No monkeying around

Tales from the banana room.

banana food 88 (photo credit: Courtesy )
banana food 88
(photo credit: Courtesy )
My neighbor Steve worked at a supermarket as a teenager and told me they had a banana room. This special room was used for ripening bananas, which arrived very green. It served social functions as well. If the boss told you, "meet me in the banana room," you knew that he was taking you to the woodshed. Other workers found more cheerful reasons to meet there, as this insulated room was a place to get some privacy. Supermarket banana rooms are temperature-controlled for ideal ripening, but there is another good reason for keeping bananas in a separate space. During ripening, bananas produce a large amount of ethylene gas, which causes other fruit to ripen. If you add bananas to the fruit bowl on your counter, the bananas will make the other fruit soften rapidly. Of course, you can also take advantage of this property. Alan Davidson, the author of Fruit - a Connoisseur's Guide and Cookbook, wrote: "A ripening banana put in a closed box with green tomatoes turns them red. It also helps a hard avocado to ripen overnight." At fruit stands and small produce stores, you might see bunches of bananas hanging. To me they look like succa decorations, but hanging bananas has a purpose similar to the banana room - it keeps them separate from the other fruit so the bananas won't affect their ripening rate. In addition, keeping bananas in the air, as if they are still hanging from their tree, prevents bruising, which can occur if you put them in a bowl or on a plate. Some shops carry special banana hangers to store bananas at home. Instead you can hang bananas over the side of a deep bowl. According to Davidson, bananas were first cultivated in India, and there the fruit is made into confections, spiced and sweetened with honey. I find bananas delicious simply sliced and mixed with plain yogurt or leben. When I want a fancier banana sweet, I combine them with custard sauce and whipped cream to make banana Bavarian cream, or for an even more glamorous treat, I match the Bavarian cream with strawberries and ladyfingers to make a two-layered French style charlotte. Faye Levy is the author of Fresh from France: Dessert Sensations and, in Hebrew, Sefer Hakinuhim (the book of desserts). STRAWBERRY-BANANA CHARLOTTE Two creamy layers form this light, fruity charlotte - one a pink strawberry layer, and the other a delicate banana Bavarian cream. The bananas are pureed with lemon juice before being blended with the custard, to prevent the puree from darkening. Using purchased ladyfingers and a springform pan makes this tempting treat easier to prepare. You can make the dessert two days ahead and keep it covered in the refrigerator. Serve it with a strawberry sauce (made by pureeing strawberries with sugar to taste), and with sliced bananas. Makes 8 servings. 7 gr. (21⁄2 tsp.) unflavored gelatin 1⁄4 cup water 4 large egg yolks 5 Tbsp. sugar 1 cup milk 2 cups strawberries 1 large banana (about 200 gr.) 1 tsp. fresh strained lemon juice 170 gr. packaged split ladyfingers 11⁄2 cups whipping cream, well chilled Strawberry halves (for garnish) Sprinkle gelatin over water in a small cup and let stand while preparing custard. Whisk egg yolks lightly in a large bowl. Add sugar and whisk until smooth. Bring milk to a boil in a small heavy saucepan. Gradually whisk hot milk into yolk mixture. Return mixture to saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring and scraping bottom of pan constantly with a wooden spoon, until mixture thickens slightly and reaches 74º-77º on an instant-read thermometer; begin checking after 3 minutes. (To check without thermometer, remove pan from heat, dip a metal spoon in custard and draw your finger across back of spoon - your finger should leave a clear trail in mixture that clings to spoon.) If necessary, cook another 1⁄2 minute and check again. Do not overcook mixture or it will curdle. Remove from heat and immediately add softened gelatin, whisking until it is completely dissolved. Pour into a large bowl and stir about 1⁄2 minute to cool. Pour 2⁄3 cup custard into another bowl. Puree 2 cups strawberries. Measure 1 cup puree, add it to 2⁄3 cup of custard and stir with a whisk until blended. (Any remaining strawberry puree can be reserved for sauce.) Puree banana with lemon juice in a food processor until smooth. Measure 2⁄3 cup puree and whisk it into remaining (plain) custard. Cool both mixtures to room temperature, stirring occasionally. Stand ladyfingers up against side of a 23-cm. springform pan, with their more attractive side facing outward, forming a tight ring. Arrange more ladyfingers on base of pan to form a layer. Cut more ladyfingers so they fit tightly on base and fill any holes. Chill banana mixture by setting bowl in a larger bowl of iced water or in refrigerator about 10 minutes, stirring very often, or until mixture is cold and beginning to thicken but is not set. Whip cream in a large chilled bowl until nearly stiff. Gently fold 13⁄4 cups whipped cream into banana mixture, blending thoroughly. Refrigerate remaining whipped cream. Spoon banana mixture into ladyfinger case. Spread evenly. Freeze 10 minutes, leaving strawberry mixture at room temperature and stirring it occasionally. Cover banana layer with another layer of remaining ladyfinger halves. Space them evenly; there is no need to form a tight layer. If strawberry mixture is not yet cold and beginning to thicken, set bowl of mixture in ice water or refrigerate briefly, stirring very often. Fold remaining whipped cream into strawberry mixture. Gently spoon mixture into mold and spread smooth. Tap mold lightly on work surface so mixture settles. Refrigerate at least 4 hours or until set. Cover when firm. To unmold dessert, release side of pan. Leave dessert on base of pan and set on a round platter. Refrigerate until ready to serve. At serving time, garnish top with strawberry halves.