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STYLE/ENTERTAINING

Fuzz Buzz

Delicious New Varieties Make the All-Too-Predictable Kiwi Fun Again

November 12, 2000|DAVID KARP | "Fruit detective" David Karp writes a weekly column about farmers markets for the Food section of the Los Angeles Times and is the produce correspondent for Gourmet magazine

OVER THE YEARS, I CONFESS, I HAVEN'T EATEN many kiwi fruit. That's partly because, since the kiwi rocketed from obscurity in the 1970s and then settled in as a supermarket staple, there's been only one standard variety--the fuzzy, green-fleshed Hayward. At its best it's a sprightly, sweet-tart fruit, but all too often I find that these bland and mealy store-bought kiwis aren't worth a second bite.

Recently, however, an intriguing new yellow-fleshed kiwi arrived at California markets. Its flavor is more complex than the regular sort, with hints of mango, melon, tree tomato, citrus and even bubble gum.

Though New Zealand-grown yellow kiwis (called Zespri Gold) dominate the market, some of the best examples of the fruit are grown in small quantities right here in California. Retired chemist and fruit collector Roger Meyer has been farming yellow kiwis in Valley Center, 35 miles north of San Diego, for 10 years. A few weeks ago, I paid him a visit.

Kiwis, like grapes, grow on vines and as we ducked under the trellises, Meyer explained how a decade ago he had specially ordered cuttings of three kinds of yellow-fleshed kiwis from Japan--First Emperor, Mandarin and Red--and waited two years for them to clear quarantine.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday December 3, 2000 Home Edition Los Angeles Times Magazine Page 4 Times Magazine Desk 1 inches; 23 words Type of Material: Correction
In a recipe for kiwi tartlets that ran in the Entertaining section of the Nov. 12 issue, the oven temperature was left out. The tartlet is to be baked at 375 degrees.

The stock had originally come from China, the kiwi's homeland. Botanists had long known, Meyer said, that superior-tasting yellow-fleshed kiwis grew wild in the mountains of China, where the fruit was called mihoutao, or monkey peach. After Meyer successfully planted these clones back home, he enlisted two farmers in the Central Valley to help with production. Today, specialty produce wholesaler Frieda, Inc.--the company that first introduced kiwis to the American marketplace in the 1960s--distributes most of Meyer's product nationally through supermarkets, including Gelson's locally.

These yellow-fleshed kiwis may be the beginning of a new wave of exotic kiwis. On my visit to Meyer's farm, he showed me a few such oddities. "Try this," he said with an impish twinkle, holding out a pumpkin-orange, cherry-tomato-like Macrosperma. Amazingly, it was chile-hot like a jalapeno. I was most intrigued with the Purpurea, a fuzzless, oblong, red-fleshed fruit--not particularly sweet, but with a wonderful cherry-berry flavor--a sort of blood kiwi. Yet one of the most compelling varieties we tried was the Cordifolia--a smooth, acorn-shaped mini-kiwi with intensely sweet, flavorful pulp. For once, a green-fleshed kiwi that cried, "eat more of me!"

As for the yellow-fleshed kiwi, Meyer and his allies have only seven acres or so, but the New Zealand farmers have signed licensing agreements with several California growers, who expect their first crops next autumn. It's hard to know how the varieties and competition will play out, but in the future I think I'm going to be eating a lot more kiwis.

Yellow Kiwi Tartlets

Serves 4

8 yellow kiwis, peeled and sliced

1 3-ounce box vanilla pudding

Zest of 1 lime

1/2 cup confectioners' sugar

*

Tart dough

11/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus flour for dusting

1/2 teaspoon salt

11/2 teaspoons sugar

1/2 cup unsalted butter, well-chilled and cut into small pieces

1 egg yolk

2 tablespoons ice water

To make dough, combine flour, salt and sugar in food processor fitted with metal blade and pulse to combine. Add butter and pulse again, briefly, until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Do not overmix. Add egg yolk and pulse just to combine. Add water a little at a time, still pulsing. Dough should just come together. Form dough into four discs, wrap well in plastic and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Prepare vanilla pudding according to package instructions. Add zest of one lime, mix. Set aside. Remove dough from refrigerator. Roll out dough disks slightly thinner than 1/4-inch thick and cut into 4 6-inch circles. Ease dough into 4 4-inch tart pans and press firmly into pan. Fill each tartlet shell with 1/4 cup pudding. Arrange kiwi slices on top of pudding, using 2 kiwis per tartlet. Dust tartlets with 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar and place on center rack of oven. Bake 35 to 40 minutes, until crust is browned. Cool on wire rack. Unmold tartlets and dust with remaining confectioners' sugar.

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