A Glorious Celebration of Fruit
Fruit: Recipes That Celebrate Nature by Bernadette Wörndl, with photography by Gunda Dittrich, (Smith Street Books, © 2018, hardcover, 240 pages, 110 color photographs, $35) is that rather rare cookbook which at first glance seems like a coffee table book because it is so stunning – the photography evokes still lifes by Bruegel or Chardin -- but it instead belongs on a kitchen counter, well-read and getting spattered from repeated use.
Single subject cookbooks can be tricky, partly because by the time you’ve become acquainted with the main ingredient you can be sick of it. But that’s not the case here. Wörndl, a Viennese food writer, gardener and alum of the kitchens at Chez Panisse, has managed to turn fruit into one of the most diverse and versatile foods with which to cook.
She uses fruit as a showcase for other ingredients, she assembles it into salads and breakfasts, she puts it in simple recipes and others that are very sophisticated, she applies classic cooking techniques to transform it, and she features fruit in savory dishes, which is one of my favorite aspects of her book. Taken together she's performed a kind of magic trick by taking a year-round food that is so very good for us and turning it into an essential ingredient.
The book is organized by twenty different main fruits used in its 120 recipes – going from A to S: from apples to strawberries. She teaches us how to choose the best fruit; how to store, preserve, and cook it; when to know when it’s ripe; and other ways to master an ingredient – and isn’t that what we want from our cookbooks? More than just new recipes, we want to become more competent and confident. Even expert.
Here are some of the recipes: Grandma’s Apple Strudel; Roast Pork With Apple Cider, Baked Apples and Purple Potatoes; Blackberry Cobbler (you'll want to lick the photo); Blueberry Liqueur; Lentil and Wild Rice Salad With Cherries; Blood Orange Salad With Beetroot and Avocado; Lemon Marmalade; Glazed Quail With Figs and Pistachio Couscous; Ricotta With Marinated Grapes; Peaches With Burrata, Mint and Bread Chips; Raspberry Sponge Roll; and Elderflower Vinegar. Plus since few of us live in climates where we can have year-round in-season fresh fruits, there's a very helpful chapter at the end on cooking with dried fruit.
The recipes are not all easy; for example, the Apple Strudel calls for making your own strudel pastry. But Wörndl declares this in her spirited introduction: "...the recipes range, from extremely simple dishes that rely on the quality of their few ingredients, through to jars full of preserved pure fruit and extravagant previously uncelebrated combinations."
There are some hard-to-source European ingredients, and much of the book is really not for beginners. I also wish the practical cook overruled the art director when they decided to make a few of the pages black with white type: it’s not only hard to read, you also can’t make notes anywhere. But I didn't let this stop me when I made Wörndl’s recipe for Pork Cutlets with Caramelised Pears and Sage. The flavors and textures are heavenly together, although the recipe requires that the cook have some experienced judgment about combining ingredients that can have vastly different textures and heat sensitivities. Plus there’s a bit of fire from a flaming Cognac. All that said, the result was excellent, despite my using off-season pears.
I think Fruit would be an inspiring choice for a more experienced cook who is looking for new ways to use familiar ingredients. For vegans and vegetarians, many of the recipes are without meat or fish but of those, some contain dairy.
We’ve been given permission to share two recipes: Pork Cutlet With Caramelised Pears and Sage, as well as Wörndl’s classic Cherry Clafoutis. Gunda Dittrich’s arresting photographs accompany both.