What's In Season Right Now? Blueberries, Plums And Sheep's Milk Cheeses

As September winds down, some favorite fruits are saying adieu until next year, including cantaloupe, blueberries and plums — a favorite of Alfred Portale, chef of New York's acclaimed Gotham Bar and Grill, who shares a recipe with us below. Yet, as these tasty fruits go, you can find plenty of pears to take their place as well as apples, apples, and more apples, including Honeycrisp, Jubilee, Ambrosia, Jonathan and yes, even more. This week also proves a good time to sample sheep's milk cheeses, a dish best served in the fall after the ewes have gorged themselves on summer greens. This week we highlight said cheeses, as well as hearty kale, blueberries and sweet, intricate plums.

Kale: When looking for kale, chances are you will see the classic curly, dark green, almost lettuce-like bunches at your local farmers market. But look beyond the norm and try one of the many other varieties coming out right now. Choose from red kale, to thinner and tender lacinato kale or purple kale, which looks just like the curly green one but has a blue hue. This vitamin and mineral-rich leafy green not only proves really good for you, but there are a variety of ways to use it. For one, you could chop it up and sauté it with garlic and onions and use as a side dish, or as the catalyst for a gently poached egg topped with Parmesan. The kale salad too has made its way into many restaurants, and for a tip for the home cook looking to reproduce this dish, is to first shred the raw kale and then massage a bit of olive oil or avocado into the greens to help break up the fibers, which makes it easier to eat.

Sheep's Milk Cheese: In many cases, like at 3-Corner Field Farm in New York, the spring season allows for sheep to be left alone to eat, wallow and feed their young — ensuring that when they gather milk for cheese, it proves rich, creamy, and some of the best all year. The sheep get milked in May, when the milk is at its peak, and then said milk gets made into numerous cheeses, which ripen for a few months before the farm debuts them in September. Of course, while the 3-Corner Field farm does this, it doesn't mean everyone follows suit. Normally you can find some sort of sheep's milk cheese in the market, from ricotta to feta to Camembert. Each have different textures and amount of aging, though an overall characteristic is a light, slightly grassy essence. Experiment with these in a hearty salad, melt one over your burger, or get a basket of blueberries and/or cantaloupe to pair with them on a cheese plate. After all, a little cheese diversity won't hurt ewe.

Blueberries: This tiny berry is easy to like, after all most of us have grown up with it whether it's in pie form, jam, inside pancakes or thrust into the mouth raw and by the fistful. Try cooking these berries with chicken or pork to give your savory dish a sweet layer, or muddle them at the bottom of a glass and mix with gin or vodka, simple syrup and a dash of mint for cool cocktail that also offers an antioxidant punch. Buying them fresh from the farmers market is a whole other layer of berry goodness, and you should get them now, while you still can.

Plums: For Portale, the end of September is one of his favorite times to get produce, especially this fruit. "There is great variety of plums at the Greenmarket right now, juicy purple plums, sour red, candy-sweet yellow sugar plums, and more," he said. "They tend to hit the market late in the season and are very ripe and sweet." The chef likes to use them to give his tomato salad a burst of sweetness, pairs them with blue cheese or places them on the grill for a last outdoor cooking hurrah. "I love to simply brush them with grapeseed oil and grill them over charcoal and serve as a side to grilled duck breast or pork chops," said, adding that they are also perfect poached and on his homemade granola, which he shares the recipe with us below.

Homemade Granola with Poached Plums and Whipped Crème Fraîche

Reprinted with permission from Alfred Portale's Greenmarket to Gotham

This is an homage to breakfast — the maple-honey granola with its sweetness and crunch and adding a little sweet milk with the crème fraîche. The acidity of the plum poached with a little thyme rounds out this morning go-to.

Ingredients for granola:

1/4 cup maple syrup

1/4 cup honey

1/4 cup grapeseed oil

6 cups rolled oats

For granola:

  1. In a medium saucepan, heat the maple syrup, honey and oil over low heat. Place the rolled oats in a large mixing bowl and pour the liquid over the oats. With a rubber spatula, gently toss the oats until fully coated. Place on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and bake at 350°F for 15 to 20 minutes, removing from oven every 5 minutes to toss for uniform baking. Allow to cool, and store in an airtight container.

Ingredients for Crème Fraîche Chantilly:

1/4 cup confectioners' sugar

2 cups heavy cream

2 cups crème fraîche

For Crème Fraîche Chantilly:

  1. In a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, combine the sugar with the heavy cream and whip to medium peaks and reserve. Place the crème fraîche in the same mixing bowl and whip to medium peaks. In a mixing bowl, combine the two and fold together.

Ingredients for poached plums:

10 cups water

3 cups sugar

2 ounces fresh thyme

6 plums, cut in half

For poached plums:

  1. Place the water, sugar, thyme and plum halves in a medium saucepan. Over medium heat, poach the plums until evenly soft. Remove the plums from the poaching liquid and gently remove the skins. Cut into thirds and reserve.

For assembly:

  1. On a plate, arrange five slices of the poached plum in a random pattern. Scatter five tablespoons of granola around the plums. Garnish with three clouds of Chantilly cream and serve.

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