Nicole Routhier's Fruit Cookbook

by Nicole Routhier

Workman Publishing, 1996. 482 pages, 400 recipes.

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"Being in the kitchen with my mom was more important to me than jumping rope with my playmates. To me, helping prepare our meals never felt like a chore. The tantalizing smells and incredible tastes of her food made a lifelong impression on me."

Mom's Chicken Brochettes

Apple Coconut Chowder

Moroccan Lamb Tagine

Watercress Soup with Asian Pear

Sweet and Sour Pasta

Primavera Pear Sorbet

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Slightly Off The Subject

P.S: This is published by the company that gave the Silver Palate books their distinctive look. The same form is followed here, giving the layout a pleasing, lively look. But I would have preferred the good informational bits (the sidebars on individual fruits and the "Great Matches" blurbs on good fruit and food pairings) to be in one section rather than scattered throughout the book.

As a rule, I steer clear of cookbooks that focus relentlessly on one kind of food. Just looking at A Year of Chicken Dishes makes me suddenly never want to eat chicken again. And why do I want 200 Ways with Zucchini when I'm not even sure I want to eat zucchini 200 more times in my remaining lifetime? I broke my rule with Nicole Routhier's Fruit Cookbook. After all, "fruit" is not one food but so many juicy tantalizing foods from apples to pineapples, cranberries to raspberries, limes to litchees.

After reading the introduction, I was convinced Routhier was destined to write this book. When she was a child in Laos she loved feasting on all the tropical fruits in her yard (and occasionally sneaking some from her neighbor's). She eagerly helped in the kitchen of her mother's restaurant. When she was thirteen her family moved to the South of France where she became enamored with all the Mediterranean fruits at the outdoor markets. (She had never tasted "Western" fruits like strawberries, peaches, or cherries and until she lived in France!)

Routhier's recipes, like her childhood, are multi-cultural. My favorite dishes weren't fruit-y fruit things (drinks, desserts) but dishes that have that delicious contradiction of sweet and savory flavors: Mom's Chicken Brochettes in a lime-soy-garlic marinade, the Wild Mushroom Risotto with Apples, and the Apple Coconut Chowder (this lime- and coconut milk-tinged chicken soup made me forget every other chicken soup I've ever had).

If you're going to write a cookbook where fruit is the star, your versions of classic fruit breads and fruit desserts should be stellar. But I've had better Cranberry-Orange Breads than the one in this book and the Cranberry-Apple Crisp was good, but not great. On the other hand, the Pear Sorbet was the pure and perfect essence of pear.

There isn't a method of preparing fruit that Routhier doesn't cover in this book. Fruit toasted, roasted, pickled, dried, fried, baked, shaked - it's all here. She is equally thorough in the variety of fruits she covers. Besides recipes, she has sidebars of good tips on choosing and preparing less familiar fruits like breadfruit, lichees, and pomegranates. I wouldn't know a breadfruit from a bread basket, and I just wish there were accompanying illustrations of these fruits.

There's the occasional slip up and oversight. The Indian Summer Salad calls for a ripe persimmon, but doesn't stipulate which kind. Hachiya persimmons are almost pulpy when ripe, whereas Fuyu persimmons are ripe when firm; it makes a difference. When I made the Sweet and Sour Pasta Primavera, an otherwise excellent dish, the pasta would have drowned in the sauce if I hadn't cut back on the amount of canned tomatoes it called for. Sometimes the addition of fruit to a recipe seems arbitrary: Creamy Polenta's Apricot-Onion Sauce was a tomato sauce with a few inconsequential dried apricots thrown in.

I wish Routhier hadn't been quite so exhaustive (there are 400 recipes) in her book. I would rather she had tossed some of the weaker recipes and paid a little more attention to getting all the details right. However, just as a ripe piece of fruit is not ruined by a couple of little blemishes, this book is a tasty, satisfying experience despite its few faults.