It’s that time of year when the strawberries taste like cotton wool, the raspberries have mildew hidden on the bottom and biting into the cantaloupe is like chewing cardboard. So I say, “Thank heavens, for the blessed banana!”
But isn’t the banana just about the perfect fruit at any time? First of all, a wonderful snack, healthy, virtually fat free and full of potassium; neat, no sticky messy juices; portable, easily fitting into lunch bags and briefcases. Besides — peeling one is like opening a present and, at least where we live, bananas are always available. And the flavour — mellow, sweet and instantly recognizable — it definitely is the flavour that has made the fruit a perennial favorite.
Even the most cursory research will tell you that there are all sorts of bananas, red bananas, pink bananas, purple bananas and, of course, plantains which are firmer, starchier and not so sweet. But the bananas that we have here, in Hamilton, are almost always the big, yellow Cavendish. Which brings me to the darker side of the story. Almost 99% of our bananas come from Ecuador, Colombia, Honduras, Costa Rica and Guatemala where the big corporations such as Chiquita (formerly the United Fruit Company), Del Monte, Dole and Fyffes are complicit in human rights abuses such as 12 to 14 hour workdays without overtime pay, using child labour, even violence against small farmers and trade union workers. This is a food blog, not a political blog, but if you want to be an ethical consumer, check out http://www.fairtrade.net/bananas.html before you buy. There are many places to get fair trade bananas in Hamilton — my supermarket sells them — and they only cost a few cents more. You will feel better about yourself if you ask for them.
Anyway, after buying your bananas take care of them, because while they look resilient, they’re actually very fragile. Leave them to ripen at room temperature and do not place unripe bananas in the refrigerator as this will interrupt the ripening process to such an extent that it will not be able to resume even if the bananas are returned to room temperature.
If you need to hasten the ripening process, you can place bananas in a paper bag or wrap them in newspaper, adding an apple to accelerate the process. Ripe bananas that will not be consumed for a few days can be placed in the refrigerator, a good idea if you are worried about fruit flies. While their peel may darken, the flesh will not be affected. For maximum flavor, remove the bananas from the refrigerator and allow them to come back to room temperature before eating.
Bananas and anise — try liquorice ice-cream with sliced banana or banana liqueur — or even liquorice-flavored liqueur with banana bread;
Bananas and chocolate — an old favorite, so easy, so good – slash the skin of the banana, make slits in the flesh and insert chunks of chocolate. Put the skin back, wrap in foil and bake in the oven for five minutes. Open the package and eat the hot, gooey mess with a spoon;
Bananas and chicken — that’s right, look up a recipe for Chicken à la Maryland (not Maryland chicken which is something else altogether) — This is fried, breaded chicken served with sautéed bananas, a dish which apparently was served on the Titanic the night it sank;
Bananas and Peanuts — Well, we all know about Elvis’ (in)famous deep-fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches, don’t we?
Here’s a recipe that’s a more sophisticated version of that particular banana and peanut flavour combination — a cold and creamy semifreddo. (It’s Italian for “half cold” and is a chilled or partially frozen dessert, a sort of mix between ice cream, gelato, mousse or whipped cream.) This is a dessert that delivers a distinctive banana flavour but is a lot easier to make than banana cream pie.
1 cup roasted unsalted peanuts
3 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 ripe bananas
1 and 1/2 cups chilled heavy cream
1. Line an 8 1/2 by 4 1/2 by 2 1/2 inch metal loaf pan with plastic wrap, leaving a 2 inch overhang on ends and chill in freezer.
2. Coarsely grind peanuts in a food processor.
3. In a metal bowl beat eggs and sugar until combined. Set bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and beat egg mixture until thick and pale and registers 140 degrees F. on a thermometer. Continue beating over water 3 minutes and then remove bowl from heat. Beat in vanilla and salt.
4. In another bowl coarsely mash bananas and fold into egg mixture with peanuts.
5. In another bowl beat cream until it just holds stiff peaks and fold into banana mixture gently but thoroughly.
6. Pour mixture into loaf pan. Freeze semifeddo, covered with plastic wrap, at least 8 hours and up to 5 days. Unmold semifreddo onto a platter, discarding plastic wrap and cut into slices.
Serves 6 – 8.
If you really want to “gild the lily”, you could drizzle this with chocolate or caramel sauce and add a few peanuts on top.