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Friday, November 6, 2015

Magnanimous Membrillo

                         Membrillo paired with Manchego is a perfect appetizer or dessert

If you don’t know Membrillo you should.   Although it is popular in Europe, my first exposure to this over-the-top edible was in Argentina.  I remember the exquisite setting, with whom I was dining, and the very moment its wondrous flavor made its way to my mouth---the earth moved.  

Membrillo is made from quince.  In fact, it’s a gourmet rendition of a very dense quince jam.  In Spain it is served as a dessert, but you can also find it on Spanish breakfast tables used as a topping for toast.  As a dessert, however, it is typically paired with cheese.  In my Argentine introduction to Membrillo, it was served with a mild local, soft cheese.  In Spain, however, it works beautifully with the country’s salty Manchego.   Add a few nuts and you have the perfect autumn dessert.

                   While it is difficult to find quince in stores, farmers markets often have them

I so love Membrillo that one of the first things I did upon moving to the San Diego area was to plant a quince tree.  I can now see why this beautiful fruit captivated European artists in the 18-19th centuries when botanical prints were so popular.   Quince blossoms are beautiful, its fruit is interestingly shaped, and its inside is an artist's dream.  Regrettably, quince has fallen out of favor in the US.  Perhaps one of the reasons for this is that quince cannot be eaten without being cooked---the fruit is very astringent raw.   

                                                                     Quince as art

It’s quince season so I’m making Membrillo this month.  It freezes well so that my freezer will soon hold the 2015 “vintage” of this luscious delectable.  Below is the recipe I use.  If you don’t have access to quince you can buy Membrillo online.  Also, if you’re coming with us in 2016 to Spain, you can be assured that it will be served on probably more than one occasion.

  • 4 pounds quince, washed, cored, roughly chopped  (not necessary to peel)
  • 1 vanilla pod, split
  • 2 strips (1/2 inch by 2 inches each) of lemon peel (only the yellow peel, no white pith)
  • 3 Tbspns  lemon juice
  • About 4 cups of granulated sugar (exact amount will be determined during cooking)

Place quince pieces in a large saucepan (6-8 quarts) and cover with water. Add the vanilla pod and lemon peel and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and let cook until the quince pieces are fork tender (30-40 minutes).

Strain the water from the quince pieces. Discard the vanilla pod but keep the lemon peel with the quince.  Purée the quince pieces in a food processor, blender, or by using a food mill. Measure the quince purée. Whatever amount of quince purée you have, that's how much sugar you will need.  (So if you have 4 cups of purée, you'll need 4 cups of sugar.)

Return the quince purée to the large pan.  Heat to medium-low.  Add the sugar. Stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar has completely dissolved.  Add the lemon juice.
Continue to cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally, for 1-1 1/2 hours, until the quince paste is very thick and has a deep orange pink color.

Preheat oven to a low 125°F. Line a 8x8 baking pan with parchment paper (do not use wax paper, it will melt). Grease the parchment paper with a thin coating of butter. Pour the cooked quince paste into the parchment paper-lined baking pan. Smooth out the top of the paste so it is even. Place in the oven for about one hour to help it dry. Remove from oven and let cool.

Store by wrapping in foil or plastic wrap and keep it in the refrigerator (or freezer).

Viva membrillo!

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