Sunday, June 23, 2013

Shake the Tree and All the Chutney You Ever Wanted Falls Right in Your Lap

If you live or ever have lived in South Florida, you know that tropically inspired food and the in-season fruits that make it legendary are like living a Jimmy Buffet song—only in hi def!   Right now, mangoes and papayas are dangling—and quite tantalizingly—from the branches; iguanas are watching closely, hoping for some of that fruit to fall.
A summertime walk outside in Ft. Lauderdale may be a steam bath, but it’s also an invitation to shake the tree so that all the fruit you ever wanted falls right in your lap—and that’s just what this girl did… except I went to Publix. I picked up enough red flesh papaya to bow the sides of my hand basket. It was just a quick trip for the supplies necessary to make Ft. Lauderdale Fresh Mango & Papaya Chutney: green-skinned papayas and fat, red mangoes weighing about 4 pounds each, chili peppers, a little local honey, etc…..

When I got the papaya home and chopped it open, the seeds reminded me of caviar; these are great, by the way for grinding and using in place of pepper. Papaya seeds have a wonderful sharp and spicy flavor. For the purposes of this recipe, however, I scraped them out with a spoon and put the papaya chunks into a large stockpot. Then the mangoes—easy to slit just once, then peel with your fingers—went in, a cup of brown sugar, half of a diced red onion, with a minced red and green pepper, honey, curry, red wine vinegar and a splash of fresh squeezed FLORIDA orange juice. I let it boil and then took it down to a simmer for over an hour, sorry about only one thing once I tasted it.
It was very, very good and there was a lot of it, but……

This whole chutney experience had been inspired by a trip to Sur La Table, and I hadn’t come home with any of those cute, vintage looking mason jars to put the chutney in. Sur la Table sells a lot of the Kitchen Must Haves that I talk about in the new book, and thus the field trip since I hadn’t been in a while. Pictured here is a rack of chutneys, salsas, spreads, balsamics, powders, you name it. Being in this place is like opening a wardrobe door into a kind of culinary Narnia, and finding yourself in Ina Garten’s pantry.

Scanning the inventory for potential Christmas gifts (even if it is a bit early), I couldn’t help but want to solve this conundrum for people: what is the difference between chutney and salsa? Because I have to admit that the thick “chutney” I just made was used in part, to mix with a pouch of tuna and scoop up with tortilla chips. It was fabulous, but then again, it was salsa…right?
Well, the truth is that while some salsas can actually be cooked, it’s rare to make a salsa on the stove. The chutney/salsa difference lies in the sugar content, too. In order to make chutneys as sweet and sticky as they are, the sugar has to be dissolved via extreme heat into other ingredients, i.e. big ripe pieces of yummy fruit I used today, vinegar and Indian spices. The result is a lot like marmalade: sweet, sticky and thick—and the recipe featured here makes about a quart, enough to pack into clean, sealable jars.

I left Sur La Table without, GASP, buying anything…and maybe those nice looking Mason jars were better left behind this time, since I have big plans for today’s chutney. I am trying to decide if I want to use it on swordfish steaks, take it to picnic with more chips than spoons, or load it into a chicken wrap. Hmm?? Suggestions anyone?

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