Thursday, October 21, 2004

Consider the Quince

Every Wednesday, a neglected section of the Civic Center is taken over by farmers from the Central Valley. It's officially called Heart of the City Farmers' Market, but locals never call it that. I like this market because I respect the farmers, who range from Cambodians who grow vegetables that remind them of home to fifth generation dairy farmers selling handmade cheeses to beekeepers offering jars of honey. They all encourage you to taste before buying.

I spent a little over $6 and struggled under the weight of my groceries. I purchased slender eggplants for baingan bartha, a spicy Indian curry. Jalepenos and pasilla peppers could be roasted and added to a chorizo omelet. I knew John would love the heavy bunches of red grapes that tasted like candy. And several pounds of russets were sliced up and fried for last night's baseball-themed dinner.

I also purchased two quinces, a fruit shaped like a pear but as solid as an apple. I had never cooked with it before, but I have had membrillo, a quince paste that Spaniards like to eat with manchego, a cured sheep's milk cheese. I found a recipe for quince paste on and decided to give it a shot.

The fruit roasted in the oven for two hours but still held their shape. I peeled, quartered and pureed them as instructed. After cooking the pulp with sugar, I poured the mixture into a loaf pan and chilled it. A few hours later, I freed it from the pan and tasted a piece. It was dense, sweet and floral--and not at all gummy.

John's sister Brenda and her husband Andy are coming over for dinner on Saturday. The quince paste will be a nice accompaniment to a little tapas plate of manchego and other cheeses, serrano ham, marcona almonds, figs and cava, a Spanish sparkling wine that champagne snobs tend to dismiss. It's not as refined as champagne, but it's an approachable bubbly that's simply fun to drink.

I love how inspiration for a dinner menu came from some knobby fruit at an open air market. If there's any quince paste left next Wednesday, I'm going to take some to the farmer whose labor made it possible.

Do you make the tapas? What's a good Spanish sparkling wine?

What a delicious picture you drew.
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