I’M ALWAYS stressing the importance of using local produce and suppliers – it’s what keeps our region vibrant and productive and also, ecologically-speaking, it’s a great way to reduce carbon emissions and reduce those unnecessary transportation costs.
How wonderful to be able to buy leeks that were grown only a few miles away, or make jam with local strawberries! Sometimes, however, the local sourcing can be harder to achieve.
Fruit is always difficult at this time of year. Nothing’s really growing locally, apart from our region’s wonderful champagne rhubarb (of which more very soon), so we must rely on produce flown in from the European Union or beyond. And surely, in these gloomy, chilly days, we can allow a little tropical sun in on our lives.
Once in a while, it’s nice to occasionally enjoy a plump, sweet perfumed mango from the local Indian grocer, or chop up a ripe pineapple with a little squeeze of tart lime juice.
The simple pleasure of standing at the kitchen table, scooping the sweet, tangy flesh from a halved passion fruit is immeasurable, especially if you’re gazing out over a snowy, windswept landscape. It’s total escapism.
Today’s recipe uses a tropical fruit I rarely cook with, the banana. Tracy, my wife, isn’t that keen on the smell of bananas – quite a common aversion I’m told – and so it never really appears in my recipes. But I adore bananas, and find them incredibly versatile and tasty, in any number of dishes.
Now, here’s one for stopping the boring pub know-it-all in his tracks: the banana is, in actual fact, a herb. It’s the largest herb in the world, no less.
The genus, musa, refers to both the sweet ‘dessert’ banana and the firmer, less sweet plantain (also incredibly useful and talented – mainly used as a vegetable-type ingredient) and it grows mainly in the tropical areas of the world, especially in the Far East, the Caribbean and South America.
True, ‘wild’ bananas are much rounder, fatter fruit, filled with hard, unpalatable seeds, so years of cultivation have worked to lengthen them and reduce the seeds to almost undetectable black specks.
As such, the banana we know and love is propagated using a fairly complex and unnatural method. Many varieties exist, and I’m sure you’ll have noticed the difference between them sometimes. By far the most popular is the traditional long Cavendish banana, a particularly hardy type, but sometimes other cultivars are exported, like the stubby, strongly-scented Bananito.
Ripe bananas, picked yellow and warm from the tree, are a pleasure reserved for the locals, as all export bananas must be picked and shipped green, then ripened in special stores in the importing country, using ethylene gas and careful temperature monitoring to make sure they reach us in the right condition.
They are quite temperamental things, and will blacken drastically overnight if left in the fridge. Bananas work well with many fruit recipes, and have an affinity for creamy, custardy dishes, but they also go brilliantly with seafood (try a firm banana diced up in a prawn curry or sliced beneath a chilli-sprinkled fillet of fish) and in South America are often eaten with roast and grilled meats, replacing potatoes as a starchy carbohydrate. Expand your horizons a little, and have a play.
So, now you’re ready to appear on ‘Mastermind’, chosen subject ‘bananas’, let’s actually get down to cooking.
Today, a version of the French classic Tarte Tatin, combining bananas, a salted caramel sauce, crisp pastry and a little treat as an accompaniment. Rum and raisin ice-cream is an amazing partner for this tart, and I’m going to give you a recipe for a quick home-made version.
4-5 large ripe bananas (FairTrade, please)
1 375g packet ready-rolled puff pastry
A little melted butter
For the sauce:
1 packet (250g) salted butter
800g unrefined Demerara sugar
625ml double cream
For the Ice-cream:
6 fresh free-range egg yolks
175g unrefined golden caster sugar
570ml whipping cream
100g large golden raisins
150ml Golden rum
A little vanilla essence
A pinch of cinnamon
A pinch of freshly-grated nutmeg
4 small shallow ovenproof pie dishes (10cm diameter, and about 2cm deep) or 1 large 20cm tart case
You’ll need to make the ice-cream a few days in advance. We’re using the basic parfait mixture I’ve recommended many times – it makes great-tasting smooth-textured ice-cream and is incredibly versatile.
Soak the raisins in the rum overnight, or until all the liquid has been absorbed by the fruit.
I tend to make a large batch using a full bottle of rum, which keeps in the fridge for use throughout the year. Resist the urge to scoff all the boozy raisins!
The next day, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla essence until very pale, fluffy and thick. Whip the cream until it holds a soft peak.
Fold the rum raisins into the egg mixture, and then gently fold the cream into the mixture until the whole lot is incorporated smoothly.
Tip gently into a suitable container and freeze for at least 24 hours.
Now for the caramel sauce. In a heavy-based pan, melt the butter gently, and then add the Demerara sugar.
Turn up the heat, and, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, melt the sugar.
Heat the mixture until it’s a dark-golden caramel colour. Carefully tip in the cream (do watch your hands – it splutters like mad) and stir to combine.
Gently heat until the mixture is completely smooth. Remove from the heat and allow to cool a little, then pass through a sieve into a suitable container.
This will keep for weeks in the fridge, and freezes incredibly well. It goes well over ice-cream sundaes, and also with parkin and apple pie. Put it this way, it won’t go unused!
To prepare the tarts, butter your tart cases generously with melted butter. Peel the bananas and slice them thinly on a slight angle.
Gently arrange the banana slices in the tart cases, making a neat ring of overlapping banana. Unroll the pastry on to a lightly-floured surface.
Cut around the tart cases, leaving a couple of centimetres excess. Gently spoon a couple of tablespoons of the caramel sauce into each case, and top with a disc of pastry.
Pop the tins onto a baking sheet, with plenty of room between them. They will spill over a little whilst baking. Chill until required. Set your oven to Gas 7 425°F / 220°C.
Bake the Tatins for about 20 minutes, or until the pastry is golden and the sauce bubbling.
Remove from the oven and allow them to cool a little.
Very carefully, invert each tart onto a plate or bowl, and top with a scoop of the rum and raisin parfait. Serve immediately.