Adapted from A New Way to Cook by Sally Schneider, (Artisan 2001).
Ripe fruit gently cooked with a small amount of sugar and a little water releases its juices and melts slightly. A vanilla bean amplifies the fruit's own sweetness and perfume. The effect is like a pie filling and has many uses, both as filling and as sauce. The fruit is delicious served warm, with or without a small scoop of ice cream or a tablespoon of crème fraîche. It can be spooned into a wide shallow bowl and topped with a baked pastry "lid" or used as a rustic sauce for Roasted Fruit and plain cakes.
This method works wonderfully for many kinds of fruits, including pears, apples, peaches, nectarines, mangoes, plums, cherries, and berries, such as strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries.
1. In a medium saucepan, combine the fruit, water, and 1 tablespoon of the sugar. With a thin sharp knife, split the vanilla bean lengthwise in half. Scrape out the seeds and add the seeds and bean to the pan. Cover and cook over moderate heat until the fruit releases its juices, 2 to 4 minutes.
2. Taste the fruit for sweetness and add more sugar if necessary. Stir in the lemon juice. Uncover and cook over high heat until the fruit is tender and the juices are syrupy, about 2 minutes longer. Discard the vanilla bean and stir in the eau-de-vie, if desired. Serve warm.
Andrea Reusing is the creator of the restaurant Lantern in Chapel Hill, N.C., and author of the book Cooking in the Moment: A Year of Seasonal Recipes. In this installment of The Key 3, she shares with Lynne Rossetto Kasper the techniques behind three of her favorite recipes: Turnip Soup, Overnight Braised Short Ribs and Tomato Salad.