Thursday, March 18, 2010

Cranberry Applesauce, or, 'Hey you'

Although apple season is far from its peak, I find working with apples wonderfully calming and delicious at any time of year: they behave perfectly when being sliced or diced, for one, and peeling them is akin to meditation. We're getting our share of last-gasp apples through our CSA, and while they may not be Edenic hand-to-mouth specimens, they lend themselves well to those--how shall I put it?--more saucy moments.

This is my go-to recipe for applesauce. It's sweet (but not cloyingly so), flavorful (but not aggressively cranberry), and the bit of butter makes it almost velvety and utterly delightful. I've made it three times in the past few months, and am already planning a rhubarb variety once it appears on the market. See--it's just so darn inviting, slipping effortlessly into your daily routine and calling hey you, wouldn't it be sweet in those early morning moments where you'd like to cook something for breakfast, afternoons when you've got a pile of work and want a productive break, evenings when you want a quick dessert (with cream or ice cream on top), and especially--(oh, especially)--those moments you open your fruit drawer and find a handful of scraggly apples just calling for a better life. Appel-sauce, indeed. That's my kind of interpellation.

P.S. I happen to think it's perfect warm.
P.P.S. Did I tell you it's pink? Bright pink? The cranberries cook down as well as the apples, to the point where they aren't really berries as much as a sheer, gorgeous, perfect color. Yes I said yes they will yes.

Cranberry Applesauce
adapted from Epicurious

Another invitation? Gustatory variation. Rhubarb would be a great substitute for the cranberries, orange or lime peel instead of lemon, and any number of sweeteners (I recently used Trader Joe's dark agave--only $3, fyi, not as crazy expensive as I'd thought--and it was really good.) Oh, and the texture is up to you; Epicurious has you milling it for a smoother sauce, but I rather like the apple-pie feel to leaving larger pieces unmilled. You could also smash it with a potato masher or a fork.

4 apples (about 2 pounds), peeled, cored, and chopped
1 cup fresh cranberries, picked over
1/4 cup sugar (I use 1/4, but you could use up to 1/2 a cup depending on the tartness of your apples. You could also sub agave nectar, if you're so inclined; it's really good.)
1/4 cup apple juice or water (Water works fine)
a 3-inch cinnamon stick
a 3-inch strip of lemon zest
2 tbsp. unsalted butter (I use 1, which is fine)

In a heavy saucepan cook the apples, the cranberries, the sugar, the apple juice or water, the cinnamon stick, and the zest over moderate heat, stirring, for 15 minutes (or less), or until the apples are very soft. Discard the cinnamon stick and the zest, force the apple mixture through the medium disk of a food mill into a bowl (optional), and stir in the butter. Serve the applesauce warm or chilled. The applesauce keeps, covered and chilled, for 1 week.