Not long ago, on any classic French menu, fruit knew its place. Mostly it was served over, around or buried in a dessert, although cherries and oranges often made it to the table as an accompaniment to duck. Central Europeans were more adventuresome, mixing fresh and dried fruits with grains, and serving fruit soups in addition to rich fruit pastries.
In this country, too, fruit desserts were common. Fruit also showed up in the morning as fruit juice or decoration for cereal. Whole fruit went into lunch boxes, and in the evening, fruit salad might be served with dinner.
Now American and European cooks are using fruit in new ways and in amazing combinations. Just in time, too. Nutritionists are advising us to eat it three or four times a day because fat-free fruit contains carbohydrates, fiber, anti-oxidant vitamins and vital trace minerals such as potassium.
With Florida and the Caribbean stepping into the culinary spotlight recently, there is heightened interest in tropical and citrus fruits. The need to find counterpoints to hot spices has led to more use of fruit in the Southwest. Antique varieties are being rediscovered in the Heartland, and exotics are shipped fresh by air from abroad. A marvelous array of natural fruit preserves, fruit purees, and fruit juices is now available.
It has become a challenge to devise novel combinations with these resources. Cooks find that fruit can add not only color and texture to a dish but sweetness or acid and distinctive flavor as well. Novel condiments ranging from fresh-fruit salsas to coulis are found under and over meat, poultry and fish entrees. Fruit juices are reduced to glaze consistency and then become part of sauces or substitutes for them. Fruit segments garnish fish, meat and even pasta. In turn, a creative cook can add intrigue to fruit by using unexpected seasonings.
One of the more delightful examples of jazzing up fruit is the Italian trick of grinding fresh pepper on strawberries or raspberries and seasoning the fruit with a little balsamic vinegar. Another compatible combination: ripe-pear slices, topped with paper-thin slices of sheep's milk cheese, a drizzle of honey and a light grinding of black pepper.
Here are some other lively, contemporary fruit creations. The first is from "American Game Cooking."
Persimmon, kiwi and tropical fruit sauce
1 tablespoon chopped shallots
1/3 cup Gewurztraminer or other fruity white wine
1 cup unsweetened pineapple juice
1 fresh serrano chili pepper, seeded and diced
1 tablespoon passion-fruit syrup or thawed frozen pineapple- or orange-juice concentrate
1 persimmon, peeled, seeded and chopped
2 kiwis, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons whipping cream or half-and-half (optional)
Combine shallots and wine in a small saucepan and place over medium heat until reduced by three-fourths to a near-syrup consistency.
Add pineapple juice and pepper and reduce by half. Add passion-fruit syrup or concentrate, persimmon and kiwis and simmer until reduced to a light sauce consistency, about 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in cream, if desired.
Serve over warm smoked meat or poultry, such as pork or duck.
This recipe is from "Verdura," by Viana La Place.
Crostini with ricotta and fruit topping
1 loaf Italian or French bread with a 2- to 3-inch diameter
extra-virgin olive oil or unsalted butter
1 ripe peach or pear or 3 ripe apricots
4 ounces fresh ricotta cheese (about 1/2 cup)
Place enough oil or butter in a large saute pan to lightly coat the bottom and turn the heat to low. Slice four 1/4 -inch slices from the bread and fry them on both sides until golden, adding more oil or butter as needed. These can be made in advance and served at room temperature.
Peel and pit the fruit and puree in a blender or use a fork to mash it into a puree.
Blend together the ricotta and fruit puree until the mixture is smooth. Spread crostini with the ricotta mixture. Drizzle honey over the top and serve.
This is from "The Healing Foods Cookbook."
Marinated figs and apricots
8 ounces dried black figs
8 ounces dried apricots
1/2 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons lime juice
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups nonfat yogurt
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon grated lime rind
Remove and discard stems from the figs.
In a 2-quart saucepan, combine the figs, apricots, orange juice, lime juice and vanilla. Simmer gently for 7 minutes or until the fruit is just beginning to plump. Remove from the heat, cover and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.
Spoon the yogurt into a cheesecloth-lined sieve. Place over the bowl and allow to drain until thick, about 2 hours.
Transfer to a small bowl, stir in the maple syrup, nutmeg and lime rind.
Serve the fruit with the yogurt mixture.
This recipe is adapted from "Fruit," by Amy Nathan.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 large or 8 small figs to yield a generous 1/2 cup when chopped
1/2 cup sake
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
grated lemon zest to taste
Melt butter in a medium skillet. Add figs and saute for 2 minutes. Add sake and cook uncovered over medium heat until mixture thickens to the consistency to coat a spoon, about 3 minutes.
Stir in lemon juice. Sprinkle sauce with lemon zest when serving with grilled trout or snapper or roast pork.