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Recipes and Stories

8 June 2017: Summer in a Bowl

Macedonia di Frutta all' Ilda, a lovely blend of summer fruit enhanced with Maraschino liqueur and a splash of rum.

One of the great compensations for (and means of relief from) summer’s heat is a fresh mixed fruit salad. It’s also one of the most versatile dishes of the season. Call it “cocktail” and open the meal with it; call it “salad” and serve it as the meal’s side dish or even centerpiece (all on its own or blended with cold seafood, poultry, or meat); call it “Macedonia,” “fruit cup,” or “compote” and it brings the meal to a delightful close.

Whatever we call it, and however we serve it, a fragrant bowl of well-mixed and chilled fruit is perfect warm-weather fare: it stimulates, satiates, and cools as nothing else can. It brings a ray of sunshine to a rainy day and soothing coolness to days when the sun’s rays become relentless.

Though fruit salads of all kinds had been a part of my summer eating from childhood, the one that has left the most indelible impression on my palate and cook’s imagination was a Macedonia di Frutta as it was made by Ilda, the lovely woman who was the cook for our school’s graduate architectural study program in Genoa, Italy.

Macedonia di Frutta was not, of course, unique to Ilda: it’s a very old concept and can be found, varying from hers only in detail, throughout Italy and all around the Mediterranean. As is so often the case, however, that first impression is the one that has left the deepest impression. It was such a lovely balance of fruit, spiked with just enough Maraschino liqueur and rum to enliven it without interfering with its freshness and heady, almost floral aroma.

That Macedonia, made from scribbled notes supplemented by taste memory and, later on, a handsomely balanced recipe from Marcella Hazan, has been a summer standard in my own kitchen for almost forty years. It hasn’t been my privilege to go back to Genoa, but as I mix this and catch its fragrance, I can actually smell the Ligurian sea air and feel Ilda beside me—and hear, once again, the lovely, musical lilt of her voice.

And am deeply grateful that food can still do all that.

Macedonia di Frutta all’ Ilda
Macerated Summer Fruit

I often add in whatever local fruit that happens to be in season, but try to be careful not to upset the balance by overdoing the variety.

Serves 6

2 large oranges
1 lemon
2 tablespoons cup rum
½ cup Maraschino liqueur or Kirsch
2 firm, crisp apples such as Winesap, Pink Lady, Fuji or Granny Smith
2 firm but ripe Bosc or Bartlett pears
2 large or 3-4 small ripe freestone peaches or mangoes
1 cup halved and pitted green grapes
1 cup halved and pitted cherries
1 cup ripe blueberries, blackberries, or other summer fruit
¼ to ½ cup sugar
1 ripe but still firm banana

1. Grate the zest from one of the oranges into a glass serving bowl that will comfortably hold all the fruit at once, then halve and juice through a strainer into the bowl. Halve and juice the lemon through a strainer into the bowl and stir in the rum and liqueur.

2. Peel, core, and dice the apples and pears, adding them to the juice and tossing well as they’re prepared to help prevent discoloration. Wash the peaches well under cold running water. If their skin is thin and delicate, I never bother peeling them and love the color the skins add, but if the skins are tough or you’re using mangoes, peel them with a serrated peeler. Halve, pit, and dice them, then add them to the bowl and toss well.

3. Add the grapes, cherries, and berries (if using) and stir well. Add about ¼ cup of sugar, more or less to taste, stir, and allow the fruit to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes, stirring it once or twice. Taste and adjust the sugar. Sometimes I find it doesn’t need any more; at others, it may need as much as half a cup altogether. Stir well, cover, and refrigerate.

4. Chill for at least 4 hours, stirring once or twice in the process. About 1 hour before serving, peel, slice, and add the banana. Stir well, cover, and keep chilled until ready to serve.

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