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Baked Papaya Delight!

Image of Baked Papaya
By Dennis Linden

Are January’s frigid temps generating thoughts of palm trees in a warm sun, but you just cannot get away? Here’s a scrumptious staycation recipe, submitted by Melissa’s category manager in Cleveland, Ohio, Terri Falcone, which will at least transport your palate to a tropical paradise in one spoonful. In fact, before tasting this dish, it might be prudent to have the fixings for a Piña Colada near at hand just to complete the illusion!

Terri uses the football-size Tai Nung red papaya to call a culinary “time out” from the cold season. This South American variety, with its vibrant salmon-colored fruit, is quartered and slathered with a sweet melted butter-lime juice sauce, which then gets baked into the fruit. Hot out of the oven, each serving is topped with a generous dollop of rich Greek-style yogurt followed by a second generous drizzle of the luscious syrup sauce. Tropical comfort food personified! Ingredient option: Terri did suggest that a high-quality French Vanilla ice cream has been known to occasionally step in to play the role of yogurt in this dish to decadent applause!

“I love this recipe. Usually when I'm playing around in the kitchen I make everyone else try the dish, while I may take just a bite or two,” Terri explained, “but, when I made this recipe for the first time, I swear to you I started with a bite and the next thing you know I had eaten HALF the papaya by myself and we’re talking about half of a nearly 4-lb. Tai Nung! Good thing the fruit has hardly any calories.”

Not only is papaya low-cal, it is one of the most nutrient-dense fruits in the marketplace. The fruit contains nearly double the amount of vitamin C than an orange as well as a good source of vitamins A, B, G, calcium and iron. Most uniquely, papayas contain a digestive agent called papain, which is a powerful enzyme that breaks down the amino acids (proteins) for the body. Papain is also used as tenderizer in the food industry. Papain enables good digestion and helps to alleviate digestive disorders. There is much more papain in the green-skin papaya than in riper, yellowing fruit.

“Besides all the nutritional benefits of papaya,” added Terri, “papaya is great for maintaining skin health too. I am a woman of a certain age and every night I reach for that miracle in a jar.....papaya really is the fruit of the angels when it comes to skin care.”

Tai Nung Reds are mildly sweet compared to the familiar pear-shaped, yellow-fruited Hawaiian variety, which has a strong aromatic and slightly bitter flavor. The other big difference between the varieties is that the skin of the Hawaiian yellows as the fruit ripens; Tai Nung papayas can have a dark green skin and still be fully ripe inside. Instead of color, rely on a slight give in the fruit to gauge maturity. Of course, avoid bruised and very soft fruits that have dark, deep pits. Papayas will ripen up very quickly at room temperature, within a day or two. Use ripe papayas as soon as possible as the fruit does not store well, which is a ready-made excuse to enjoy this fruit quickly and often!

The taste of all papaya varieties seems to be enhanced enormously by the addition of lime juice. While that pairing is most useful in balancing the more pungent flavor of the yellow papaya, the sweeter Tai Nung also responds to this citrus condiment. Terri’s use of the lime, both in her succulent sauce and more blatantly with thin slices baked right into the fruit, seems to pull out the fruit’s subtle sweetness. A very simple dish that will transport you to the tropics…don’t forget that pitcher of Piña Colada!
Image of Terri Falcone
Terri Falcone has been representing Melissa’s with Heinen's for, as she described it, about four wonderful years. “I not only get to work with upper management at Heinen's on merchandising programs, but I also work one-on-one with each of the company’s 22 stores,” explained Terri. “My days can vary between building merchandising programs and working on ads to conducting produce department backroom “educational huddles” with a store’s staff about the culinary attributes of our products or doing consumer tasting events.”

When she takes off her Melissa’s cap for the day, Terri enjoys her two rescue dogs, Jameson and Aine (Gaelic for Anya - the queen of monster fairies). She satisfies her creative side with cooking and crocheting, both taught to her as a child by her mom

“I love to create, whether I am playing in the kitchen to put my own twist on a recipe or maybe making a scarf for someone I care about,” Terri said. “I like the idea of creating something from nothing; like transforming a simple piece of yarn into a scarf or blanket (or whatever) with a specific person in mind. The most important person in my life is my mom, Juanita – a 5-foot, 72-year-old, feisty redhead -- she is my greatest influence and made me want to be better. I have a lot of my mom in me. In fact, it was my mom who told me that if I find something I love to do for a living, it will never seem like a job. I finally understand what she meant!”

Baked Papaya
Serves 4
Image of ingredients

1 Tai Nung Papaya, seeded and quartered
½ Stick of Butter
2 Limes
2 Tablespoons Brown Sugar or Melissa’s Organic Blue Agave Syrup
½ Cup Greek Yogurt or Ice Cream

Image of halved papayas
Slice the papaya in half, end-to-end. Scoop out the seeds and any white pith with a serrated spoon. Then cut the two pieces in half again, crosswise.
Image of placing papayas in the oven
Melt butter in a saucepan, whisk in 1 lime juice and sweetener. In a 9 x 12 baking dish, place the papaya quarters skin side down. Brush the sauce over the papaya quarters. Cut the remaining lime into thin slices and place a few slices in the cavity of each quarter. Bake for 6 to 8 minutes @ 350°F .

Plating: Place a papaya quarter on each plate, top with a dollop of Greek yogurt or ice cream, combine juices from the baking dish and the remaining butter sauce to drizzle generously over the dish.
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