Fruits of the season tempt cooks

July 16, 1995|By Edon Waycott | Edon Waycott,Universal Press Syndicate

Excerpted from "Summer Fruit: A Country Garden Cookbook" by Edon Waycott ($15, Collins Publishers, San Francisco)

Summer stone fruits are a little like houseguests: They don't tiptoe in. Instead, they shout their arrival and dump an enormous amount of all-ripe-at-once produce on your doorstep. And just when you begin to feel complacent about their presence or start being creative in the kitchen, they disappear, and one of their cousins arrives. And so it goes until after Labor Day.

Over the years, much of the flavor has been bred out of commercial produce. Sometimes the only clues to discovering the variety is the fruit's shape and color. But recently small growers have been inspired to return to heirloom varieties, which taste more like what you may remember savoring on your grandmother's back porch. If the fruit is pesticide-free, it may not look as perfect as some of its blander cousins, but it will have a far better aroma and taste.

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This cinnamon-scented cookie-like crust is spread with rich chocolate and balanced with sparkling fresh fruit. Instead of the cherries, try thinly sliced apricots or nectarines or a combination of fruits.

Cherry and Ganache Tart in a Spiced Nut Crust

Serves 6

3/4 cup walnuts

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold

2 tablespoons ice water

6 ounces semisweet chocolate

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 pound pitted dark sweet whole cherries (approximately 3 cups)

melted currant or apple jelly, for glazing (optional)

confectioners' sugar, for dusting (optional)

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, grind the walnuts finely. Place on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove and let cool.

Return to the food processor and add the flour, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar and pulse to combine. Cut the butter into small pieces and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the ice water and pulse until the dough holds together when pressed between two fingers. Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap and press into a disk. Refrigerate it, wrapped in the plastic, for at least 1 hour or overnight. (At this point the dough can be tightly wrapped in plastic and frozen for up to a week.)

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

With floured fingers, press the dough evenly into the bottom and sides of a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the edges are lightly browned. Remove to a rack.

In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the chocolate with the cream. Stir until well combined and remove from the heat to cool slightly. Pour into the baked crust (the crust can be warm) and smooth the surface. At this point the chocolate can be cooled to room temperature, wrapped well and stored for one day at room temperature.

Otherwise, while the ganache is still soft, you can lightly press the cherries, stem side down, into the surface in concentric circles. Arrange the fruit on top just before serving. Glaze the cherries with melted jelly or dust with confectioners' sugar, if desired.

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Peaches and ginger are natural partners. Combine them with strips of boneless chicken and Asian seasonings for a quick meal made in a wok or skillet.

Peach and Ginger Chicken Stir-Fry

Serves 4

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (approximately 1 1/2 pounds)

1 egg white

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine) or sherry

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger

3 cloves garlic, minced

3 unpeeled ripe peaches, cut into sixths

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro

2 tablespoons finely chopped roasted cashews (optional)

steamed rice, for accompaniment

Cut the chicken into 1/2 -inch strips. In a medium-sized bowl, toss the chicken with the egg white, cornstarch and salt. Set aside.

In a small bowl, stir together the mirin, vinegar and soy sauce.

Heat the oil in a wok or heavy skillet, and over moderate heat, saute the ginger and garlic until fragrant. Turn the heat to high, add the chicken and cook quickly until opaque. Add the peaches, stirring and scraping the bottom of the wok constantly, and saute until lightly browned. Add the mirin mixture and cook ** approximately 2 minutes until the ingredients are well-coated and the liquid has thickened. Sprinkle with the mint, cilantro and cashews, if using, and serve with steamed rice.

Edon Waycott, who lives in Malibu, Calif., is an author and passionate gardener. Her preserves made from unusual organic fruit are sold in specialty stores and served in selected

restaurants in Southern California.

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