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STONE FRUIT | GOOD COOKING

Pull Out a Plum for Summer Treats

July 25, 1996|ABBY MANDEL

This year, plums are my passion. Their tart flavor and rosy hue are irresistible.

Their flavor is so distinctive that they need little other enhancement. In some of the recipes that follow, you'll notice the absence of such spices as cinnamon and nutmeg. The extra boost is unnecessary.

You can use any plum variety in these recipes, but they were written for my favorites, those with red skin and flesh. These ruby red plums are as delicious for out-of-hand eating as for cooking. In substituting other varieties, taste the plums first. If they're quite sweet, reduce the sugar; if they're very tart, increase it. Taste the dish as you add the sugar.

Another plum pointer: Plums need to be firm, almost rock hard for tartlets, but they can be soft, even overly ripe, for sauces.

PLUM TARTLETS, RASPBERRY SAUCE

This is a simple and elegant dessert for entertaining; it's light but with an early fall presence. The tartlets can be set up in advance and frozen, ready to put into the oven about 20 minutes before serving. They should be served warm with the raspberry sauce and a small scoop of ice cream or frozen yogurt placed in the center.

1 (10-ounce) package frozen raspberries in light syrup, thawed

1 sheet prepared puff pastry (1/2 package), thawed if frozen

3 large plums, pitted, thinly sliced

5 tablespoons sugar

4 teaspoons butter

2 tablespoons currant jam

1 teaspoon water

4 small scoops vanilla, strawberry or peach ice cream or frozen yogurt, optional

Puree raspberries in syrup in food processor fitted with metal blade. Press through fine sieve and refrigerate until ready to use, up to 2 days ahead.

On well-floured board, gently roll puff pastry as thin as possible. Brush excess flour from dough. Use 5-inch diameter bowl or other similar size round object to cut 4 circles of dough. Carefully transfer to baking sheet, placing them in single layer.

Divide plum slices evenly among pastries and arrange them in circle of overlapping slices on each, leaving 1/4-inch border. Sprinkle each with 1 1/4 tablespoons sugar and 1 teaspoon butter, cut into small bits. Melt currant jam in water and spoon onto tarts. Can be made several days ahead to this point and frozen, wrapped airtight.

Bake at 450 degrees (if frozen, do not thaw first) until pastry is well browned, 12 to 14 minutes, slightly longer if frozen. Use metal spatula to transfer tarts to individual dessert plates. Serve warm.

Stir cold pureed raspberries well. Put 3 tablespoons raspberry sauce on each dessert plate. Use back of spoon to spread evenly. Center tartlets. Place tiny scoop of ice cream or yogurt in middle. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

Each serving, without ice cream, contains about:

411 calories; 331 mg sodium; 10 mg cholesterol; 21 grams fat; 67 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams protein; 2.02 grams fiber.

OLD-FASHIONED BREAD PUDDING WITH RED PLUM TOPPING

2 large red plums, pitted, diced (about 2 cups)

3/4 cup sugar

7 cups cubed day-old egg bread (do not trim crusts), toasted

1/2 cup golden raisins

1/2 cup milk

1 (12-ounce) can light evaporated milk

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Salt

3 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Bread puddings are most often served for dessert, but they make a good brunch dish because they can be cooked ahead and reheated at serving time. They substitute for eggs in a creative way. The plum topping is cooked separately (and quickly) and spread over the bread pudding during the last five minutes of baking. To toast bread cubes, spread on large jelly roll pan and bake at 350 degrees until lightly toasted (not brown), 10 to 12 minutes, stirring the cubes once or twice during baking.

Cook plums and 1/4 cup sugar in 1-quart nonreactive saucepan over medium-high heat until as thick as marmalade, about 8 minutes, stirring often.

Combine bread cubes and raisins in large mixing bowl. Heat milk and evaporated milk, remaining sugar, cinnamon and pinch salt in 1-quart saucepan over medium heat, stirring often to dissolve sugar.

Whisk eggs in small bowl. When milk is hot, stir a little into eggs. Add egg mixture to saucepan. Whisk until well mixed. Cook until slightly thickened, about 1 minute, whisking constantly. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla.

Pour hot mixture over bread cubes. Toss until well mixed. Turn into greased 9-inch-square glass baking dish. Spread evenly. Set pan on baking sheet and bake at 325 degrees until lightly browned, about 40 minutes.

Spread topping over. Bake 5 minutes more. Let rest 30 minutes before serving. Serve warm. (To make ahead, cool, cover and refrigerate up to 2 days. Reheat, covered, in 325-degree oven 20 minutes.)

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Each of 6 servings contains about:

494 calories; 502 mg sodium; 139 mg cholesterol; 10 grams fat; 88 grams carbohydrates; 17 grams protein; 1.75 grams fiber.

PLUM APPLESAUCE

3 large Granny Smith apples

3 red plums

1/2 cup sugar

Here, plums raise simple applesauce to new heights. The sweet-tart sauce is a rosy red, especially good with grilled or broiled poultry and pork. It would also be a great condiment with game.

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