What to Do with Shitty Produce: Pineapple
It's a familiar scenario. You walk into a market (most likely of the "super" variety), see a display of pineapple. In its alien, armadillo-like state it might conjure up some sunny memory of a Hawaiian vacation. Or it might strike a bit of fear. What the hell do I do with that? You buy one, utilizing some rule or another as to gauge ripeness. You tug on a leaf. You check its bottom where it was once attached to a cactus-like base. Or you give it a sniff.
Chances are, the leaf gave way not because it was ripe, but because it's old. The bottom is about as appealing as a forgotten piece of fruit in a garbage bin. And the fragrance? Is that fermentation I detect? But it's too late. In your enthusiasm or self-loathing, you bought it with dreams of serving some kitschy fried-rice dish in its bowels. But here you are with a shitty pineapple.
Here's what you do.
First, you gotta cut the thing. A while back, I took a crack at it in the aptly named How to Cut a Pineapple
If the stuff is ripe, you really don't need to do anything to it. The honeyed sweetness, the acidity, the juice, is in a word, perfect. Maybe sometime on a grill to caramelize the natural sugars and heat the juices - but that's about it.
But sadly, most of the fruit that comes our way is less than stellar. A downright crime actually (such a waste of labor, but that's for another post...). So a bit of cosmetic surgery in order.
A bit of sweetness is needed. Dust with a bit of demerara sugar (sugar in the raw) or drizzle with a bit of honey and let it sit for at least an hour. That's what you see me doing with a disappointing fruit. Thank god for Ziploc bags, blessed are they for those who do not have enough bowls.
And most certainly, cook the damn thing. You can poach pineapple. Once it's cut into largish chunks, bring a large pot of simple syrup (1 1/2 parts water to 1 part sugar dissolved together) to a boil. Add some aromatics. The best sound the strangest - white peppercorns. Add the pineapple and cook until knife tender. Remove and cook down the syrup. Remove the peppercorn and add a handful of fresh basil or mint or thyme. Pour this over the cooked pineapple and let it sit for as long as you can. Eat the syrup and the pineapple together. Heaven.
Roasting is easy and probably the best way, second only to a grill. It's likely though that most of us reading this now are suffering from sunshine-withdrawal and outdoor grilling sounds just as appealing as sunbathing in Siberia. In February. So preheat an oven to 375 degrees. Place the sugar-marinated fruit into a baking dish and heat away until the pineapple becomes a deeper shade of yellow, translucent and soft. The edges might even caramelize. All the better.
Once it gets to this point, eat it straight away (over some ice cream). Or keep it in the fridge to enjoy with yogurt or ice cream. If you're really ambitious, you can place some cake better over the baking fruit (cooked, while it's still in the baking dish), and finish cooking until the cake is finished. A less-sugary upside-down pineapple cake.
But here's my go-to pineapple rescue recipe. Something I found a long time ago in an obscure cookbook gifted to me by a high school friend, The Tao of Cooking. I don't remember much of the philosophical bit. I remember only one recipe. This is it.
HONEY CARAMEL PINEAPPLE
1 pineapple, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces
1/2 cup light honey (not clover, try a wildflower, any other blossom, just not bloody clover)
Fresh herbs - rosemary, thyme, or basil
1/2 cup heavy cream
Place the fruit in a single layer in a casserole/baking dish/cast iron skillet. Drizzle over the honey. Place it into a pre-heated 375 degree oven and roast until the honey has melted and melded with the fruit juices. Add the fresh herbs (whole) and stir together.. If using basil, don't add until the fruit is done cooking, at the very end. Add more honey if needed to keep everything syrupy.
Once the fruit is knife-tender, pour in the cream and stir again. Leave until oven just until the liquid is warmed up again. Don't cook it or let it boil. Serve immediately in little bowls of hot, and straight from casserole to other people who have suffered from shitty pineapples.