Everything You Wanted To Know (or not) About: Starfruit

Thursday, April 26, 2012

You've seen them. In the grocery store, in the unflamboyant lonely basket near the banana section that houses the "bizarre" looking fruit. You know the ones -- the hairy balls that are kiwi (you've managed to get past that now), the papaya that you didn't realize was actually that huge and houses so many pearly black seeds, and....a bizarre tubular fruit with waxy yellow skin.

Carambola, or known more commonly as starfruit, is a fascinating fruit with amazing flavor and incredible presence. Usually formed into a classic five-point star (but can also have up to 7!), once you slice the tube cross-wise you yield beautiful transparent fruit in the shape of a star. Simply put: they are beautiful. And extremely tasty. The starfruit has an amazing peculiar sweetness unlike anything you've ever eaten before, with a slight undertone of sour or tart. The skin is extremely thin and edible, and the seeds are teeny tiny and also edible. The texture of the fruit is crisp and full of moisture, much like an asian pear, and holds its shape well even thinly sliced.

The starfruit is native to Southeast Asia, the South Pacific, and Eastern Asia although today it's grown also in the Caribbean, Florida, and in Central and South America. The plant thrives on a warm, moist climate. Prime starfruit season is August to February, although now you can find them year round given their global farming.

And a special note: if you're suffering from kidney issues then stay away from the starfruit. Although very healthy and high in antioxidants and vitamin C in particular, the fruit contains oxalic acid which is known to cause kidney stones and severe and very dangerous symptoms in those who have kidney disease, especialy who are at the stage of kidney failure. If your kidneys are fine, then please enjoy this most special and healthy of fruits!

But how do you use it? The fruit is best eaten as is -- simply sliced fresh and eaten like that. They go great in salads, so you can slice some and replace a fruit component in a composed salad with them for example. They can be cooked and made into a chutney or used for a curry, but admittedly they are more water than juicy, so you won't get the consistency you ideally want for a cooked food from them. You can also use them as a cracker -- slice the stars a bit thicker to make them sturdier, then top with an herbed goat cheese or ricotta cheese mixed with roasted garlic and fresh herbs. They also make a fun and unexpected addition to any fruit platter. But my personal favorite way is to squeeze out the juice and make a cocktail, then use a slice to garnish the glass.

Here's a very simple recipe using starfruit in a salad. The flavor compliments the tender spinach and punchy goat cheese, and please do use a champagne vinegar for the vinaigrette so as not to overpower the incredible flavor of the fruit! Enjoy!

Spinach Salad with Starfruit and Goat Cheese
4 cups baby spinach
1 large starfruit, sliced into 1/4" thick sliced stars
about 1/2 cup (small log) fresh goat cheese (aka "chevre")
course sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp champagne vinegar
1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves, picked off the stem

Place the spinach in a large mixing bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, and thyme until emulsified. Take some of the vinaigrette and pour it over the spinach and toss, reserving the rest of the vinaigrette to spoon over the rest of the salad. Portion out the tossed spinach onto 4 plates. Add sliced starfruit to each plate, nuzzling it on top and into the leaves. Dot the plates with some goat cheese, then give another small round of pepper to the plates. Spoon some vinaigrette over the cheese and fruit and serve immediately.

Pony Party Round-Up: Smoked Mozzarella Pasta Salad

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

I've been behind on blogging because I've had an absurd amount of social commitments to attend to in the last few weeks. Beginning with, Little Girl's 5th birthday party!

A theme centered around My Little Pony, I set out to make her dream come true. Which apparently I did. So that's great. Aside from the insane dessert table (blog forthcoming), I did a food table geared towards the adults more than the kids. One of the dishes that was very well received and requested a blog on was my Smoked Mozzarella Pasta Salad.

I didn't manage to get good pics of the salad itself, but it's located down here next to the Cheetos. Yes, we served Cheetos. And how does one make Cheetos look elegant? One serves them in a pretty pink vintage candy dish, that's how. Just so you know for your future parties.

Smoked mozzarella pasta salad in the cups next to cheetos, served in individual portions for easy serving and clean up!

the food table
This recipe is based largely on the one I buy from Whole Foods that I think I improve upon a little. It's quite easy to make and feeds an absurd amount of people. You can also make this a full day in advance as well, so it's very hostess friendly for a party. It's great for picnics, church functions, parties, or even for lunch or dinner! The smoky mozzarella adds incredible flavor and smell to the salad while sweet sun dried tomatoes (my addition to the whole foods original) balances out the hard smokiness of the cheese quite nicely. Fresh basil, a little fresh thyme, and black pepper add flavor and freshness to the dish, and white balsamic vinegar gives the mayonnaise-based dressing the sweetness it needs to balance it all out into one perfect bite. Add the requisite red onion and celery -- finely chopped of course! -- for the perfect texture and you've got one killer pasta salad. Enjoy it!

This recipe makes enough to serve 20 appetizer portions as shown in the picture; you can halve the recipe easily for a smaller family size meal.

Smoked Mozzarella Pasta Salad
1 lb rigatoni pasta
1 red onion, peeled and finely chopped
3 stalks celery, finely chopped
1/4 cup sun dried tomatoes (in oil!), drained and roughly chopped
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped or torn
1 Tbs fresh thyme leaves
1 cup good quality mayo
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp white balsamic vinegar (can substitute with a combination of white vinegar and honey)
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp cayenne pepper or to taste (optional)
1 cup cubed smoked mozzarella cheese

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once boiling, add a good half palmful of salt to the water and add pasta. Cook according to package directions (about 10 minutes) until al dente. Drain pasta and add to a large mixing bowl.

While the pasta is still warm, add the red onion, celery, sun dried tomatoes, and herbs. In a smaller bowl whisk together the mayo, mustard, vinegar, salt and pepper to taste, and cayenne if using. Pour the dressing over the pasta and vegetables while the pasta is still warm; the pasta will better absorb the dressing this way. Toss gently to coat the dressing all over. Add the cheese and mix in to combine.

The salad is ready to serve as is, or you can let it cool completely, cover and refridgerate. Give it a good toss before serving if you're making it in advance. And if the pasta soaks up too much of the dressing overnight, then add a couple more tablespoons of mayo and toss to coat before serving.

*I used rigatoni pasta for this because their large, tubular shapes hold perfectly the weight of the other vegetables and dressings and cheese involved. You could certainly use a penne pasta or shells, or even elbow macaroni but I suggest then cutting the vegetables and cheese even smaller then to suit the smaller sized pasta so the pasta doesn't break under the weight of the larger pieces.

**You can find smoked mozzarella in most grocery stores now next to the fresh mozzarella in the gourmet cheese aisle. Whole Foods offers a wonderful selection at good price. And if you're not into the smokiness factor at all, you can certainly swap it out for a fontina cheese. The nuttiness of fontina would work beautifully with this salad as well!