Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Hidden Treasures of the Produce Clearance Shelf

I have a special place in my heart for the reject food. Those day-old loaves of bread that can't be sold anymore, the excess food that has no home,...and the produce on the clearance shelf at the store. Ah yes, the over-ripe fruits and veggies that are nearing the end of the line...I feel it is my duty to save as many of them as possible. Last week it was the tomatoes, peppers, and scallions in my vegetable pancakes, sometimes it's bags of apples, grapes, potatoes, etc. This week I found a real treasure: 2 big bags full of passion fruit!! Usually these tennis ball-sized fruits are really pricey with little yield so I very rarely buy them although they are SO very delicious!
Now the question after one of these produce rescue missions is always: "what to DO with all this stuff before it goes bad??" Well first I simply selected all the really ripe passion fruits, cut them in half, and put all the innards in a plastic container to have ready to use. Then with a little food blog searching I easily came up with plenty of recipes I was dying to try. However, there was one that stood out from all the rest...and here it is:

Mini Pavlova Fruit-Filled Nests
(with yogurt cream, passion fruit curd, and balsamic macerated strawberries) 

For the Pavlova
§  6 egg whites, at room temperature
§  ¼ tsp cream of tartar
§  1 tsp vanilla extract
§  1 1/3 cups caster (very fine) sugar
§  1 Tbsp cornstarch
§  2 Tbsp arrowroot
§  2 tsp white vinegar

For the Passion Fruit Curd
§  ½ c fresh passion fruit juice/seeds/pulp (from 2-3 fruit)
§  1 egg
§  ¼ c granulated sugar
§  2 Tbsp butter

For the Balsamic Macerated Strawberries
§  1 c diced strawberries
§  2 tsp balsamic vinegar
§  2 Tbsp granulated sugar (or less if the berries are very ripe and sweet)

For the Yogurt Cream
§  ½ c heavy cream, whipped to stiff peaks
§  ½ c plain yogurt (can be low or full fat)

First prepare the pavlova nests.
1.       Line a baking tray with parchment paper and dab the corners with honey to hold them down.
2.      Place the egg whites, cream of tartar, and vanilla in a clean, dry, bowl and beat until stiff peaks form.
3.      Add the sugar, 1 Tbsp at a time, beating until all the sugar is incorporated and dissolved and the mixture looks thick and glossy.
4.      Stir together the cornstarch and the arrowroot and gradually mix that into the egg white mixture, then slowly add the vinegar. Mix for a minute or so very slowly to get everything incorporated or fold with a spatula.
5.      Preheat the oven to 300 F.
6.      Fill a piping bag with some of the egg white mixture (you can use a fancy tip or not) and pipe 2-3 inch circles on the prepared sheets, placed at least 2 inches apart, refill your piping bag as needed. With a swirling motion, fill in the circles so they are solid bottoms then carefully pipe on top of the original circle edge to create a lip. Pipe more layers for higher nests, but any more than 3 layers probably wouldn’t hold together very well. I did 2 layers.
7.      Bake the nests for 30 min, they should by dry to the touch, give to pressure, and be just barely off-white in color. While the nests cool, prepare the fillings.

Next prepare the passion fruit curd.
1.       Place the passion fruit juice/seeds/pulp and the egg in the top of a double boiler or a large, heatproof bowl and whisk until smooth.
2.      Place over a double boiler or a saucepan with 2 inches of boiling water and then whisk in the sugar. Continue whisking until the mixture is thick, almost like mayonnaise, then remove from heat and stir in the butter.
3.      Whisk until the butter is completely melted and incorporated and then spoon the curd into a small bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and chill until ready to use.

Next prepare the balsamic macerated strawberries.
1.       Mix all of the ingredients together well, cover, and chill until ready to use (at least 30 min).

Next prepare the yogurt cream.
1.       Fold together the whipped cream and the yogurt and refrigerate until ready to use.

To finish.
1.       Once the nests have cooled completely, refrigerate them until just before service. To fill the nests, place a nest in the middle of the plate, spoon a Tbsp of yogurt cream in the middle, then top with 1-2 Tbsp of passion fruit curd, and then a small spoonful of strawberries (try not to let the juice spill out of the nest). To garnish, spoon a smear or two of the strawberries juices next to the filled next and then spoon some passion fruit seeds over the juice. Serve immediately.

My stash of passion fruit! Oh the possibilities...!

Left: Unripe
Right: Nice and ripe, the wrinkles are GOOD!
And besides, you don't eat the outer shell, it's
just the insides you want!

See? OooOooOooh! Yummy! Tart, yet sweet,
and reminiscent of citrus yet with the lovely
crunch of the seeds

Speaking of the seeds, don't throw these puppies
out! They've got a lot of the flavor, a wonderful
texture, and besides, they make up most of the

Trying to get better lighting by messing with
my camera settings...looks like a science
experiment gone way wrong! It's...ALIVE!

Making the passion fruit curd...I thought I was
obsessed with lemon curd, but oh man, this stuff
is in a league of its own!! Faster, easier, and,
dare I say...even more delicious

These strawberries are pretty typical except
for a "secret" ingredient...

Balsamic vinegar?? YEP! Mollie Katzen has a
similar recipe that I'd always been too afraid to
try, but now I finally have and MAN it is good!
Really, the vinegar brings out the sweetness
of the berries and just adds this little something
extra that makes you go "woah! mmm!"
It's even better if you love balsamic like I do!

(Sorry, no pictures of the yogurt cream, it was pretty straight forward, but
I will say this, I really recommend it! It's plain on it's own, but in combination
with the other fillings it is wonderful! My sisters kept asking for more of it...and
they don't like plain yogurt!)

I drew 2.5" circles on my paper and then flipped
it over to trace with my piped meringue, but
after they baked, it somehow bled through
so I do NOT recommend this. Instead,
because the nests expand so much anyways,
just draw the size circle you want on a piece
of normal paper and then look at that as you
pipe the nests, they won't be perfect, but
trust me, they will be just fine as long as you
aren't TOO sloppy. Of course you can
do other shapes too or bigger circles!

I've tried taping my paper down, folding it over,
and using some of the meringue to get it to
stick to the baking sheet, but I've found so far
that honey just works the best for me. It
sticks well, it's safe, and it comes off really
easily and is no problem cleaning, but if anyone
has better ideas, please share, I'd love to hear 'em!

Here you can see the smooshed honey doing
it's job.

6 egg whites. I used frozen, defrosted and they
worked like a charm! I also am an avid egg
white saver! Whenever I have a recipe calling
just for yolks I freeze the extra whites in
groups of two for later use. It drives my dad
nuts to have all these random little egg white
ice cubes, but it pays off later when I don't have
to waste any yolks to get what I want!

Woah look how big those suckers got!

Add the thickeners and the vinegar and you
get this! (PS: DON'T leave out the vinegar!
I promise it adds no flavor, it's for the chemistry

Your meringue will be heavier and stickier
than an ordinary meringue would be.

It should also be slightly shiny.

Time to pipe the nests! (fancy piping tips
are totally optional!)

My circle edge/ring thingy

Fill in the ring with another swirl

Go back over the top of the original ring
to create the edge of the nest

Oooh look it stays! I had enough meringue
to go around each of mine twice, but you could
do 3 layers and it should still hold up, or just
stick to one layer if you want to make more

I made 20 nests total, 2.5 in in diameter, with
2 layers of rim, but this number can vary
depending on how thickly you pipe out the
meringue and a number of other things.
(also i didn't space mine out quite enough)

Here you can see the baked nests are a nice
off-white, beige color (perfect!), but they did
expand and run into each other just a little bit :(

From the top...

Cracks are normal with pavlovas, so don't worry
too much about them, just be careful when
handling these guys. If you package them up
to take somewhere DO NOT drop them (like
I did...oops) or they will shatter

Fill with some yogurt cream

Then passion fruit curd...oooh yeah

AND balsamic macerated strawberries?!

Of course the juice swirls are optional, but
hey you've worked this hard, why not go
the whole nine yards and really blow away
all your friends?

And to think those egg whites and passion
fruit could have gone to waste! Being a
produce hero really has its benefits!