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MIREILLE'S MUSINGS: Best blueberries of the season…May 2012

As I was watching our blueberry bushes on our NY terrace ready to burst and soon to be colored, I realized I still had a few frozen bags from last summer’s bountiful crop (yes, they do love the burning city sun and wind coming from the Hudson, go figure). Too much travel these past few months meant less oatmeal with blueberries for breakfast and as my husband reminded me maybe our addiction to magical breakfast did not help either. Anyway, it’s time to clear the not so big “city freezer” to make room for the new crop. So what to do?

The first idea came about reading a recipe for a Meyer lemon almost-soufflé from Aleksandra Crapanzano, one of my favorite writers (food and otherwise), in a recent piece in The Wall Street Journal. I love lemons (particularly the Meyer ones), adore soufflés (especially a lemon one), and what about blueberries? Anyone who has an Alsatian mother will know what it is like growing up there, gathering the tiny wild berries and eating the first (wild) blueberry pie of the season. A yearly early summer epiphany of sorts. Well, after reading Aleksandra’s recipe, I quickly came up with an adaptation in my head: reduce sugar and sprinkle with blueberries as the last step, and use a ceramic plate to allow guests to be able to dig in directly from it . With my French taste for the acidity of lemon, the Meyer ones being on the sweet/honey side, I use a bit less sugar in spite of adding more acid with the blueberries, but if you are a sweet tooth you can play and add one or two tablespoons. I am for the “less is more,” and a more tart dessert is definitely a French woman’s dessert of choice.

Lemon/blueberry almost-soufflé
Serves 4

3 Meyer lemons, juice and zest
3 eggs, separated
3 egg yolks
6 tablespoons sugar
½ cup frozen blueberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and ever so slightly butter a ceramic 9-inch pie plate.

Bring 2 inches of water to a simmer using a double boiler. Reduce heat to low. Put the six egg yolks in top of double boiler and whisk until they foam. Add sugar and keep whisking. Add lemon juice and zest and keep whisking until the mixture thickens (about 10 minutes…good for muscle toning). Remove from heat.

Beat egg whites till they hold their shape. Fold them in gently into the lemon/egg mixture and pour in pie plate. Sprinkle the blueberries.

Bake for 15 minutes or until set and slightly puffed. Serve warm within 10 minutes.

***
The next recipe came after a trip to Union Square market where rhubarb (another acid fruit favorite) is in season. For my husband who is not crazy about “tartness” I usually add some strawberries towards the end of the cooking time, and he loves the combination, but this year too little sun means a delay to the start of the strawberries. So what to do: use more frozen blueberries:

Rhubarb/blueberry compote
Serves 4

1 lb rhubarb (peeled and cut into 3-inch sticks)
12 oz frozen blueberries
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons sugar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Use a pan large enough to cover bottom with the rhubarb sticks in one layer. Sprinkle water. Sprinkle sugar. Cover top with blueberries. Bake uncovered for 40 minutes or until the rhubarb sticks are soft. Serve warm within 10 minutes. The leftover portion is great cold…just take it out of the fridge 20 minutes or so ahead of time to bring to room temperature, and savor the flavors.

***
The final recipe (jamais 2 sans 3) came as a “why not” alternative to the winter duck breast with apples, pears or even frozen cherries (which is yummy with a glass of burgundy). After all, we’ve had it with figs so blueberries makes sense; a first, and it won’t be the last. Everyone loved it.

Duck breast with blueberries:
Serves 4

2 duck breasts
1 teaspoon coarse salt
6 black peppercorns, coarsely crushed
½ teaspoon thyme
12 oz frozen blueberries
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Score the duck breast skins (so fat can render during cooking) diagonally at 1-inch intervals with a sharp knife. Season the skin side with salt, peppercorn and thyme for 15 minutes. (You can also do this the night before and return to fridge.)

Combine blueberries, sugar and water in a small saucepan and cook over medium high flame, stirring. Lower heat and cook till puréed (add water if necessary). Reserve.

Warm up a cast iron frying pan, add duck breasts (they need to be out of fridge 20 minutes to be at room temperature before cooking) on the skin side and cook for 5 minutes, then pour half of the fat out. Cook the other side for 2-3 minutes and keep warm.

Deglaze the frying pan with red wine vinegar and add the blueberry mixture. Stir and cook for another minute or two. Slice the duck breasts on serving plate and pour the blueberry mixture around.

Accompaniment: I had some sliced boiled potatoes leftover, which I sautéed till golden in the remaining duck fat. Polenta is another good accompaniment.

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