Tantalising tamarillos

SUCCULENT: Baked tamarillos with honey and red wine.
SUCCULENT: Baked tamarillos with honey and red wine.

Tamarillos are an acquired taste that can become addictive. We recently had friends to dinner who swore they didn't enjoy the distinctive tang of tamarillos. For dessert I served my easy rolled pavlova, and – unbeknown to them – filled it with whipped cream and tamarillo puree. They devoured the pav, returning for seconds. Cream softens the flavour of tamarillos whether in desserts or as a sauce for meats.

Tamarillos are still relatively unknown overseas. Recently, a food writer friend from San Francisco picked up a tamarillo and bit into it. She swore she would never look at one again. The skin is very bitter and should never be eaten.

Native to South America, this egg-shaped fruit was once known in New Zealand as the tree tomato. This was due to the similarity of the inner seed and flesh structure. It was a misleading name, because it led many overseas cooks to use the fruit as a raw vegetable in a similar way to the traditional tomato. Hence the name was changed to tamarillo – which has certainly helped increase overseas.

OUT NOW: Jan Bilton's wonderful Tamarillo Cookbook is available at bookshops
OUT NOW: Jan Bilton's wonderful Tamarillo Cookbook is available at bookshops

Choose firm fruit that's heavy for its size. When ripe, tamarillos should be fragrant, yield slightly to finger pressure and the stems should be black, not green. They can be ripened at room temperature. Once ripe, they should be refrigerated, wrapped in a plastic bag, for up to 10 days. They can be frozen – unpeeled – for up to three months, or sliced, sprinkled with sugar and frozen in an airtight container for up to a year.

The easiest method of removing the skins is to make a cross at the pointed end of the fruit, place the tamarillos in a bowl, cover with boiling water, stand for two to three minutes then drain. Refresh them in cold water, and when cool enough to handle, peel. Red, amber and gold tamarillos are unique taste sensations, although the gold is considered to have a milder flavour.

Quick ideas with tamarillos:

Halve, scoop out the flesh, sprinkle with brown sugar and enjoy on breakfast cereal.

Thickly slice and fry with bacon.

For lunch, slice and place between buttered rye bread with slices of salami or smoked beef.

For nibbles, place slices on small croutons and top with pate and toasted walnuts.

Cut into wedges and spear on a cocktail stick together with blue cheese.

Serve sweetened slices on hot scones topped with whipped cream.

Add slices to pork and beef casseroles in place of tomatoes.

Puree and have with icecream.

BAKED TAMARILLOS WITH HONEY & RED WINE

6 large red, gold or amber tamarillos, stems on

1 cup red wine

2 Tbsp manuka honey

2 star anise

With the point of a sharp knife, make a small cross in the skin at the pointed end of each tamarillo. Place in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Stand for two or three minutes, drain and refresh in cold water.

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius. Cut each tamarillo in quarters from the pointed end almost to the stem end. Roll back the skin from the point to the stem end. Place in a baking dish.

Combine the red wine, honey and star anise and simmer until the honey is dissolved. Pour over the tamarillos. Cover loosely. Bake for about 15 minutes, remove the cover, baste the tamarillos and continue baking until tender, about 10 minutes. Cool.

Great served with whipped cream or icecream. Serves four to six.

INDIAN-STYLE TAMARILLO CHUTNEY

100g peeled root ginger, chopped

10 cloves garlic, chopped

1 ¼ cups cider vinegar

½ cup canola oil

1 onion, diced

1 Tbsp each: ground turmeric, chilli powder

2 Tbsp ground cumin

1 tsp each: salt, mustard powder

700g red tamarillos, peeled and diced

2 apples, peeled and diced

1 ½ cups lightly packed brown sugar

½ cup chopped pitted dates

Place the ginger, garlic and 1/2 cup of the cider vinegar into a food processor or blender and mix until smooth.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion, turmeric, chilli powder and ground cumin and fry until fragrant.

Add the ginger and garlic paste, the remaining vinegar, tamarillos, sugar, salt, mustard and dates. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 35 minutes.

Pour into sterilised jars, filling to the top. Wipe the rims. Seal when cold. A thin layer of oil can be poured on top to help keep the contents airtight prior to sealing.

Makes five cups.

TAMARILLO-TOPPED LAMB

8 mid-loin chops

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

4 red or golden tamarillos

4 Tbsp red currant jelly

sprigs common or Vietnamese mint

Snip around the outside edge of the chops. Season. Fold the ends around to form a compact shape.

Place under a hot grill and cook for five or six minutes each side. Top each chop with peeled and sliced tamarillos and brush with warmed jelly.

Place under the grill for a further minute to heat the tamarillos. Garnish with mint. Serves four.

TAMARILLO & CUSTARD MUFFINS

Topping: 2 Tbsp brown sugar

½ tsp ground cinnamon extra

1 large tamarillo

Muffins: 2 cups self-raising flour

½ tsp ground cinnamon

½ cup caster sugar

100g butter, melted

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 cup milk

2 or 3 tamarillos, peeled and sliced

½ cup thick, prepared custard

Preheat the oven to 190C. Lightly grease an eight-hole muffin pan.

Combine the brown sugar and cinnamon and place aside.

Peel and slice the tamarillo. Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl.

Combine the liquid ingredients and mix into the dry ingredients, until just moistened.

Half fill the muffin holes. Smooth the top with a teaspoon moistened in warm water.

Make a dent in the middle of each. Drop in a good teaspoon of custard and a half slice of tamarillo.

Top with the remaining muffin mixture. Top each with a half-slice of tamarillo and sprinkle with the brown sugar mix. Bake for about 25 minutes. Cool.

Makes eight.

* Copyright Jan Bilton

The Marlborough Express