What’s Cooking in the COUTURE KITCHEN?
Tuscan cuisine often seems like a celebration of the land as it coincides with the cultivation of seasonal food from its farms, gardens and orchards. Zero kilometre healthy eating has never strayed far from the Italian kitchen. To celebrate the spirit of the Tuscan Christmas, Cookware Couture gives particular homage to the highlighted fruit of the season: the persimmon.
Often known in terms of its deep orange colour, its juicy but astringent pulp, the ornamental persimmon fruit graces the trees in late autumn, and the Tuscan countryside is richly peppered with its deep hue in the months of November and December.
Kaki , (Diospyros kaki), as the persimmon fruit is known in Italian, was first introduced into Europe by the English director of the botanical gardens in Calcutta, who brought it from China in the late 1700s. Making its way to France and the US in the first part of the 1800s, the first kaki tree was planted in Italy in the renowned Boboli Gardens in Florence in 1870-71. Its cultivation continued to grow throughout Italy the beginning of the 20th century. It is said that during the rule of Mussolini (1922-45) in preparation for war, a mandate was implemented that every farmhouse must possess a kaki tree, as its high carbohydrate content would give the passing soldiers a tonic of energy.
Often astringent when taken in the mouth, followed by its sweet flavour to follow, the Tuscans eat this roundish fruit with a spoon, often cutting off its top and then scraping its insides for its sweet pulp. It can be made into a jam or relish or baked in the oven. Not exactly kitchen-shattering cuisine, Cookware Couture took it upon itself to delve deeper into the plucky little persimmon.
This month, Cookware Couture teamed up with the talented Florence-based home-stylist Nina Marton to be enlightened by her gorgeous recipes which showcase the persimmon. Being a first generation American, Nina continues to embrace her Austrian-German baking heritage and zero kilometre organic dedication to create wonderful natural delicacies for the Christmas Season and beyond.
The persimmon not only offers a colourful organic edge to any Christmas garnish, when dried it can be eaten as a delicious fruit in its own right, stored in glass jars and eaten throughout the year. Nina’s Japanese-cum-California method for drying persimmons is as follows:
If you are lucky enough to source a persimmon tree (in this case Nina looked no further than her front garden), you must pick them once the leaves have fallen from the tree and when the fruit has apple-hard firmness. When making the cut, be sure to also include a couple centimetres of the small branch to which it is attached.
After washing the fruit, make a 1 cm small incision just underneath the leafy stem bit and remove a long strip of peel around the top of the fruit for easier peeling. Next, take a peeler and remove all the rest of the skin. What remains is the exposed naked kaki with its brown leafy tuft at the top and a bit of twig attached to it. Next affix a long piece of string to the twig at the top. If the fruit doesn’t have a twig, then insert a screw in the middle of the brown leafy bit. If you are feeling more festive then choose a string that is coloured or a go wild with decorative ribbon.
The persimmon is then hung from any sort of rail in a place that has natural sunlight and is dry, warm and aired. Many households utilize the curtain rod in the kitchen as the perching place or from a cooker-hood which is what Nina uses. If you intend to incorporate the fruit into a festive decoration, Nina recommends that you let your inner-stylist shine and create a garland held together by thin florists’ wire which includes supple branches, rosemary strands, bay leaves, berries, dried oranges, cinnamon sticks, dried chilli pepper bouquets, ivy and pine branches or anything from your garden that might make for a catchy Winter display.
After about the first five days, you must massage the fruit gently, which helps to release the humidity from the fruit. Afterwards massage the fruit every few days. They will develop a powdery outside layer which is the sign that sugars are being emitted. The fruit should hang between three and five weeks or when you feel they are fully dried. The final appearance will be brown and there should be no “squish” to them, similar to a dried apricot.
When you are satisfied with the drying process, remove the fruits and store them in glass jars with loose lids. These deliciously dried delicacies will be a welcome treat throughout the year to accompany any cheese platter or eaten for a healthy snack.
Persimmon Christmas Pudding
This full-proof no-fuss recipe has a moist and scrumptious consistency and will be the grand finale for any holiday feast or the toast of the tea-time treat. You will want ripe and soft persimmons whereby you can extract their fleshy pulp with ease.
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup butter melted
1 ½ cups persimmons -- fleshy inside bit only (4-5 ripe persimmons scooped out, large seed removed, processed in food processor untl smooth)
Fresh Cream, whipped
Bring a very large pot of water to a simmer. You will be placing the pudding mold into this to cook, so chose an ample enough pot with lid.
Mix all the dry ingredients together thoroughly.
Wisk together egg, milk, vanilla, egg and butter. Then fold in persimmon pulp and the dry ingredients. Mix until well blended.
Pour the batter into a deep pudding mold (a ceraminc dish with a lid and no handles). Put this covered dish into your larger pot of simmering water. The water should come up to no higher than 2/3 of the outside of pudding dish as you don’t want any water boiling over onto the pudding. Place on the stove. Cover.
With the larger pot covered, steam gently for 2 hours. The pudding is set when it no longer jiggles and is dark brown in colour. It should be slightly sticky not dry.
Serve immediately with whipped cream.
When entertaining during the holidays, we want our creations to be dependably delicious and this recipe is one of those gems you will go back to again and again. Even better, if you are in possession of the Cookware Couture Tegamino dish, this is a perfect opportunity to employ its kitchen to table use that will show off your elegant culinary talents in grand style.
3 cups (330 g) flour
2 cups (300g) sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 ½ cups good olive oil (or vegetable oil)
4 eggs lightly beaten
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 ½ cups walnuts, hazlenuts, or almonds (ground)
1 1/3 cups persimmon pulp (4 -5 ripe persimmons scooped out, large seed removed, processed in food processor until smooth)
¾ cup fruit of choice, chopped into small bits (apples, pears, pineapple)
Fresh cream, whipped or cream cheese frosting
Preheat oven to 350 F (175 C). Grease the sides of the spring form tin or the Cookware Couture Tegamino silver dish, and line its base with parchment paper.
Mix well in a bowl all of the dry ingredients – flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, cinnamon.
Add oil, eggs and vanilla. Beat well. Fold in the nuts, persimmon pulp and fruits. Make sure all is well integrated. Pour this mixture into your prepared pan. Place in the middle rack of your oven and cook for 50 minutes or until golden brown and the sides pull away slightly from the pan. Let cool before serving.
This recipe produces two cakes which can be turned into a layer cake with cream cheese frosting, or served separately as desired.
Cream Cheese Frosting
225 grams cream cheese, at room temperature
6 tablespoons (83 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 ½ to 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Juice of ½ lemon (optional)
Cream together cream cheese and butter in a bowl. Add confectioner’s sugar and continue beating until incorporated. Add vanilla and lemon juice.
Our beautiful Nina Marton at home in her Tuscan kitchen