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March, 2011

Cooking with Passion

By Dennis Linden

Before the reader gets excited over the perceived attributes that an exotic fruit called Passion might possess, the bubble-bursting fact is that this fruit was given its name by Catholic missionaries
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Passion Fruit
Passion Fruit was christened by the clergy who accompanied the first Spanish explorers to South America; they saw the fruit’s brilliant flower as a symbol of Christ’s crucifixion, sometimes referred to by Christians as The Passion of the Cross. The beautiful corona threads of the Passion Flower were seen as the crown of thorns, the five stamens were wounds, the five petals and five sepals as the ten apostles (excluding Judas and Peter) and the three stigmas symbolized the nails on the cross. Also, while bubbles are bursting in air, when the Spanish brought the Passion Fruit plant back to Europe its leaves were used as a sleep-inducing sedative! Still, while there is apparently nothing very sexy about this fruit’s heritage or powers, the Passion Fruit’s unique flavor can be a component in an array of culinary temptations that run the gamut from apps to after dinner delights and every course in between.

For home chefs, Passion Fruit can be your secret flavor tool that will both please and puzzle guests as to exactly what taste is being experienced. From the simplest fresh fruit topping over vanilla ice cream, to being a key component in a butter sauce for lobster or a more complex reduction to match a heartier red meat, Passion Fruit is a useful ingredient in dishes at any stage in a meal as well as flavoring in any number of tropical libations to go with that meal! Purple Passion Fruit is available in most well-supplied, upscale grocery markets almost year around. New Zealand’s harvest is in peak production right now and will provide fruit to the U.S. marketplace until late June. July sees the first of the California large crop, which supplies our domestic demand until February. With this kind of consistent availability, the savvy gourmet would do well to explore this fruit’s varied culinary applications.

The flavor of this fruit can be tart to sweet-tart, depending on the degree of ripeness; guava-like, with a bit more acidity. When the sugar content is highest, extremely ripe (wrinkled) fruit can be eaten out of hand by just cutting it in half and scooping out the gelatinous pulp with a spoon. The tiny, black seeds are edible and even add a pleasant crunch. However, this fruit was really born to be an ingredient in a larger dish, as its flavor is best appreciated when paired with other fresh components that counter-balance its unique, sweet-tart characteristics. This wide range compatibility with other ingredients is why the fruit can be found in so many cuisines outside of its Brazilian heritage; today, it is a favorite of professional chefs in fine restaurants around the world.

While the seeds are perfectly edible, sometimes seedless pulp may be preferred or only the fruit’s very concentrated juice. For seedless pulp: Heat the pulp and seeds just slightly, then force the pulp through a fine mesh strainer with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. It will take about a dozen Passion Fruits to produce just one cup of pulp. To extract the juice for use as a flavoring, use the same gentle heating process, then place the pulp with seeds in cheesecloth and squeeze the liquid into a bowl. Tip: be very careful not to overheat the fruit as it will sour the taste considerably. Know that it does take a whole lot of fruits to produce a small amount of juice -- more than one-hundred per liter. However, if you are willing to do the work, the juice is very concentrated and is best diluted with water, so a little goes a long way. Another culinary-friendly characteristic of the Passion Fruit is that the pulp can be frozen for up to 3 months without damage if stored in a proper freezer container. Whole Passion Fruit can also be frozen but the thawing process is a little messier. It is better to deal with the fruit’s hard outer shell before freezing. Related: try Passion Fruit juice bars! Dilute fresh Passion juice with water 4:1, add a little sugar or agave syrup to taste; pour into Popsicle molds or ice trays and freeze. Healthy and delicious!

When buying Passion Fruit, choose large, heavy, firm fruit. When ripe and ready to eat, the shell-like skin of the Passion Fruit appears wrinkled and old. Even a bit of mold can appear in the cracks or dimples of the skin; this does not affect taste and can be wiped off. Pay more attention to skin color than condition. If it is green, smooth and hard, then the fruit is immature and may never ripen. If the fruit is starting to show shades of purple, then the ripening process has begun. Leave at room temperature until the skin wrinkles but the fruit is still firm. Once ripe, Passion Fruit can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Interestingly, and related to the Passion plant having been used as a sedative, research for this article uncovered several sources claiming that drinking a few glasses of pure Passion Fruit juice would allegedly have a very calming effect on even the most hyper-active child. Again, slow down on more false expectations of this fruit’s powers. It would be wonderful if a parent’s peace and quiet could be had with a simple: “Drink your Passion juice, Johnny!”, however, commercial Passion Fruit juice is too diluted with water and many other fruit concentrates to be effective in this regard. Plus the amount of time, fruit and cheesecloth necessary to sustain a fresh-squeeze remedy renders it impractical and probably harmful to the health of parents due to chronic squeezing syndrome! Instead, it is recommended that the reader focus on these wonderful recipes that demonstrate the versatility of this fruit, complied by the talented chefs in elissa’s test kitchen for your cooking and dining pleasure. Happy forks!