There’s no doubt that cooler days and autumn evenings signal the start to the apple season. Ever since Adam bit into the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, apples have been the world’s most favorite fruit. There is evidence to suggest that the Stone Age man was partial to the apple, and apples were the first fruits cultivated in the fertile valleys of Asia minor over 3,000 years ago. With over 7500 varieties grown throughout the world and 2500 varieties grown in the United States, the crabapple is the only apple native to North America and the Lady apple is one of the oldest in existence. Second to oranges, apples are the most valuable fruit grown in America. Italy is Europe’s largest producer of this juicy fruit and the third largest in the world after China and the United States. The apple variety ‘Delicious’ is the most widely grown in the United States but fortunately we are now seeing many so called lost apple varieties in the marketplace. These exceptionally tasty, heirloom varieties were previously abandoned because the fruit did not ship well or were too ugly for fussy people to put in their fruit baskets.
No matter what variety you choose, look for firm, fragrant fruit. Don’t be seduced by the skin color of an apple; those gorgeous-looking specimens with thick red, waxy skins often have mealy, tasteless flesh. If you plan on eating them within a day or two, they’ll be fine on the counter. Since apples ripen six to ten times faster at room temperature than if they were refrigerated, it is best to store them in the refrigerator’s crisper in a plastic bag away from other vegetables. As they ripen, apples give off ethylene gas, which shortens the life of some other vegetables.
One medium unpeeled apple has only 80 calories, 5 grams of cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber and no fat or sodium. Apples are also rich in flavonoids and other polyphenols. Their complex carbohydrates provide plenty of slow-release energy. Don’t peel your apple. Two-thirds of the fiber and lots of antioxidants are found in the peel. If you’ve ever bobbed for apples and wondered why they float, 25 percent of an apple’s volume is air.
Apples are very versatile. Some apples are suitable for eating raw, but most can be baked in the oven or microwave, the centers filled with dried fruit and nuts; they can be sliced and baked in pies, crumbles, strudels and tarts; they can be cooked to a puree for applesauce, to be served solo or added to desserts. Aromatic spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, cardamom and cloves highlight their flavor as well as rosemary, sage, lemon and honey. Tart apples make an excellent accompaniment for game birds, sausages, and rich meats like pork, duck and goose. Apples also provide bursts of sweetness to savory salads, cabbage dishes and even lentil soup. They also offset a range of cheeses, particularly aged cow’s milk cheeses, pungent washed rind cheeses and many blue cheeses.
Delicious as they may be, no store-bought apples can ever beat the flavor and crisp texture of local apples that have been freshly picked. So, pack up the family and head out to a local orchard to feast on the season’s nutritious, convenient snack.
To prevent apples from bursting open, peel about a third of the skin from the top of the apple. Using a small melon baller, scoop out the stem and core, leaving the bottom intact. After choosing one of the fillings described below, place apples in a baking dish containing about half an inch of liquid – sweet or dry wine, fruit juice, apple cider or water. Bake for about an hour at 350°F, until tender.
• chopped walnuts, honey and a pinch of ground cardamom
• crushed amaretti cookies, Marsala wine and butter
• raisins, pistachios and honey
• dried cranberries, sugar and grated orange peel
• brown sugar, cinnamon, pecans, raisins, brandy and butter
Serve warm with a dollop of vanilla ice cream, softly whipped heavy cream, crème fraiche or mascarpone cheese.
TORTA DI MELE ALL’OLIO (serves 8-10)
This rustic, slightly sweet, moist cake is from Anna Del Conte, a well published Italian cookbook writer. Enjoy it for breakfast or at the end of a meal with a dollop of cream. It is one of a few cakes made with olive oil instead of butter has become one of my favorites.
3/4 cup golden raisins
2/3 cup olive oil
1 cup sugar
2 extra-large eggs
2 1/3 cups Italian OO flour
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 lb. apples (3 large), peeled and diced small
grated rind of 1 lemon
Soak the raisins in warm water for 20 minutes.
Heat the oven to 350°F.
Pour the olive oil into a bowl, add the sugar and beat until the oil and sugar become homogenized. Add the eggs one at a time and beat until the mixture has increased in volume and looks like thin mayonnaise.
Sift together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, cream of tartar and salt. Add the dry ingredients gradually to the oil and sugar mixture, folding them in with a wooden spoon. Mix thoroughly and then add the diced apples and lemon rind.
Drain and dry the raisins and add to the mixture. Mix very thoroughly. The mixture will be quite stiff at this stage.
Butter and flour an 8 in springform cake pan. Spoon the batter into the pan and bake for about 1 hr and 15 min., until a skewer inserted in the middle of the cake comes out dry. Remove the cake from the pan and cool on a wire rack.
MELE CON MIELE E GRAPPA
Simple, quick and elegant (serves 2)
3 T. melted butter
2 large eating apples
2-3 T. grappa
2 T. honey
Core the apples and then slice each apple into about 6 rings.
In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the apples to the pan and sauté for about 2-3 minutes on each side or until lightly browned and softened. Pour over the grappa and allow to flame briefly to burn off the alcohol. Remove the apples from the pan and keep them warm.
Add the honey to the pan and heat through until bubbling hot, stirring it into the apple and Grappa residue. Pour the honey over the hot apples and serve at once with cream or ice cream.
previously published in the North End News