Summer can be so wonderful but oh, so confusing for fruit lovers. Wonderful because of all the choices; confusing because of all the choices.
Now three notable cookbooks featuring fruit are on the shelves, making the choices only that much more numerous. Shall it be a crunchy peach cobbler? A silky strawberry mousse? A smooth blackberry custard? Or a cool blueberry sorbet? And that's just for the end of the meal.
If you're dazzled by desserts and looking for more sophisticated versions of the tried-and-true dishes you've been making for years, then by all means take a look at "Fresh Fruit Desserts" by Sheryl and Mel London (Prentice Hall Press, 1990, $24.95). The Londons have gained a loyal following for their previous cookbooks, written either jointly ("Creative Cooking with Grains and Pasta," Rodale Press, 1982) or separately ("Bread Winners" by Mel London, Rodale Press, 1982, among them). With this new book, they are certain to gain even more fans.
Meanwhile, the truly beautiful book is "Berries -- A Cookbook" by Robert Berkley (Simon & Schuster Inc., $14.95). It has lots of mouth-watering pictures of breakfast treats, salads, main courses, beverages and, of course, desserts. Unfortunately, the recipes are often too faulty to live up to expectations.
The third book, "Berries -- Cultivation, Decoration and Recipes" (Bantam Books, $35) was issued last fall for the holiday season. While short on recipes, it is full of the most exquisite photographs and should not be overlooked by the ardent gardener who wants to start his or her own berry patch. For it is long on garden history and advice.
In the Londons' "Fresh Fruit Desserts," the more than 175 recipes range from traditional slumps, grunts and brambles to such unusual contemporary combinations as a pink grapefruit and caramel tart with pine nuts or a mold of lemon ricotta cheese with rosemary, topped with glazed and frosted red grapes.
The Londons clearly like to tamper with old-fashioned favorites, especially crisps and crumbles, to bring them up to modern-day tastes. Thus, grated fresh ginger root is added to the peaches to make Ginger Peach Brown Betty and crushed Italian Amaretti cookies replace the oats in the Rhubarb and Strawberry Crisps. The only problem, however, is that sometimes the Londons are a bit heavy handed with their ingredients -- too much liqueur in some recipes, an oversupply of bread crumbs in others. So a bit of culinary judgment and discretion is needed.
Perhaps the best thing about the book is that there are a host of recipes for apples, pears, bananas and other commonly found winter fruit to make even the dreariest of cold windy days come alive with flavor. The Pear and Hazelnut Crumble is a moist and crunchy mouthful of nuts, scented with a whiff of Poire William liqueur. Meanwhile, banana lovers should consider the Puffed Banana Ramekins.
While "Berries -- A Cookbook" is innovative and creative -- Blackened Tuna with Strawberries, one must admit, is an unusual combination -- Berkley's inadequate cooking times leave custards runny, and a promising mousse fell flat.
The blueberry sorbet, for instance, tasted more like a snow-cone and the instructions left out a key step: to use the food processor or blender to blend the blueberries with the frozen lemon-lime soda. To do so by hand, as the book suggests, results merely in lumps of berries mixed along side big lumps of frozen soda.
But an orange and pistachio souffle', given a few extra minutes in the oven, was light and fragrant, and colorfully garnished with a sauce of hot, whole blueberries. The book will certainly provide inspiration for ways to use fruit, and the recipes can be mastered if you're willing to experiment a little.
RHUBARB-STRAWBERRY CRISP WITH AMARETTI COOKIES (8 servings)
In this more elaborate presentation of a simple crisp, most of the sweetness comes from the raisins and strawberries, both of which modify the tartness of the rhubarb. Crushed Italian Amaretti cookies replace the oats for the shortbread topping.
2 pounds rhubarb, washed, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (7 1/2 cups)
1 pint strawberries (if large, cut in half)
1 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup Grand Marnier, or other orange-flavored liqueur
1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar, to taste
2 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca, ground in a blender
1 tablespoon finely minced orange peel
Pinch of salt
FOR THE TOPPING:
2 cups coarsely crushed Amaretti cookies
1 cup quick-cooking oats
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 heaping teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup coarsely chopped almonds
1/4 pound (1 stick) cold butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg, lightly beaten
Generously butter a 3-quart, shallow, oval baking dish and set aside. In a large bowl, combine the rhubarb, strawberries, raisins, liqueur, sugar, tapioca, orange peel and salt. Stir well with a wooden spoon and let steep for 20 minutes. While the flavors are blending, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Stir the mixture and spoon it into the prepared baking dish and set it aside.
In a bowl, combine the cookies, oats, sugar, cinnamon and almonds. Work in the cold butter with fingertips until combined. Add the egg and stir the mixture with a wooden spoon until it is just combined. Sprinkle the mixture over the fruit and bake 40 to 50 minutes, or until the top is golden and the fruit is bubbling. Let cool for at least 10 minutes on a wire rack, or until the top is crisp.
Serve the crisp slightly warm with a large dollop of whipped cream.
Per serving: 592 calories, 6 gm protein, 96 gm carbohydrates, 21 gm fat, 8 gm saturated fat, 66 mg cholesterol, 186 mg sodium.
From "Fresh Fruit Desserts" by Sheryl and Mel London (Prentice Hall Press, 1990, $24.95) PUFFED BANANA RAMEKINS (4 servings)
Bananas are plentiful year round. If you are a banana aficionado, this banana souffle' should delight you.
4 ripe but firm bananas
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/3 cup raisins
3 tablespoons dark rum
1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 cup milk
Pinch of salt
2 egg yolks
3 egg whites
Freshly grated nutmeg
Peel and cut the bananas into chunks and process for 5 or 6 pulses in a food processor. Transfer to a bowl and sprinkle with lemon juice. Stir and set aside. There should be 2 cups.
In a small cup, mix the raisins and rum and set aside.
Combine the sugar, cornstarch, milk and salt in a medium nonstick saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly until thickened, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add the bananas and continue to whisk for 2 minutes. Add the egg yolks and cook, whisking for 5 minutes, until very thick.
Stir in the raisins and rum and set aside to cool for 20 minutes.
While the mixture is cooling, butter four 3/4-cup ovenproof ramekins. Beat the egg whites with another pinch of salt until stiff but not dry. Fold into the pure'ed banana mixture and spoon into the ramekins. Grate fresh nutmeg over the tops of each and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until puffed and golden. Sprinkle with some additional confectioners' sugar and serve immediately.
Per serving: 253 calories, 6 gm protein, 46 gm carbohydrates, 4 gm fat, 2 gm saturated fat, 140 mg cholesterol, 123 mg sodium.
From "Fresh Fruit Desserts" by Sheryl and Mel London (Prentice Hall Press, 1990, $24.95) GINGER PEACH BROWN BETTY (6 servings)
This is a double ginger dessert and appropriately can be called "ginger-peachy."
2 cups fresh, dry bread crumbs, preferably from whole-wheat bread
1/4 cup oat bran
1/3 cup butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
6 cups peeled and pitted, thickly sliced peaches (7 to 8 peaches)
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon peeled and freshly grated ginger root, about a 3/4-inch piece
1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon finely minced lemon peel
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon cold butter, cut into tiny pieces.
Butter a 2-quart souffle' dish or other deep baking dish.
Combine the bread crumbs, oat bran and melted butter. Add the ground ginger and set aside.
In a large bowl, mix the sliced peaches with the sugar, ginger root, pumpkin pie spice, lemon peel and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice.
Spread 1/3 of the bread crumb mixture on the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Top the bread crumbs with 1/2 of the peach mixture, then 1/2 of the remaining bread crumbs and then the rest of the peaches. Top with the rest of the bread crumbs. (If your peaches are not very juicy, you may not need all the bread crumbs called for).
Dot the crumbs with pieces of butter and sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of lemon juice over the top.
Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes in a preheated 350-degree oven, then uncover and bake for 25 minutes longer. Serve warm with a pitcher of cream to pour over each serving.
Per serving: 311 calories, 3 gm protein, 41 gm carbohydrates, 17 gm fat, 10 gm saturated fat, 42 mg cholesterol, 242 mg sodium.
From "Fresh Fruit Desserts" by Sheryl and Mel London (Prentice Hall Press, 1990, $24.95) PISTACHIO AND ORANGE SOUFFLE WITH HOT BLUEBERRY SAUCE (2 servings)
2 tablespoons finely chopped pistachios
7 tablespoons superfine sugar
1/2 cup fresh blueberries
2 eggs, separated
Zest of 1 orange
2 teaspoons Grand Marnier or other orange-flavored liqueur
Butter two 6-ounce souffle' cups.
Combine the chopped pistachios with 2 tablespoons of sugar and dust into souffle' cups. Chill cups while continuing recipe.
In a medium pan over a low heat, cook the blueberries with 3 tablespoons sugar and a few drops of water. Add more water, if necessary, to keep them from sticking to the pan. Cook for a few minutes until the blueberries split. Lower heat and keep the blueberries warm.
Combine egg yolks, orange zest, Grand Marnier and the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar in a large bowl.
In a deep, narrow bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold some of the egg whites into the yolk mixture; then fold the egg yolk mixture into the remaining egg whites.
Using a rubber spatula, fill the 2 cups with the batter. Place the cups in a 2-inch deep pan filled with enough water to reach halfway up the sides of the cups. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 20 minutes, or until the souffle' rises above the lip of the cups.
Spoon the blueberry sauce on the top of the souffle' and serve immediately.
Per serving: 372 calories, 8 gm protein, 53 gm carbohydrates, 16 gm fat, 6 gm saturated fat, 28 mg cholesterol, 130 mg sodium.
From "Berries -- A Cookbook" by Robert Berkley (Simon & Shuster Inc., 1990, $14.95) BLACKENED TUNA WITH STRAWBERRIES (2 servings)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
5 to 6 large strawberries, stemmed and cut into thirds
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground marjoram
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 8-ounce tuna steaks
4 tablespoons peanut oil
In a small skillet over low heat, melt the butter and add strawberries. Saute' for 3 minutes or until soft. Set aside.
Mix together the spices and sprinkle liberally on both sides of tuna.
In another skillet, preferably cast iron, heat peanut oil over high heat. Sear fish until black, about 3 to 4 minutes. Turn over, and blacken other side, another 2 to 3 minutes. This will produce a lot of smoke so make sure your kitchen is well ventilated.
Garnish tuna with strawberries and serve.
Per serving: 551 calories, 54 gm protein, 4 gm carbohydrates, 35 gm fat, 9 gm saturated fat, 117 mg cholesterol, 143 mg sodium.
From "Berries -- A Cookbook" by Robert Berkley (Simon & Shuster Inc., 1990, $14.95)