By Wolfgang Puck
Tribune Content Agency
When I walk through my local farmers market right now, I couldn’t be happier. Why? We’re right in the middle of summer stone fruit season. Peaches. Nectarines. Apricots. Plums. Cherries. Some of the most succulent fruits imaginable are at their peak right now. I could make a meal for myself by just strolling past the stalls and enjoying all the samples!
Nothing quite matches the simple pleasure of eating these juicy fruits by hand. But eventually, people who love to cook want to try creating something with them in the kitchen. Because stone fruit are so juicy and sweet, along with a wonderful touch of acidity, they find their way happily into not only sweet recipes but also savory ones. I’ve enjoyed spicy barbecue sauces and chutneys made from them, as well as chunks of the fresh fruit tossed into chicken or seafood salads.
Naturally, though, you’ll get around to making a summer fruit dessert. There are delicious peach, apricot or cherry ice creams, and pies beyond description; not to mention cakes and sweet quick breads studded with juicy, jewel-like nuggets.
For me, however, the ultimate summer desserts have got to be cobblers. Compotes of cooked fruit topped with thin, rustic-looking layers of pastry or biscuit dough and then baked in the oven until golden-brown on top and bubbling underneath. The name alone is so much fun, suggesting something homespun that has been “cobbled” together. (Some food historians will also tell you that rough pieces of cobbler dough placed on top of the filling resemble an old-fashioned cobblestone street.)
I must admit, though, that I do sometimes have one problem with cobblers: Their dough toppings can feel a bit heavy on the stomach, especially at the end of a generous meal on a hot summer evening. So, what can you do?
Many years ago, at Spago, we came up with an ingenious solution: replacing the traditional heavier topping with one of the lightest forms of pastry imaginable. Phyllo, the ultra-thin sheets of dough popular in the Middle East, is readily available. (You can find premade packaged phyllo dough in the freezer case of well-stocked supermarkets, or buy it online. Thaw the dough before use, following the manufacturer’s instructions.)
As described in the following recipe, the phyllo dough is easily cut into thin strips that are arranged into nest-like ring shapes, sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and briefly baked. Then, once the fruit mixture (here, a combination of nectarines, cherries, apricots ad blackberries) has been cooked in the oven in individual ramekins, each serving is topped with its own “nest” of crispy, flavorful, golden phyllo.
It’s all so simple, and sure to earn the delighted admiration of your summertime dinner guests.
SUMMER FRUIT COBBLER WITH PHYLLO NESTS
For the phyllo nests:
- 1 8-ounce (250-g) roll packaged phyllo, refrigerated or frozen and thawed
- 1/3 cup (85 g) granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Nonstick spray
For the cobbler filling:
- 2 pounds (500 g) ripe nectarines, halved, pitted, and cut into 1/4-inch (6-mm) slices
- 1 pound sweet cherries, pitted
- 3/4 pound (185 g) ripe apricots, halved, pitted, and thinly sliced
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup (60 mL) fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 cup (60 mL) all-purpose flour
- 1 vanilla bean, cut in half lengthwise, seeds scraped out and reserved with the pod
- 1 cinnamon stick
- Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
- 4 cups (1 L) fresh blackberries
- 1/3 cup (85 mL) Streusel (recipe follows)
- Position a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 360 F (175 C). With nonstick spray, coat the insides of 8 ramekins, each 4 1/2 inches (11.4 cm) wide by 1 inch (2.5 cm) deep. Set aside.
- For the phyllo nests: Unwrap the phyllo, but leave the sheets rolled up together. On a clean cutting board, use a sharp knife to cut the roll crosswise into 1/4-inch (6-mm) slices. Gently toss to separate into loose strips. You should have about 8 cups (2 L).
- In a small bowl, stir together the sugar and cinnamon.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Measure 1 cup of loosely packed phyllo strips, and arrange in a 4-inch (10-cm) ring on the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining phyllo for a total of 8 rings. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, spray lightly with nonstick spray, and bake until golden brown and crispy, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
- Bring a kettle of water to a boil.
- For the cobbler filling, in a medium saucepan combine the nectarines, cherries, apricots, sugar, lemon juice, flour, vanilla seeds and pod, cinnamon and nutmeg. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, just until the juices start to thicken but the fruit is still firm, about 5 minutes.
- Remove the vanilla pod and cinnamon stick. Stir in the blackberries. Divide the mixture evenly among the ramekins. Sprinkle streusel on top.
- Place the ramekins in a baking pan. Pull out the oven rack partway and place the pan on it. Then, carefully pour boiling water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Carefully slide the rack into the oven. Bake until the juices are thick, about 30 minutes. Carefully remove from the oven and set the ramekins aside to cool for a few minutes.
- Transfer each ramekin to a serving plate. Place a phyllo nest on top. Serve immediately.
Makes about 1 3/4 cups (435 mL)
- 1/4 cup (60 g) unblanched whole shelled almonds
- 1/3 cup (85 mL) all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 3/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- Pinch of ground cardamom
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
- 1/2 cup (125 mL) quick-cooking rolled oats
- Position the rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 F (175 C).
- Spread the almonds on a baking sheet, and toast until fragrant and slightly darkened, 15 to 18 minutes, turning occasionally with a metal spatula.
- Cool to room temperature. Coarsely chop by pulsing briefly in a food processor with the stainless-steel blade. Set aside.
- In the processor, combine the flour, sugars, cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom. Pulse several times to combine. Add the butter, and process just until the mixture comes together.
- Transfer to a medium bowl. Add the oats and almonds, and stir well. Cover and refrigerate until needed.