Saturday, February 5, 2011

My Sputnik Moment

Every winter, right about now, I begin to yearn for light.  While the luminosity that I seek may not always come in the form of longer days or a getaway to a hot little island, I can assimilate light, and bright with food choices.  I love apples and pears - but I'm tired of them.  Local apples and pears have been in storage for more than 3 months and somehow they're starting to taste that way.  It's time to choose pineapples, and bananas.  Oh sure, since pineapples and bananas actually come from those hot little islands, they're available all year 'round.  I like them now, when it's cold outside.   Pineapple makes for the easiest dessert when you cut it into chunks and serve topped with mascarpone (or sour cream) and a shower of cinnamon - or a more complicated one when you make a Pineapple Sputnik from Anne Willan's book, "From My Chateau Kitchen" (Clarkson Potter, 2000).   When Anne claimed that the pineapple will be "fragrant with vanilla" - she was sooooooooooo right.  As my pineapple baked, and my whole apartment filled with vanilla steam complete with frosted windows, it transported me back, decades, to when I stepped off a plane for the first time in the Seychelles Islands. That introduction to the steamy heat temperature of the equator-based islands mixed with  the native vanilla pods and cinnamon bark gave me an indeliable memory to return to on demand.  You see how easy it easy to get to a hot little island?  Ha!


 Anne says, "....roasted pineapple extravaganza, speared with vanilla beans so it looks like a sputnik, must be tasted to be believed."   She's right.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Peel a whole fresh pineapple.  If you like,  use a small knife to outline and remove the eyes in a spiral pattern.  Cut out the core with an apple corer.  Cut 4 or 5 vanilla beans each into 2 or 3 shorter pieces and spear the fruit with these, pushing them as far as possible into the flesh - if necessary, use a skewer to help poke holes.  Set the pineapple standing upright in a baking dish.
Make a syrup by heating 1/2 cup sugar with 1 cup water, the grated zest and juice of 1 orange and 1 lemon, and about 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger until the sugar is dissolved, then simmer it for 2 to 3 minutes.  Pour the syrup over the pineapple and roast it, basting often (I basted every 20 minutes), until the pineapple starts to brown and the syrup starts to caramelize, 1 1/4 - 1 1/2 hours .  It will be fragrant with vanilla.  Toward the end of cooking, keep a close watch as the syrup will caramelize rapidly once it is reduced to a glaze.  Slice the pineapple into thick rings for serving and serve it warm basted with the cooking syrup.  Leave the vanilla beans for decoration.  However they're not edible.

I like to serve the pineapple with rum raisin ice cream.  I think a bit of any kind cream adds to the dish.
Serves 4 - 6

Ubiquitous bananas can be a snack on the run, sliced into cereal, baked into a quick bread, or blended into smoothies, and  the main ingredients in one of  my favorite cold weather desserts.  Bananes Flambees.  I included a simple recipe for them in my first cookbook, "Visual Vegetables"  (Clarkson Potter, 1991).   The recipe was handwritten and surrounded by one of my illustrations - very much like the ones I'm doing now for this blog.  There was an essay on the opposite page that set the stage, through some reminiscing, for the recipe.  Again, a lot like what I'm doing with this blog.
Here's the recipe for the simple, glamourous dish.  It's just a few words. 


Slice 6 unripe bananas in half lengthwise.  Fry them in 4 tablespoons butter and 1/2 cup sugar 'til they become almost caramel.  Then add 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 1 tablespoon more sugar. Pour on 1 cup warm rum.  Set aflame.   Serve immediately.  
Serves 6
Again, I think a little bit of some sort of cream - ice cream, heavy cream, creme fraiche, etc. - is nice accent for the bananas.

Tessa and Lucy, two young ladies whose ages are still in the single digits, have put together a recipe featuring bananas that's is just my kind of dish.

Serves 2
2 bananas
Same amount of vanilla yogurt
Almost 2 handfuls of M&Ms

Mash the bananas, one in each bowl.  Put in yogurt and M&Ms and then mix it all together well.   Eat with a spoon.

I  make something similar with very ripe bananas:
Smash a couple of bananas together with a few tablespoons sour cream and brown sugar.  Stir in some raisins that have been softened in dry Marsala.  That's it.  Instant banana pudding.

SUSANSIMONSAYS:  Not to cause too much alarm  - however - there was a pretty frighteneing article in the January 10th issue of The New Yorker about a deadly fungus that is killing off thousands of acres of banana plantations around the world.   So far, the fungus hasn't reached Latin America, the source of all the bananas we eat in the US.  According to experts, it's only a matter of time.  Oy!

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