Fresh bread, gorgonzola and quince paste
Fall is by far my favorite season and, since the trees here refuse to play dress-up in their crimson, persimmon and gold-colored October wardrobe like a stubborn child refusing to have fun, it’s the one I have to work the most to capture. Autumn comes in from the edges in Southern California. It’s most obvious in the morning—when the light is a little more slanted, illuminating the palm trees and mountains to the east with a pumpkin-tinge—and in the evening, when Orion rises in the sky, the stars on his belt sparkling like Paris Hilton’s bling. It creeps in at the farmers’ markets too, with apples and winter squashes peppering the farmers’ tables along with grapes and figs and dates.
But this year the weather here tells a different story. The summer-like blistering heat marches on like an oppressive regime. So I’m trying to bring the season in from the edges through cooking. Last week I made braised short ribs and slow-cooked chicken. I made sfratti (walnut cookies for the Jewish New Year) and bought a tiny kabocha squash all with the hope that if I ate the foods of fall, somehow I could make it feel more like fall. Mostly it just made my apartment even hotter than it was outside.
Then I found some quince—the yellow-green, lumpy fruit in the apple family with leathery skin like a pomegranate, the astringency of a persimmon when raw and an ethereal, sweet citrus-like flavor when cooked. The fruit has been around for more than 4,000 years in the Mediterranean and Asia, but is just starting to gain popularity here. Only a few farmers grow it, including Mud Creek Ranch in Santa Paula (California), and it’s season is short (late September/early October through December). It tastes delicious poached in vanilla syrup, red wine or honey, or stuffed with spinach—all great symbols of the fall. And because it’s naturally high in pectin, it also lends itself well to jams, jellies and, my favorite, quince paste.
Called membrillo in Spanish, quince paste is customarily served with Manchego cheese, though it contrasts nicely with other salty cheeses like parmigiano or pecorino. Try slathering a pat on fresh bread with gorgonzola, too. Because it keeps well, up to three months in your fridge, it’s easy to make and have ready for unexpected guests, or to serve as a no-fuss appetizer during the rapidly approaching holiday season.
Until I can feel the fall, I’ll be eating quince paste on everything—even if I’m wearing a sundress and the air-conditioning is on all the while.
adapted from Epicurious
4 medium quinces (about 2 pounds), fully ripe
¼ to ½ cup water
2-3 cups sugar
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
Heat oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 1-quart terrine.
Clean and dry quinces. Place in a small roasting pan and cover with foil, then bake in the center of the oven until tender. Transfer pan to a rack to cool.
When quinces are cooled enough to handle, peel and core them using a sharp knife.
In a food processor puree quinces with ¼ cup of water until smooth (if mixture is too thick, add a little water at a time, up to another ¼ cup, as needed). Push quince puree through a fine sieve into a liquid cup measure. Note the amount of puree. Transfer to a 3-quart heavy saucepan and add the equivalent amount of sugar and lemon juice.
Cook puree over moderate heat until thickened and begins to pull away from side of pan. If you do not cook the puree long enough it won’t set (though it will still taste good). Pour into terrine and smooth the top with an offset spatula. When paste has reached room temperature, cover with plastic and chill in the refrigerator until set, about 4 hours.
Run knife along sides of terrine and invert onto a platter. Slice and serve. Wrap unused paste in wax paper and then plastic wrap. It should store, refrigerated, up to three months.