Nashi – now!

September 18th, 2011

Crisp, juicy, and so good for you...

The fruity season continues, and with trees groaning with loads of peaches, figs and nashi, my friends are sharing the bounty. One morning, a sack of figs appears at my front door, the next I am surprised by a platter of golden fruit:  apples, non?   Non!  These hybrid wonders are sometimes called Asian pears or Asian apples, but more often known simply as nashi.   Their crisp wedges are the perfect foil for softer textures of figs or peaches in a fruit salad, and a small slice wrapped in a sliver of country ham makes a tasty morsel at apéro time before dinner.  Actually, I like them best chopped into my morning bowl of yogurt with a drizzling of chestnut honey.  Great way to start the day!  But beyond tasty – these little beauties are packed with vitamins C and K, antioxidants, potassium and natural fibre.  Nashi are used in treatment for colitis, arthritis, gout and gallbladder disorders.  So, roll with the season and enjoy them now, as this Asian pear is a fruit that doesn’t like to be cooked nor does it take well to freezing – a clear case of  “fresh is best”.

Basil bliss….

September 4th, 2011

Basil bouquet

Tis the season to savor basil, in and on every lunch-time salad and adding punch to late suppers on the little blue balcony.  Basil, best of all fresh during this peak season, seems to adapt to every tomato/courgette/eggplant and onion combo one can stir up – not to forget the Ligurian crowd-pleasing pesto of ground basil and garlic – or simply to toss with linguini.  Using this herb fresh  seems obvious, but the vagabond always has to try to save herbs for chilly months ahead and has been disappointed with basil:  this is one herb that doesn’t take to drying.  It loses both color and identity, and even smells bad during the drying process.  So, grab a fresh bunch and chop it…not just over the classic sliced tomato and mozarella Salade Caprese, but topping any grilled red peppers, sautéed rabbit with courgettes and new onions, with lamb chops or pork cutlets à la provençal….and savor this late-summer moment!

Ah, but wait….an idea to save the essence of basil has just dawned on me.  Leave it to the age-old “soak it in liquor” method, which I am experimenting with at the moment.  Why not make a Basil vodka or liquour?  So, the method I am following runs something like this:  in a clean jar, cover clean basil leaves with high-proof, clear alcohol, such as vodka or 40 to 60% fruit alcohol (sold in French grocery stores for preserving fruit).  Cap tightly, then during the week that it rests, turn it daily – test for taste after the fifth day.  Strain off the liquid into a measuring cup and combine with a cooled simple syrup (of one part sugar boiled with one part water) in the ratio of one part syrup to one part basil ‘jus’.  Pour into a clean, narrow-necked jar, cap or cork tightly and let rest until you are ready for a jolt of essential summer. In fact you might want to put this “concoction” in the freezer.  Watch this space for a report later in September after the vagabond’s experiment has had time to settle….