Loquats are a now-or-never fruit. Originally from southern China, loquat trees found their way here, and by "here" I mean Southern California from the OC to San Diego, where they fruit in April and May. That's it. They grow in bunches and bear a slight resemblance in color and shape to apricots, but are juicy with a mild sweet flavor more reminiscent of ripe pears. I actually prefer the slight tartness of underripe loquats. I'm also drawn to their beautiful seeds. Some loquats have one, others may have four or five--but all look like lovely polished brown stones.
You probably won't find loquats at the supermarket. They are extremely fragile, with thin skins that easily bruise and the fruit itself turns quickly. Right now you can find them at the farmers markets. Both Terra Bella Ranch and Rancho Mexico Lindo carried them last Saturday at the Little Italy Mercato.
|Terra Bella Ranch loquats|
Loquats are delicious snacks and make for a great jam, salsa, and sauce. A friend of mine with several trees pits the fruit and cooks it down with honey to an applesauce-like consistency. She can freeze this and enjoy it the rest of the year.
I thought I'd try a little something different with my latest score from the neighborhood tree--roasting them with honey, and pairing them with feta cheese on croutons.
Roasting loquats is easy. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Because you can eat the skin, simply slice the fruit in half lengthwise, remove the pits and place the halves in an oiled casserole dish or on foil.
I made up a mixture that would combine sweet, smokey, and just a little astringent: honey, grated fresh ginger, kaffir lime leaf powder that I got from Specialty Produce, and Aleppo pepper.
I brushed this on the loquat halves and roasted them for 20 minutes until they were soft, but before they collapsed.
While they were cooking, I toasted baguette slices brushed with olive oil and sliced a chunk of French feta. I love its gentle tartness and moist texture. The feta went onto the the warm croutons to melt a little.
Once the loquats were out of the oven, I sliced them into three pieces, and placed them on the cheese. Then I sprinkled the layered toasts with chopped fresh chocolate mint from my garden and drizzled the finished toasts with more honey.
Voila! An easy and unusual appetizer that makes use of a delicious fragile fruit with a short season.