Strawberries, Figs and Pears . . . Oh My!

Now that I’ve taken more than a month off from blogging, I better get back to posting wouldn’t you say?

My latest adventure in the kitchen is short and very sweet! My local store is featuring fresh organic figs and while I don’t eat figs very often, I was drawn to these with dessert in mind. I thought of pairing them with pears (forgive the clumsy quip) from my backyard tree. My pears were ripe and tender which was perfect with the figs. I have some wonderful “Cafe Espresso” Balsamic Vinegar in my refrigerator. Throw in a few bright strawberries and add a touch of mint and there you have a late summer dessert that will satisfy any sweet tooth.

Figs are pretty amazing looking, aren't they?

Figs are pretty amazing looking, aren’t they?

 

Figs and Pears with Savory Balsamic Sauce (one serving)

  • A half-dozen fresh, ripe organic figs
  • 1 organic pear
  • A few strawberries
  • 1/4 cup aged balsamic vinegar (You can add instant espresso powder for the “cafe” flavor, but I have seen espresso balsamic in several stores lately. Look in the gourmet section.)
  • 2-3 tablespoons of organic barley malt
  • pinch of sea salt
  • a dash of triple sec
  • Mint leaves

Wash the fruit thoroughly. Core the pears and slice anyway you want. Halve the figs and the strawberries.

In this combination, you want to adjust the fruits so they are pleasant and easy to eat together.  If your pears are very crisp, you can blanch them for just a few seconds in salted boiling water.  This has to be really really fast because you don’t want mushy fruit compote. You just want to take the edge off the crisp pears so they can be easily eaten in this dessert without losing the contrast between the softer fruit and the crisp pear.

In a small saucepan, bring your dark balsamic vinegar, barley malt and sea salt to a simmer and reduce the sauce to the desired thickness. Watch that you don’t over-boil the barley malt. If it gets very hot and boiled it will turn into a soft and then a hard candy texture.  Just simmer.

Assemble the fruit in bowls and put the sauce on them just before serving. Garnish with mint leaves.

Sweet as sweet can be!

Taming this fruit and sauce for photos was certainly a challenge!

Taming this fruit and sauce for photos was certainly a challenge!

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Gesztenyepüré

Gesztenyepure is the Hungarian word for “chestnut” and is also the name of a Chestnut Puree Dessert.  [I found out how to pronounce it just like a native here.] Known as “Mont Blanc” in France, it originated in Italy in the fifteenth century and was originally made with pickled chestnuts.

I was first introduced to it during a visit in New York City when my daughter-in-law took us all to a cozy Hungarian restaurant.  She is Hungarian and wanted to introduce us to the cuisine from her home country.

I found Hungarian food to be very flavorful and conducive to the chilly New York climate because the dishes were very hearty.  When it was time for dessert, I was delighted to try this wonderful traditional European dish made from chestnuts. So, so delicious!

adjusted photo

I have used chestnuts in cooking many times, mainly to make Brown Rice with Chestnuts as a holiday menu item.  But I’d never made a dessert with it so I finally tried making Gesztenyepure myself.  Most all the recipes I found on the Internet say to buy prepared chestnut puree or a jar of cooked chestnuts.

But you know me!  I rarely use a jar or can of anything.  I decided to start with organic dried chestnuts.  I buy these from Gold Mine Natural Foods because I don’t usually find them in any stores around here.

GESZTENYEPURE (Serves 2-3)

  • 1 cup of dried chestnuts
  • spring water to soak the chestnuts
  • 1/4 cup brown rice syrup or sweetener of choice (maple syrup would work nicely) – adjust quantity to taste
  • pinch of sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons of rum (Optional)
  • 1 cup of heavy whipping cream
  • 3-4 drops of liquid stevia
  • 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • fresh or frozen organic dark cherries
  • cocoa powder

Equipment:  Best if you have a pressure cooker to shorten the cooking time.  If not, a heavy pot with a lid.  You’ll also need a food mill or potato ricer to get the traditional look of this dish. If you don’t have one, you can get away without it. You’ll also want a sieve or a spare, clean salt shaker to sprinkle the cocoa on top.

Soak the chestnuts overnight in spring water, keeping the chestnuts covered.  Drain the softened chestnuts and carefully remove any remnants of skin that may be on them.  The skin is dark and reddish and pulls out easily.

Pressure cook the chestnuts in about 3 cups of water and a pinch of sea salt for an hour. Or, bring them to a boil in your heavy pot and simmer them with the lid on.  I don’t know how long this will take as I’ve never done it.  It will be more than an hour, I’m sure. I would use a flame deflector so the chestnuts don’t burn on the bottom.

When the chestnuts are cooked, run them through the ricer or puree them in a processer.  Sweeten them with the rice syrup, add vanilla and rum (I skipped the rum) and mix well. (Rice syrup is not traditional for this dessert.  I recommend it instead of sugar because it is a whole grain, complex carbohydrate sweetener.) Run the whole mixture through the ricer again. The look you are going for is “little noodles” of puree. Chill.

If you are using a jar of cooked chestnuts, check for sweeteners, add more if you like then run through the mill as above.

If you used already prepared chestnut puree, then check to see if it’s already sweetened. When it’s sweetened to your taste then run it through the mill.

Put the milled chestnut mixture in dessert dishes and chill.  Chestnut puree is very rich indeed, so you don’t want to serve a huge amount.  I’d say about a half cup per serving.

Make the whipped cream.  I don’t like store-bought whipped cream so I prefer to whip it up myself.  I simply use a mixer with special beaters for whipping cream or I use my immersion blender and whip the cream, some vanilla extract, a little stevia or sometimes no sweetener at all until it can stand up in soft peaks.  If you can find a small bowl to whip it in, the 1 cup of cream will work.  If your bowl is big, you may have to whip a whole pint at one time to get the cream properly whipped. I’m sure you’ll find something to use the rest of the whipped cream for!  Chill the whipped cream until you’re ready to use it.

I’ve tried non-dairy whipped creams and they have too much weird stuff in them–chemicals, etc–even the “natural” kind. And I don’t like how they taste.  So on the rare occasion when I use whipped cream, I use the real thing!

This time of year, I use frozen cherries.  They’ve got to be defrosted and have no pits.  Probably online you’ll mostly see maraschino cherries used to garnish this dessert, but I don’t want that sugar and red dye!  Do you?

When you’re ready to serve the Geszenyepure, take out the chilled chestnut puree and put a dollop of whipped cream on each serving.  Put a little cocoa powder in a sieve or salt shaker and sprinkle it on top.  Add a cherry or two or three.

Simple, not too sweet, quite rich and very delicious!