Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Visions of Sugar Plums... in July?
What’s cooking? Cold Sugar Plum Soup and Sugar Plum-Cantaloupe Sorbet

It must be a sickness with me. I’m leaving today and will be away for 10 days, so I shouldn’t really have even gone to the farmers’ market on Sunday. But I’m so weak.

I swore to myself that I would ONLY get some zucchini and peaches. I’d have time to make my friend Laurie’s wonderful zucchini soup and freeze it, and if I didn’t have time to do something with the peaches, well then, I’d just take them on the trip with me. Sometimes I get on the plane with the most random assortment of food items – stuff I think I’ll eat for lunch in the air, or things I know won’t hold in the fridge till I get back, or even food I want to share with friends at my destination. My grandmother always used to pack a PB&J and a banana when she was taking a flight, thereby embarrassing my mother and aunt practically to tears. “Mother,” they’d say, “you’re not from the back woods. They’ll feed you on the plane.” Of course, these days, what you can get on the airplane is pretty pathetic, so I generally feel justified, even if I look like Minnie Pearl in the process.

But when I got to the farmers’ market, the first booth I stopped at had this beautiful display of sugar plums. I’d never made anything with sugar plums, but when I asked the woman at the cash register what to do, she told me they’d had a couple of chefs show up for these beauties because they wanted to make soup. And that was all it took.

So I made a Cold Sugar Plum Soup with part of my bounty, and because in my enthusiasm I overbought on the fruit, I made Sugar Plum-Cantaloupe Sorbet with the rest. I will warn anyone who wants to try these recipes that it’s a wee bit messy and tedious getting the seeds out of the little sugar plums, but if you have a nice TV show that you don’t have to give too much attention, it’s almost painless. I replayed the latest episode of HBO’s Newsroom, which btw, my husband and I are thoroughly enjoying, and I was done in no time. Just don’t buy the full three and a half pounds of sugar plums at one fell swoop like I did.

To put together these recipes, I just looked at a bunch of plum-based dishes and started playing around with the flavors I liked best. They’re really simple, and extremely flexible, so if you want to try a basil-based simple syrup or maybe a tarragon-based simple syrup, I encourage you to jump right in. I added cantaloupe to the sorbet to give it more body and to tone down the tartness of the plums, but you could use peaches or honeydew melon to equal effect. (And if you do, please let me know how it turns out. I can't seed any more plums this week.)

Kitchen Goddess note: It will not hurt you to have some Minted Simple Syrup – or even Simple Simple Syrup – in a jar in your fridge. It keeps for ages, and is great for sweetening iced tea or mojitos, or even another sorbet or soup.

If you can’t find sugar plums, hang onto these recipes for another month and use them with full-sized plums.

Cold Sugar Plum Soup
(Makes 4 cups)

For the Minted Simple Syrup (from Gourmet, August 1998):
1½ cups packed fresh mint leaves
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
For the Simple Simple Syrup:
1½ cups water
¾ cup sugar
1½ pounds sugar plums (or any other kind of plum), seeded
juice of ½ lime

For the Minted Simple Syrup, chop the mint and stir it together with the sugar and water in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring only until the sugar dissolves. Simmer without stirring for 2 minutes. Pour the mixture through a fine sieve into a bowl, pressing on the mint to extract all the syrup. Throw away the mint and store the syrup in a jar or other covered container in the refrigerator. You will have about 1½ cups of syrup.

For the Simple Simple Syrup, in a clean saucepan, stir together the remaining water and sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring only until the sugar dissolves. Remove it from the heat and store.

In the meantime, place the sugar plum flesh and skins in a blender. Add ¾ cup of Simple Simple Syrup and ¼ cup of Minted Simple Syrup and puree well (3-4 minutes). Strain using a fine-mesh strainer and stir in juice of ½ lime.

Chill and serve cold.

Sugar Plum-Cantaloupe Sorbet
(Makes about 8 cups)

2 pounds sugar plums, seeded
2 cups water
1 cup sugar
flesh from ¼ of a ripe cantaloupe, rind and all traces of green removed
2 teaspoons Cointreau (or other citrus-based liqueur)

Put the flesh from the plums into a nonreactive (not copper or aluminum) saucepan. Add the water, cover, and bring to a simmer. Simmer 8 minutes, covered, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and add the sugar, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Cool to room temperature.

Cut the cantaloupe into chunks and process in a blender until relatively smooth (20 seconds). Add the cooled sugar plum mixture to the blender and puree thoroughly (3-4 minutes), until very smooth. Pour the purée through a strainer to remove the bits of skin, and stir in the Cointreau.

Chill the mixture for several hours, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

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