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Rustic recipes, rich desserts give the simple banana a well-rounded appeal

Stored under Caption This!GamesMiscellaneousNewsRecipesRelated EBay AuctionsReviewsVideosVisual Stimulation on April 26, 2007

When the availability of vibrantly flavored fruits takes a dip in early spring, or when the supermarket is lacking in inspiration, I turn to the humble banana. Their presence in markets year-round offers endless, delicious possibilities.

Cooking bananas intensifies their flavor and renders their sweet flesh silky and meltingly tender. For an instant, over-the-top parfait or sundae, caramelize bananas briefly in a skillet and pile them into bowls with vanilla ice cream, warm caramel sauce and toasted pecans. Since bananas have affinities with many flavors, this basic theme invites improvisations.

For a sauce, use warm chocolate, dulce de leche (the South American milk caramel) or a puree of raspberries, strawberries or blackberries (the strained pureelike pulp of passion fruit is marvelous) and, of course, whipped cream or creme fraiche. For toppings, bananas love all kinds of toasted nuts, including walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, macadamias, pistachios, crushed toffee or nut brittles and toasted coconut. Arrange baby marshmallows on top of caramelized bananas and broil them until toasted and molten.

The same caramelized bananas can be sandwiched between sheets of baked puff or butter pastry - or thin butter cookies, for that matter - along with some whipped cream for a surprising free-form Napoleon.

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