x

Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

A fresh take on fruit and vegetables

There are few things more irritating than getting stuck with fruit and vegetables that are too ripe – or not ripe enough. We look at five common offenders, and offers advice on how best to select, store and use produce

Melon and cucumber gazpacho. Courtesy Scott Price
Melon and cucumber gazpacho. Courtesy Scott Price

There are few things more irritating than making a trip grocery shop or receiving a home delivery only to discover that the majority of the fruit and vegetables are either under- or overripe. Here we look at five of the most common offenders (eyes on you, avocado that could double as a paper weight) and offer advice on selecting produce at its prime, storing fresh ingredients and some inventive ways to use those items when all else fails.

PINEAPPLES

Pineapple and basil granita. Courtesy Scott Price
Pineapple and basil granita. Courtesy Scott Price

Ripe and ready?

For pineapples at their peak, smell is all-­important. When ripe, the fruit will exude a fragrant, sweet aroma, particularly at the base. It should also feel weighty for its size, with a firm surface that yields ever so slightly when pressed. If it feels unusually soft, the leaves have begun to wither or there’s a whiff of vinegar, take this as an indicator that your pineapple needs to be used up pronto.

Tips and tricks

If faced with a seriously under-ripe pineapple, it’s worth giving this hack a go: slice the top of the fruit, then rest it cut-side down on a plate or dish, cover with cling film and leave it in the fridge for a couple of days. The idea here being that the sweet juices from the base (the ripest part) will trickle down and permeate the rest of the fruit.

Get cooking

If your pineapple is on the turn, chop it into bite-size pieces and freeze for later: add these to smoothies and juices or use them to subtly flavour water. You could also make a tropical-­tasting granita by blending 500 grams of chopped ­pineapple flesh with 75g caster sugar, the zest and juice of a large lime, and a handful of basil leaves. Pour into a container and freeze for 5 hours, stirring the mixture vigorously every hour or so. Alternatively, fry diced pineapple with panch phoron (Bengali 5-spice) and a little sugar or jaggery to make a quick chutney, or toss with mint and chilli for a salsa that’s fantastic with white meat or fish.

AVOCADOS

Pickled avocados. Courtesy Scott Price
Pickled avocados. Courtesy Scott Price

Ripe and ready?

The theory goes that if you pull at the stem of an avocado and it comes away easily, then it’s ready for eating. That said, it’s worth pointing out that avocados ripen at the top first, so this test doesn’t necessarily hold true for the whole fruit, and for that reason, a tactile approach tends to be more reliable. Give your avocado a good squeeze, and when it’s firm but not hard with a little gentle give, things are looking good. If you’re selecting your avocados by hand and are planning on using them immediately, steer clear of those that feel solid as they’ll take a couple of days, if not longer, to mature. At the other end of the spectrum, avoid fruit with bruised, dented skin that seems too soft and mushy.

Tips and tricks

There’s logic behind the idea of nestling under-ripe avocados up close to ­bananas in the fruit bowl – bananas give off a gas called ethylene that helps kick-start the ripening process. To speed the process up, pop the two in a paper bag. If you find yourself with avocados that seem like they’re going to reach their peak before you need them, keeping them in the fridge should prevent them from ripening any further, or slow things down at least.

Get cooking

From smashed ­avocado on toast to that 1980s ­dinner-party classic, prawns drenched in Marie Rose sauce and served in a cut avocado half, there’s so much you can do with a ­buttery-soft avo. Its ­bullet- like counterparts are more problematic until you consider avocado fries: slice the fruit into long wedges, coat lightly in seasoned flour, beaten egg and breadcrumbs, and bake in the oven for 15 minutes until the breadcrumbs are golden.

You can also try pickled avocados: prepare a quick pickle by boiling 200ml water with 150ml white vinegar, 75g caster sugar, a tablespoon of salt, a handful of white pepper corns and dried chillies, and the pared zest of a lemon. Once the sugar dissolves, remove from the heat and leave to cool, then add avocado slices and transfer to the fridge for a couple of hours.

____________________

Read more:

Cooking myths: examining the truth behind eight of the most common ones

The perfect pastry: how to make it and where to get your fill in the UAE

How to recreate your favourite food indulgence at home

____________________

BANANAS

Banana breakfast cookies. Courtesy Scott Price
Banana breakfast cookies. Courtesy Scott Price

Ripe and ready?

Bananas are unusual in that they ripen after they’re harvested, which ­theoretically should make selecting a bunch with perfect colour, texture, aroma and sweetness easier. This is a divisive fruit, though, with banana fiends tending to fall into two camps: those who favour the firm green variety and others who prefer super-sweet ­bananas that turn to mush in the mouth. A bright, plump-­looking, ­blemish-free banana is ­unlikely to disappoint, while any hint of a greyish hue suggests that the fruit has spent too long in the chiller.

As a general rule of thumb, a ­yellow-tipped green banana will ripen in two days and those flecked with little brown dots (otherwise known as sugar spots) are likely to be the sweetest of the lot. If, when separating a single banana from its bunch, you struggle to break the stem, take this as a sign that the fruit is not yet ready. The same goes for skin that doesn’t peel away easily (although, admittedly, you’ve rather committed yourself by that point).

Tips and tricks

Bananas kept in a brown paper bag out on a kitchen surface will ripen faster than those in the fridge. Do remember that they will speed up the ripening process of other fruits (such as ­avocados), so you may want to store them separately if this isn’t the intended outcome.

Get cooking

Even the most blackened of bananas can yield ­delicious results. Stash them in the freezer and then blitz in a blender for a vegan, one-­ingredient ice-cream ­alternative. Make banana bread by all means, but don’t limit yourself to that lone bake: breakfast cookies made with bananas (instead of butter), oats, raisins and almond meal are as moreish as they are good for you. You can also add mashed bananas to porridge, pancake mixes, milkshakes and more.

TOMATOES

Slow-roasted tomatoes. Courtesy Scott Price
Slow-roasted tomatoes. Courtesy Scott Price

Ripe and ready?

Once you’ve feasted on heady-sweet tomatoes that taste like summer, the more commonly encountered watery ones feel like something of an insult. Seasonal tomatoes grown in the sun will of course always be best, but you can do some damage control by selecting those that feel tender to the touch, and have glossy, slightly shiny skin and a deep, concentrated colour.

Tips and tricks

The fridge is no friend of the tomato: not only does the cold inhibit the fruit’s ­flavour-producing enzymes, but it also causes its cell structures to rupture, which results in an unappealing mushy ­texture. If you can, store them spread out in a single layer at room temperature and away from direct sunlight. Failing that, remove them from the fridge an hour or so before eating.

Get cooking

A glut of ripe tomatoes is a rather wonderful thing to be faced with: eat them as they are, add olive-oil-dressed wedges to salads, stir through pasta, serve up pan con tomate (Spanish tomato bread), master the simple art of the tomato sandwich or make soup. After all that, if you still find yourself with surplus, be comforted by the fact that they freeze well.

Out-of-season toms throw up more of a challenge and, in truth, it’s probably best to avoid eating them raw if you don’t want to end up disappointed. Instead, mix with olive oil, and a little salt and sugar, and slow-roast in a low oven for a couple of hours. It’s no exaggeration to say that something transformative happens: the cooking process dials up the tomato flavour no end, drawing the excess water out of the fruit and concentrating its natural sugars.

WATERMELONS

Melon and cucumber gazpacho. Courtesy Scott Price
Melon and cucumber gazpacho. Courtesy Scott Price

Ripe and ready?

The ripeness of a water­melon is more difficult to ascertain than say a peach – giving the fruit a squeeze doesn’t really yield reliable results. What you can do, is seek out watermelons with taut, blemish-free skin that’s free of soft spots or lesions. If the skin has a glossy sheen to it, this tends to be symptomatic of overripeness rather than peak condition, as does an intense, cloyingly sweet smell.

Tips and tricks

Always choose an ­average- sized watermelon over those that are excessively large or notably small, and try to select one that feels weighty. A ripe watermelon will sport a creamy-yellow spot (called a field spot), which develops where the fruit has been resting on the ground as it grows. If that spot is white or green, it has been picked too soon. The tap test has many a devotee and is certainly worth a try: turn the watermelon over and give the underside a hard knock. If you hear a deep, hollow sound, the fruit is brimming with juice and ready to eat. Additionally, note that round female watermelons are believed to be much sweeter than oval male ones.

Get cooking

Keeping the rind intact, slice your watermelon into thick triangles, dust with a little salt, sugar and black pepper, and sear on the barbecue grill for a minute or two on each side until lightly charred. Alternatively, use trimmed watermelon wedges as an edible canapé base: top with feta cheese and honey or slices of bresaola, mini mozzarella balls and a sticky balsamic glaze.

If you find yourself with an under-ripe watermelon, gazpacho is the way to go. Try blending the flesh with diced cucumber, lemon juice and a few mint leaves to make a chunky chilled soup that’s healthy, hydrating and brilliantly refreshing – perfect for a searing hot summer’s day.