Cooking with fruit is easier than you think. A little heat can turn any fruit into a delicious dish. Cooked fruit can be served as the main dish, side dish, dessert or accompaniment.
Cooking Methods – Follow these tips for cooking fruit.
• Pears, apples, peaches, nectarines, plums and apricots are commonly poached fruits.
• Figs, grapes, quince and bananas will also poach nicely.
• Use just enough liquid to cover the fruit.
• Keep fruit pieces uniform in size for even cooking.
• Let fruit rest in poaching liquid for 20 minutes after cooking to allow the flavor to be absorbed.
• Some fruits, such as berries, will not hold their shape after poaching or stewing, but they make a good hot fruit sauce.
Dry-heat methods that enhance fruit include grilling or broiling, roasting or baking, and sautéing. No matter what method you use, take care not to overcook fruit. Exposure to heat breaks down fruits’ cell walls, which results in water loss. The less time fruit is exposed to heat, the better it retains its shape. Quick cooking methods are best for ripe fruit.
If roasting, grilling or sautéing fruit, follow these tips:
• Apples, apricots, bananas, pineapples, peaches, plums, pears, cherries and figs are excellent fruits for dry cooking.
• Keep pieces uniform in size for even cooking.
• Be careful not to overcook the fruit or it will become mushy.
Ripe, sweet fruit needs little or no added sugar. Slightly underripe fruits are less sweet, but firmer and perfect for poaching.
Use spices to enhance the natural sweetness of cooked fruit dishes. Cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, star anise, ginger, cardamom, black pepper, chilies, vanilla and saffron are commonly paired with fruits.
Herbs like mint also complement many fruits. Rosemary and sage work well with cooked fruits paired with meats — for example, sage with apples and chicken. Lemon verbena and lavender are flavorful additions to a poaching liquid. Other herb and fruit combinations include oranges with thyme, peaches with rosemary and strawberries with sage.
Wines, spirits such as rum, whiskey or fruit brandies, and fruit juices used in combination with water and sugar add flavor to poaching and stewing liquids. Flavored liquids can also be used to deglaze the pan after sautéing fruits to make a delicious sauce.
With dry-heat cooking methods, added sugars are used primarily to add sweetness. In poaching or stewing fruit, however, sugar also helps retain the shape of the fruit. The standard ratio for a poaching liquid is 1⁄3 to 1⁄2 cup of sugar to 1 cup of liquid. Light poaching liquid is made with 1⁄4 cup of sugar to 1 cup of liquid and is used for firm or slightly underripe fruit. Heavy syrup made of 2⁄3 cup of sugar to 1 cup of liquid is needed for poaching very ripe or soft fruit.
When making a fruit sauce like applesauce or pear sauce, sugar is used for sweetness and should be added at the end.
Serving Cooked Fruits
Panna cotta with blackberry compote. Roasted cherries over frozen yogurt. Peaches poached in lemon verbena and lavender. These dishes are a far cry from the stewed prunes vintage cookbooks tell us were popular in the 1800s.
Cooked fruit goes way beyond dessert today, appearing in salads, side dishes and main courses. Serve whole-grain pancakes or waffles with a flavorful fruit compote instead of syrup. Try banana-pecan compote, peach and cherry sauce or a warm berry compote. Cooked fruits are also at home with main dishes. Pork medallions with apple-raisin cinnamon compote, citrus chicken with grilled tropical fruit, and cod with orange and fennel compote are flavorful ways to showcase fruit and to fit more servings into a daily diet.
Cooked fruits also make excellent side dishes. Try fresh gingered pear sauce or grilled pineapple, nectarine or pear as a side dish or in a salad. Even pizza can be topped with fruits such as pears or figs with goat cheese.