Anyone who knows me will tell you that I enjoy a good, cheerful joke. Laughter and a sense of playfulness can help any cook become more creative, enabling him or her to stretch or even sometimes smartly break rules to come up with something new and delicious.
So, when April Fools' Day approaches, you might find me looking for ways to have some extra fun in the kitchen. That doesn't mean, however, that I'm aiming to confound people. After all, the career of any successful chef focuses on hospitality and sharing the pleasures of the table. Instead, on April 1, I want to deliver only happy surprises.
At face value, bananas are among the funniest of fruits. A cheerful yellow color when ripe, they have a shape that even looks like a smile. Peeling them can be, in itself, a silly process, sort of like a fruit striptease. And the peel itself, of course, is a staple of slapstick comedy -- so take care not to drop it on your kitchen floor!
All kidding aside, bananas make excellent ingredients. Their sweet, mellow flavor and soft, creamy texture suit them to a wide range of uses, from mashed in baked goods to diced in sweet-and-spicy curries, fried in butter as a side dish for Caribbean meals to whirled with milk in smoothies, topped with ice cream and sauces for classic banana splits to cut into chunks and deep-fried in batter.
Though most people already know the basics, it bears repeating that bananas should be ripened at room temperature. Most of the fruit in stores is sold with the peels still green, a day or two from readiness, though you can usually sort through the bin to find a few riper specimens. The way you plan to use them will determine how ripe you want them to be. Most baking recipes call for their peels to be fully yellow with a speckling of brown spots, indicating that the fruit beneath is not only sweet but also soft enough to mash easily into a batter. For the purposes of deep-frying, you want firmer fruit whose peels have only just turned yellow.
I usually serve the hot, crispy fritters with a dusting of confectioners' sugar. But, as an extra treat, I'll sometimes serve them with a scoop of ice cream or add a sweet dipping sauce, like the hot fudge recipe I also include here. That will certainly guarantee even more happily surprised smiles this April 1!
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Freshly ground white pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg
1 large cage-free egg
1 cup buttermilk
Vegetable oil, for deep-frying
2 pounds ripe but firm organic bananas, peeled and cut diagonally into 3-inch chunks