A violent storm has just made its way through, the first one after months of nearly constant sun. It is still periodically pouring rain and a persistent wind has been whirling around and rattling what remains of the rose bushes outside my kitchen window. It’s feeling like fall has come but there was still a pile of perfectly ripened summer fruit on the counter so it seemed like the perfect scenario to try a roasted fruit salad. I used a combination of plump pears, juicy peaches and sweet strawberries along with a vanilla bean and several cardamom pods for extra flavour.
Working with whole spices has a certain exoticism and romance to it. Once they are ground up they start to diminish in taste so using the whole option guarantees maximum effect. Growing up I never saw spices like this, they were always already ground up and bottled, and I did not understand the difference until I started using them. Now, the little corner of my kitchen cupboard that stores all these is like a precious little treasure trove. Using whole spices, or some just ground in a coffee grinder, makes it easier to understand why the spice trade played such a massive role in the power struggles and empire building of so many cultures before us. In the world of food, they are the jewels and they can transform the most basic of ingredients into a rich and fragrant dish with layers of flavour.
Vanilla is a member of the orchid family and originated in South and Central America where it was first used to flavour drinking chocolate. When the Spanish conquistadors came they named it “vainilla”, meaning “little pod” or “little sheath”. It is currently available in several formats- whole beans/pods, powder, genuine extract and artificial extract. Of them all, the beans have the most enticing flavour and though they are more expensive, in a simple dish like this their potency and depth really shine through. Once you split open the beans there are countless tiny black seeds, and those little black specs are the incontestable proof that real vanilla was used.
Cardamom is a common spice in Indian, Middle Eastern and Scandinavian cuisines, used to help characterize several sweet and savoury dishes. The connection between these vastly different eastern and north western regions dates back to the reign of Alexander the Great, when Constantinople was a commercial continental bridge between Europe and Asia, as well as a stop for the Vikings. It has a unique flavour, being slightly sweet, citrusy and reminiscent of mint, with some floral undertones. For several thousands of years it has been used as a digestive aid, and less tangibly as an aphrodisiac and to help clear the mind and achieve a more peaceful outlook and state of being. It comes either in whole pods or the round seeds inside are removed and ground down.
The strawberries break down and their juices bubble and thicken until they form a deep red syrup. The peaches soften up and the plums get even more tender. The roasting process really brings out all of their sweetness and accentuates their distinct flavours.
- 4 cups strawberries, halved
- 4 cups peaches, sliced (3 large)
- 2 cups plums, sliced (6 small)
- 1 vanilla bean
- 6 cardamom pods
- Preheat oven to 400°. Place all the fruit in a deep baking dish then place the cardamom pods all around and push them down amongst the fruit. Slice the top of the vanilla then place it in the middle, underneath a layer of fruit do it doesn't burn. Bake for 20 minutes, stirring halfway through. Use a spoon to trace along the inside of the vanilla bean, scooping out all the tiny seeds that haven't come out on their own. Remove the cardamom and stir the fruit all around gently. Serve warm with yogurt, on whole grain waffles and/or with chopped nuts and granola.