pomegranate molasses over that grilled chicken at the last minute, but please don't forget to scatter some fresh pomegranate over tonight's salad, or fold some into Sunday Brunch's fruit salad. Try to buy fruit that feels heavy for its weight, and check out the trick for releasing the seeds in the following recipe. This chutney is great with chicken or turkey. At work we sell it with a Moroccan Fried Chicken Paillard, and as a garnish for a chicken hors d'oeuvre on tiny popadum. My friend Margaret swears by it with duck breasts. Lots of options out there.

Walnut Pomegranate Chutney
Cut a nice fat pomegranate in half at its equator. Cradle the cut side down in your hand, hold it over a large bowl, and with a wooden spoon spank it thoroughly until all of the seeds have fallen out. Pick through the seeds for any white membrane and discard it. Measure out 1/2 cup of seeds and place in another bowl. Toast 1/2 cup of walnuts in a 350* oven for 4 - 5 minutes. While walnuts are toasting, place 2 tablespoons of currents in a small pan, add 2 teaspoons of wine vinegar and warm gently to plump the currants. Reserve and cool. When walnuts are cooled, roughly chop them and add to pomegranate seeds. Drain currants and add them as well. Next, add 2 prunes, finely chopped, 2 teaspoons of lemon juice, 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses and 2 tablespoons of strongly flavored dark honey (I prefer buckwheat). Mix well and taste for salt.

And there, my pretties, is all I'll be saying about autumn fruits. Gotta move on ya know? But I still have much to say about autumnal eating and cooking when we get together here again.
Contented eating ...

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