A Is For Apple, In All Its Many Varieties

SUNDAY GOURMET

April 24, 1994|By GAIL FORMAN

Forget original sin and think original health food. For Eve, it seems, was smarter than she knew when she dared to bite into the forbidden fruit.

Aphorisms about an apple a day keeping the doctor away aside, for thousands of years people enjoyed apples without truly appreciating how healthful they are. Even today, many people would rather just enjoy the great taste of apples than think about their nutritional benefits. Apples are experiencing unprecedented popularity. Americans eat about 19 pounds per person per year, making apples the No. 2 selling item in the nation's produce departments. (Bananas are No. 1.)

Most significant about an apple's nutritional benefits is its high dietary fiber content, about 4.28 grams for a medium-sized fruit with skin -- about as much as a serving of granola or bran cereal and more than cornflakes, whole wheat bread or broccoli.

An apple's 80 fat-free calories make it the ideal diet food. Compare that with the 250 "empty" calories in a typical slice of chocolate cake. And the sugar in apples is fructose, which tastes twice as sweet as table sugar but triggers a slower rise in blood sugar levels. In other words, an apple won't lift you sky high, then let you down like a candy bar does.

Practically sodium-free, apples are good sources of vitamins A and C, thiamine, riboflavin, phosphorus and calcium. And they contain abundant complex carbohydrates.

Apple personalities vary. If you think an apple is an apple is an apple, don't be surprised to find your pie tastes like it's filled with plastic foam.

The all-American favorite, the Red Delicious, is also the world's most popular apple. The fine-grained, sweet, crisp and juicy flesh is best eaten raw. The Golden Delicious is the best all-purpose apple. Juicy, sweet and tender, it holds its shape when cooked.

"Queen of the baking apples," the Rome Beauty retains its shape and flavor when cooked. Its brilliant red but tough, smooth skin shelters its sweet, juicy flesh.

The old-fashioned, all-purpose Winesap has been a favorite since the early 1800s, valued for its tangy and winy taste, glossy red skin and yellowish flesh.

The Granny Smith, an import from New Zealand and South Africa, is prized for its tart flavor, firm flesh and clear green skin. It's one of the best cooking apples around. Enjoy it in the two recipes that follow.

QUICK APPLE TARTS

1/3 cup butter or margarine

1/4 cup powdered sugar

1 egg

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 1/3 cups flour

2 Granny Smith apples (about 3/4 pound), pared and sliced

4 teaspoons sugar

4 teaspoons orange or ginger marmalade, melted

Beat butter and powdered sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and salt. Gradually stir in flour until soft dough is formed; cover tightly and refrigerate 30 minutes. Roll dough on lightly floured surface to 10- by 10-inch square; cut into four squares, 5 by 5 inches each. Turn up 1/4-inch edge all around; place on a baking sheet. Arrange apple slices over pastry; sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 375 degrees 15-20 minutes or until pastry is golden. Brush apples with marmalade; return to oven for 1-2 minutes. Serves 4.

PORTICO'S BAKED CARAMEL APPLES

I thought "ordinary" baked apples were my favorite apple dessert until I tasted the caramel baked apples served at Portico, a new restaurant on New York's Upper East Side. Mauro Chiappe, the chef-owner at this rustic jewel, slices and reassembles large Granny Smiths so they look whole. After baking them, he tops them with the crowning glory -- caramel sauce that makes an ordinary dessert sublime. I've adapted the recipe to omit the heavy cream in the original but 4 tablespoons of cream can be stirred into the caramel with the water, if desired.

4 Granny Smith apples

8 teaspoons dark brown sugar

4 tablespoons rum

cinnamon to taste

2 cups granulated sugar

2-4 tablespoons Amaretto, to taste

Peel apples. Core, then slice horizontally in five or six slices. Keep the apples assembled so that they look whole. Place in a buttered baking pan or individual ovenproof dishes. Fill core of each apple with 2 teaspoons brown sugar and 1 tablespoon rum. Sprinkle with cinnamon and bake in a 350-degree oven 30-40 minutes or until tender, bubbly and golden brown.

Place sugar in a nonstick or other heavy skillet. Cook over moderate heat until it melts, stirring gently with a wooden spoon. Continue to cook until sugar turns golden brown. Cool. While caramel is still liquid, stir in 1 cup water. Reheat to combine and cook until mixture is the thickness of syrup. Cool slightly and stir in Amaretto. Place apples on serving plates and drizzle with caramel sauce. Serves 4.

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