Food & Drink

Main dishes? Fruit is not forbidden

Chilled avocado and yogurt soup with melons (see recipe on Page 3D), from, is garnished with basil leaves and pine nuts.
Chilled avocado and yogurt soup with melons (see recipe on Page 3D), from, is garnished with basil leaves and pine nuts. St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Anyone can use fruit to make a sweet dish: apple brown betty, strawberry parfait, cherry pie. Peach pie. Blueberry pie. Lemon meringue pie. Key lime pie.

But it takes more fortitude to use fruit to make savory foods, more willingness to think outside the peel. And that makes the results special.

Examples abound. If you think about it, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is a more or less savory use of fruit in a meal. For that matter, spaghetti and meatballs uses a fruit – tomatoes – to make a savory sauce.

I decided to explore the savory side of fruit with four dishes. Not one of them used jelly or tomato sauce, which would be easy. No, instead I made duck a l’orange.

Duck a l’orange takes significant time and effort. If you feel that you’ll never put that much labor into a single meal, don’t worry – the other three dishes are easier. Much easier.

Seriously, one is just a grilled cheese sandwich with slices of pear and roast beef. It’s so easy, it’s almost not worth talking about (until you try it, and then you’ll be talking about it for weeks).

But first, the duck a l’orange.

Duck a l’orange is the most classic of all classic fruit-based savory dishes; it has been around since at least the 1500s, and some scholars think it goes back before that. According to Saveur magazine, when French cooking changed radically in the 17th century from medieval tastes to the style we know today, one of the very few dishes that survived the transition was duck a l’Orange.

It’s just that good.

There are hundreds or thousands of recipes for duck a l’orange on the internet, and many of them use such abominations as marmalade or orange juice. Please. It was the use of such insipid sweetenings that made the entire world suddenly tired of the dish in the 1980s.

I went old school. I used the recipe by Julia Child, who, after all, was almost single-handedly responsible for popularizing it in America. She makes her own duck stock, so I made my own. She makes a gastrique, so I made gastrique (it’s a sweet and sour sauce, which you here mix with the duck stock and blanched orange peels). She sliced four oranges’ worth of supremes – peeled, individual orange sections – so I sliced four oranges’ worth of supremes.

It took a few hours and a fair amount of labor, but the results were exceptional. Supreme, even. Though it is poultry, duck has a hearty flavor to almost rival red meat. This makes it a perfect foil for the exceptionally complex sauce from the meaty stock, the bracing oranges, the faint tang of the gastrique, the reduced sweet madeira wine (or port) and the tempered bitter orange taste of the zest.

C’est magnifique!

Obviously, the grilled cheese sandwich with roast beef and pear cannot compare to a perfectly prepared duck a l’orange, but it comes a lot closer than you might think possible. One bite, and it could become your favorite sandwich ever.

The secret is the cheese. The recipe calls for blue cheese, which of course makes the ultimate combination with roast beef. And the cheese is mixed with a bit of mayonnaise, to make it even richer and creamier.

The sliced pear adds an unexpected brightness to the sandwich, counterbalancing the heavy notes of the beef and blue cheese. In its own way, the sandwich is quietly impressive.

I next made a chilled avocado and yogurt soup with melon, which is almost as easy to make as the sandwich. You can think of it as a soup in two parts, the chilled avocado and yogurt part, and the melon part.

The chilled avocado and yogurt part is a tangy and creamy soup with a gorgeous mint-green color and a rich-but-perky flavor to match. The two main ingredients are thinned with vegetable stock, and all it takes is a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice to make the soup wonderfully light and lively.

Then comes the melon part. Add a few cantaloupe melon balls as a sweet and juicy counterpoint, and the flavor – which is already great to begin with – becomes exponentially better. It’s a scientific fact; you can try it yourself.

Finally, I made a savory tart with figs, blue cheese, honey (well, it’s a mostly savory tart), balsamic vinegar and rosemary.

Figs, blue cheese and honey make one of those all-time classic combinations; it may not be as well-known as some, but it is no less magical. Put them on top of a puff pastry tart, and nothing could be better, right?

Well, yes, unless you think to brush the figs with rosemary-flavored olive oil and then sprinkle the tart with reduced balsamic vinegar. That takes the tart into the stratosphere. It’s as good as a fruit pie.

Duck a l’orange

Yield: 5 to 6 servings

Recipe from “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck.

1 (5 1/2-pound) duckling

1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 carrots, cut in large pieces, divided

2 onions, cut in large pieces, divided

2 cups chicken or beef stock

2 sprigs parsley

1/3 bay leaf

1/8 teaspoon (2 pinches) thyme

4 brightly colored navel oranges

1 teaspoon salt, divided

Pinch of pepper

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons arrowroot (or 3 tablespoons cornstarch)

1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons port or madeira

2 to 3 tablespoons good orange liqueur, such as Grand Marnier or Cointreau

Drops of orange bitters or lemon juice

2 tablespoons softened butter

Note: This recipe uses duck stock, which takes 2 hours to make. The stock can be prepared the day before you cook the duck.

Chop the duck’s neck, gizzard and heart into pieces of 1 1/2 inches or less (do not use the liver; reserve it for another purpose or discard it). Heat the oil in a 2-quart pot and brown the duck pieces with 1 carrot and 1 onion.

Pour out the browning fat. Add the chicken or beef stock, parsley, bay leaf, thyme and enough water to cover the duck pieces by 1/2 inch, if necessary. Simmer, partially covered, for 2 hours, skimming as necessary. Strain and degrease. This stock may be refrigerated overnight

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Remove the zest of the oranges in strips with a vegetable peeler. Cut into julienne (small strips 1/16 inch wide and 1 1/2 inches long). Simmer for 15 minutes in a quart of water. Drain and pat dry in paper towels. Set aside the oranges, which will still have their skin but not their peels.

Season the duck cavity with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and pepper, add 1/3 of the prepared orange peel, and truss the duck by securing the legs, wings and neck skin to the body with kitchen twine. Prick the skin around the thighs, back and lower breast. Dry the duck thoroughly.

Place the duck breast up in a roasting pan, strew the remaining pieces of 1 carrot and 1 onion around it, and set it in the middle level of the oven for 15 minutes to brown lightly.

Reduce oven to 350 degrees, and turn the duck on its side. Regulate heat so duck is always making cooking noises but fat is not burning. Remove accumulated fat occasionally (a bulb baster will do the job nicely, but you can also use a spoon). Basting is not necessary.

About 30 minutes later, turn the duck on its other side. About 15 minutes later (if the duck is somewhat less than 5 1/2 pounds) to 25 minutes later (if it is somewhat more than 5 1/2 pounds), salt the duck with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and turn it breast-side up.

The duck is done to a medium rare if the juices from the fattest part of the thigh or drumstick run faintly rosy when the meat is pricked, and when the duck is lifted and drained, the last drops of juice from the vent are a pale rose. The duck is well-done when the juices run pale yellow. Discard the trussing strings and place the duck on a serving platter. Set in turned-off oven and leave the door open while preparing the sauce.

While the duck is roasting, combine the arrowroot or cornstarch and 3 tablespoons of the port or madeira, and set aside. Boil the sugar and vinegar over moderately high heat for several minutes until the mixture has turned into a mahogany-brown syrup. Immediately remove from heat and pour in 1/2 cup of the duck stock. Simmer for a minute, stirring, to dissolve the caramel. Add the rest of the stock, beat in the arrowroot mixture, and stir in the orange peel. Simmer for 3 to 4 minutes or until the sauce is clear and lightly thickened. Correct seasoning and set aside.

Remove the skin from the 4 oranges and cut oranges into neat, skinless segments. Place in a covered dish.

Remove as much fat as you can from the roasting pan. Add the remaining 1/3 cup of port or madeira and boil it down rapidly on the stove top, scraping up coagulated roasting juices and reducing the liquid to 2 or 3 tablespoons.

Strain the wine reduction into the sauce base and bring to a simmer. Stir in the orange liqueur by spoonfuls, tasting. The sauce should have a pleasant orange flavor but not be too sweet. Add drops of orange bitters or lemon juice to correct the taste if it is sweet.

Just before serving, and off heat, swirl in the butter and pour the sauce into a warmed sauce boat. Decorate the duck and platter with the orange segments. Spoon a bit of sauce with peel over the duck, and serve.

Nutriton | Per serving (based on 6): 944 calories; 42 g fat; 23 g saturated fat; 188 mg cholesterol; 42 g protein; 36 g carbohydrate; 25 g sugar; 4 g fiber; 850 mg sodium; 98 mg calcium

Grilled pear, roast beef and blue cheese sandwiches

Yield: 2 servings

Recipe from “The Preppy Cookbook,” via

4 slices hearty white bread, such as sourdough

6 thin slices rare roast beef

1 ripe pear, cored and thinly sliced

3 tablespoons crumbled blue cheese

1 tablespoon mayonnaise

1 tablespoon butter, softened

On 2 bread slices, layer the roast beef and the pear slices.

In a small bowl, mash the blue cheese and the mayonnaise with a fork. Spread the blue cheese mixture onto the remaining 2 bread slices, and place, blue cheese side down, onto the roast beef and pear slices.

Spread the outside of each sandwich with butter. Place in a preferably nonstick pan over medium heat and cook for about 3 minutes, until golden brown. Flip and cook on the other side for about 3 minutes more.

Nutrition | Per serving: 383 calories; 17 g fat; 8 g saturated fat; 48 mg cholesterol; 17 g protein; 42 g carbohydrate; 9 g sugar; 4 g fiber; 818 mg sodium; 101 mg calcium

Chilled avocado and yogurt soup with melon

Yield: 4 servings

Recipe from

2 avocados, pitted and peeled

1 small onion, chopped

1 cup vegetable stock

1 cup plain Greek yogurt

1 teaspoon lemon zest

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Salt and pepper

1/2 ripe cantaloupe, scooped with a melon baller

1/3 cup fresh basil leaves, to garnish

2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted, to garnish

Place the avocado, onion, stock, yogurt, lemon zest, lemon juice and a few pinches of salt and pepper into a blender and process until the mixture is smooth. Refrigerate until chilled.

Season the soup with additional salt and pepper, if needed; then ladle into bowls. Garnish each serving with a few melon balls, fresh basil and some toasted pine nuts.

Nutrition | Per serving: 235 calories; 16 g fat; 3 g saturated fat; 8 mg cholesterol; 9 g protein; 17 g carbohydrate; 10 g sugar; 6 g fiber; 263 mg sodium; 92 mg calcium. Nutrition analysis used Greek plain whole milk yogurt.

Fig and blue cheese tart with honey, balsamic vinegar and rosemary

Yield: 4 servings

Recipe from

2 to 3 sprigs fresh rosemary

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 sheet puff pastry, thawed but still cool

1 pound fresh figs or 8 ounces dried

1 tablespoon thick balsamic vinegar, see note

1 to 2 tablespoons honey

1/3 cup blue cheese

Note: If you don’t have expensive balsamic vinegar, which is thick, just boil 2 tablespoons or more of inexpensive, thin balsamic vinegar until it reduces to 1 tablespoon.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. With a mortar and pestle, crush the rosemary with the oil. Set aside.

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured work surface until it is 1/4-inch thick, if it is thicker than that. Fold over 1/2 inch of the pastry all the way around, to act as a dam (the tart gets a little drippy).

Stem, halve and arrange the figs, cut-side up, on the dough in any pattern, but make sure they are tightly nestled. With a pastry brush, generously paint the cut-side of each fig half with the rosemary oil. Sprinkle each fig with salt. Drizzle balsamic vinegar and the honey all over, making sure each fig gets a little splash. Crumble cheese all over.

Bake until crispy, brown and bubbling, about 25 minutes. If fresh figs don’t get enough color, cover the edges of the dough with foil and place tart under broiler until desired color is reached. Cool a few minutes before serving.

Nutrition | Per serving: 415 calories; 22 g fat; 10 g saturated fat; 9 mg cholesterol; 8 g protein; 51 g carbohydrate; 25 g sugar; 5 g fiber; 345 mg sodium; 107 mg calcium