From farm to oven: The basics of roasting fruit

Illustration for article titled From farm to oven: The basics of roasting fruit
Graphic: Libby McGuire

For most of my cooking life, I’ve viewed fruit as something to be eaten on its own, used as an ingredient in cakes and pie, or cooked on top of the stove into a sauce or side dish. The only fruit I ever roasted was apples, which I cored, set in cider, and cooked until they were soft.

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Then, five years ago, my friend Kathy Gunst, a broadcaster and cookbook author, introduced me to her method for roasting strawberries.

I’d never liked the flavor or texture of cooked strawberries, but I found Gunst’s roasting technique to be a perfect way to transform them from a sliced topping into something with a deeper flavor. Roasting also is a cheat to coax more flavor out of supermarket strawberries that look red and pretty on the outside and are mostly white on the inside.

From strawberries, I have moved on to experiment with roasting different types of fruit, hoping to get for similar, flavorful results. I usually roast fruit when I’m roasting something else, to make maximum use of oven time, but it’s safer to do so at a lower temperature, rather then when you are cooking meat or veggies at high heat.

As you try your own experiments, decide whether you want your fruit to stay chunky and textured or whether you want to roast it down into something smoother. Your cooking times will vary, depending on your taste. In every instance, keep watch on your fruit as it cooks. The sugar you add, in addition to its own sugar content, can cause fruit to scorch sooner than might happen with vegetables.

Many of these roasted fruits can be eaten on their own. They make perfect side dishes for meat and fish, and they are wonderful toppings for plain yogurt or ice cream.

Rhubarb

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Clean one pound of rhubarb, discarding any tough ends, and chop into 1" pieces. Toss the rhubarb with 1/2 cup of sugar (or less, if you prefer it tart), 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon ground ginger, and 1 tablespoon of cornstarch, and place it in an ovenproof dish. Add 1-2 tablespoons of water. Roast the rhubarb for 20-25 minutes. Stir, and continue roasting, checking every 5 minutes, until the rhubarb forms a chunky mixture. If you want a smoother sauce, stir the rhubarb vigorously or carefully put it in a blender and pulse to the desired texture.

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Strawberries

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Wash a quart of strawberries and discard any stems or leaves. Toss the whole strawberries with 1-2 tablespoons of sugar (you can use white or brown) and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon. Place the strawberries on a parchment-covered baking tray or in a pie plate, and make sure the strawberries are laid out individually, so they aren’t piled on top of one another. Roast for 12 minutes, then check the berries frequently. It’s easy to scorch them, so take them out once you see that their color has turned a deeper red.

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Apricots

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Wash and halve a quart of apricots, removing the pits. Toss the apricots with 2-3 tablespoons of granulated sugar, plus 1 tablespoon of lemon juice. Place the apricot halves flesh side down on a parchment covered baking tray. Roast for about 20 minutes, and test with a cake tester or a fork. The apricot skin should be soft and the flesh inside should seem cooked. If the fruit is still firm, keep roasting and checking every five minutes or so. Once cooked, you can squeeze the flesh out of the skins and stir it into a smoother sauce.

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Peaches

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Wash, peel, and halve a quart of peaches, then remove the pits and cut the peaches into quarters. Toss the peach slices with 1/3 cup of granulated sugar, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon of ginger, and 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg (if desired). Be sure to check the juiciness of the peaches; riper ones will cook faster—and disintegrate more quickly—than firm ones. Place the peach slices in an ovenproof dish. Roast about 15 minutes and stir. Roast another 10 minutes and taste. Ripe peaches will cook down into a sauce; firmer peaches will keep their shape.

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Raspberries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Wash and pick over a pint of raspberries. Early raspberries can be very delicate, and you may find that they fall apart. Even if that happens, toss the fruit with 1/3 cup of sugar and 1 teaspoon of lemon juice. Place in an ovenproof dish. Check the raspberries after about 10-15 minutes. As soon as they seem soft, take them out. Stir to create a jam-like sauce.

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Blueberries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Wash and pick over a quart of berries. Toss them with 1/3 cup of sugar, 2 tablespoons of cornstarch, 1 teaspoon of lemon juice, and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon (optional). Place in an ovenproof dish and roast for about 15 minutes. Stir and roast another 5-10 minutes. As with rhubarb, you can stop cooking the berries once you get a chunky compote, or you can roast them longer to get blueberry sauce. I’ve found that blueberries can burn quickly once they pop, and they’ll continue cooking in the dish once you take them out.

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DISCUSSION

simon-on-the-river3
simon-on-the-river3

Grilled nectarines. Salt and pepper to taste.