I was unloading my shopping bags onto the counter and loved the pile with all the shades of greens, reds, and orange. I had just grabbed a lot of produce that looked good at Essex Street Market in the LES putting together a loose meal plan in my mind as I went along. I got okra, Persian cucumbers, poblanos, cilantro, radishes, limes, nopal cactus paddles, red chiles, and sour oranges. It looked like a summer still life, and it makes being (mostly) vegetarian exciting when one has beautiful fruits and vegetables to cook with.
So far, we’ve had cilantro, citrus, and chiles in ceviche, crisp radish and cucumber snacks, and I’m working on nopal and poblano tacos. I’ll probably roast the okra with chipotle and do some vegetable chiles rellenos.
It got my thinking: how do most people shop and where do you get your inspiration? Do you plan ahead and then shop or look for what’s good and plan your meals from there? Do you research before you buy a new strange vegetable or do you buy and then look for what to do with it?
I have a soft spot for old-fashioned desserts, especially if I first read about them in one of the books I was always devouring as a child, and even more points if they have a funny name. Cobbler, clafouti, trifle, betty- and fool- are all irresistible. With all of the gorgeous fruit arriving in the farmers market, it is impossible to beat the cool simplicity of whipped cream and fruit compote and the classic combination of rhubarb with strawberry is a freshly tart contrast to the mellow richness of cream and creme fraiche.
Rhubarb Strawberry Fool
serves about 8
1 pound rhubarb, chopped
8 ounces strawberries, coarsely chopped
a scant cup of vanilla sugar
1 pint heavy cream
1/3 cup creme fraiche
Toss the chopped fruit with the sugar and allow it to macerate for a few minutes. When the juice starts to seep out, pour all of it into a shallow saucepan and stew gently over low heat until the fruit is softened and bubbling. Keep the temperature low and an eye on it so that all of the liquid doesn’t cook out and the fruit scorch. When it is soft enough to mash into a chunky puree with a fork, take the fruit off the heat and cool. The fruit should not be smooth- it should still have some chunks so that it doesn’t completely incorporate into the cream, offering a little contrast between tangy fruit and cream in each bite. Cool the fruit completely and chill. This part can be made a couple of days ahead.
In a large bowl or in the bowl of a large mixer, mix the heavy cream and creme fraiche and whip to stiff peaks- when the whisk or beaters are pulled upward out of the cream, the cream holds it’s shape in a stiff peak. Pour the fruit into the whipped cream and gently swirl it into the cream- think caramel swirl in ice cream- by folding the fruit in with as few strokes as necessary.
Spoon the fool into a large glass bowl (maybe a trifle bowl) or individual serving bowls.
It’s a simple dessert, almost like unfrozen homemade ice cream, and I can imagine all sorts of possibilities as the weather heats up. Blackberry fool, anyone?