When Andy Rooney retired earlier this year, I’ll admit to breathing a small sigh of relief. No longer would I have to watch him rummage through his desk talking about the different types of staple removers people had sent him over the years. I was never forced to watch his quirky little 60 Minutes postlogues, of course, but it became a weekly tradition – eagerly anticipating a brief moment of delightful annoyance. Much as I would roll my eyes at his stories and pray for someone – anyone – to hold him down and trim his eyebrows, I liked his curmudgeonly antics and certainly respected him for managing to get paid an Andy-Rooney-sized salary to compare staple removers.
Andy Rooney died a few weeks ago, and at the time I was in the midst of a preoccupation with pluots. Several years earlier, Andy Rooney had done one of his rambling stories on fruit and I could clearly recall his moment of confusion with a pile of pluots. Here’s a fruit, here’s another fruit, and here’s one that’s hard to eat, and here’s one that’s red, and boy are stickers on fruit a nuisance, and so on with nary a point in sight until he finally came to a crate of stacked pluots.
“Now here’s something I never heard of: a California pluot. What in the world is a pluot?”
Being from California myself, I’m accustomed to the emphasis he put on the word, implying just how unsurprising that something strange and unnatural sounding like a pluot would emerge from the libidinous hot tub of suspicious ideas that is California.
And he’s right, the pluot did come from California, a plum-apricot hybrid developed by noted plant breeder Floyd Zaiger to capture the aromatics and texture of an apricot and the sweet juiciness of a plum, but without the bitter skin of the latter. A silly name perhaps, but the pluot came about from a very unsuspicious and traditional method of breeding crops that humans have used since we decided that farming was preferable to chasing saber-toothed tigers with clubs.
At the time of Andy Rooney’s broadcast, pluots were raising eyebrows around the country, not just Rooney’s famously bushy ones. Today, they’ve nearly pushed the plum out of supermarkets, because they ship more easily, have a longer shelf life, and they’re a happy marriage of sweet and tart that fruit lovers find hard to resist. And as a bonus you get to say “pluot” out loud every time you buy one.
So what does one do with a pluot? Well, eating it is a start. But if you want to really use a pluot to it’s full advantage, try baking with it. Here’s a spin on a classic frangipane tart, pairing the pluot with its stone fruit cousin the almond, that’s sure to please any pluot skeptic:
Andy’s Pluot-Almond Tart
This tart looks amazing and it tastes even better. If you don’t immediately want a second piece, then something important might be missing from your brain (you should really get that looked at). The frangipane filling isn’t too sweet and is just almondy enough, so it won’t overpower the fruit. This recipe works wonderfully with apricots, plums, and cherries as well.
For the crust:
1 cup flour
¼ tsp. salt
1 tbsp. sugar
½ cup unsalted butter, cold
½ tsp. almond extract
1-2 tbsp. ice water
Mix flour, salt, sugar. Cut cold butter into dry ingredients with a pastry blender until butter is size of small pebbles. Add almond extract and drizzle in ice water starting with 1 tbsp. Blend and form dough into a ball by hand – it should be crumbly and just barely hold together. Drizzle in more water if necessary (but dough should never get wet/sticky). It’s okay if some streaks of butter are still visible. Pat into a flat round and refrigerate in plastic wrap for an hour or more.
For the filling:
1 cup blanched slivered almonds (toasted if desired)
½ cup granulated sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
1 egg + 1 egg white
6 tbsp. unsalted butter, room temp
½ tsp. almond extract
½ tsp. vanilla extract
Add almonds, sugar, and salt to a food processor and process until finely powdered (about 1 min.). Add egg and egg white and both extracts and process until evenly mixed. Add butter and process until no lumps are visible and the paste is smooth. Refrigerate for up to 3 days.
3 pluots, halved and sliced into ¼ in.-thick half-moons
Preheat oven to 400°.
When dough is chilled, remove from fridge and roll between sheets of plastic wrap into a round large enough for a 9 in. tart pan plus 2 extra inches (the dough will be fairly brittle but holes and cracks can be patched with the excess). Lay into pan and press into the corners. Trim edges and puncture bottom with a fork every few inches. Bake crust blind for 10 min (won’t shrink much in this time), remove from oven and immediately add the almond filling with a spatula and arrange the pluot slices on top in two overlapping circles lightly sunk into the filling. Reduce oven to 350° and bake until the almond filling is puffed and browned throughout (40-45 minutes). Remove and cool.
Happy pluot eating!
And, Andy, I hate to break it to you, but a tomato is a fruit, and – wait for it – also a vegetable. Hopefully even now that’ll raise your eyebrows.