Sweet & Spicy Fall Fruit Salad

After many weeks of going through an unspeakable amount of butter, sugar and flour, all in the name of recipe testing for the new book (and still going), I'm pretty sure that lazy moaning you hear is my digestive system dying for a break. And buckets of vegetable juice. So goes the occupational hazard of testing and writing a whole lot of dessert recipes--a little bit of every result must make its way into my mouth (I'm doing it for you, of course). Now, this doesn't mean that I'm being proactive, putting myself on some sort of virtuous diet to combat the insanity (see also: the day I had vegetable juice with a cookie), but I am thinking that it's time to find a bit of balance while I'm working on this latest manuscript. Somewhere between a macrobiotic goddess and a Morgan Spurlock documentary would be just fine. This fall fruit salad, with a fantastically spiced syrup for extra punch is a gentle nudge to get a little further away from the latter. Probably.

I don't know about you, but I'm normally not the world's biggest fruit fan. For better or worse, I tend to save my sweet tooth for dessert. And fruit salad? Meh. All too often, its sort of just a throwaway on brunch tables, a whole bunch of pale, crunchy, underripe melon hunks and a smattering of sad red grapes. Not awesome. And come this time of year, we're thinking more about roasted root vegetables and big savory meat dishes than we are fruity things, anyway. Fruit is usually for warmer months, and rightly so; all those sexy, shiny berries and what not. I don't blame you for forgetting all about fruit once you get past September. Boringtown.

But then the other day I was walking through Whole Foods, the place I like to go when I feel compelled to pay 80 dollars for a bag of groceries and get a little inspiration along the way, and whoa, whoa, WHOA. They had the most stunning pile of autumn fruit all up in the produce section. Huge persimmons, glowing apples, cute little Seckle pears. It was really something.

So I bought a whole bunch of what I saw, skipped to the car (thank goodness for compression pants), and put it all together in a lovely tableau of ambrosial autumnal splendor. The thing that makes everything work together so fabulously here is a sort of super-spiced simple syrup that bridges the vast variety of flavors from the different fruits. Dare I say its dynamite, people. Light years beyond your standard fruit salad. I also love the way autumn fruits like these are sweet and juicy, like the softest summer melons, but still stay crisp and firm, with snappy skins, even when they're at their most ripe. Plus, the syrup is really sort of a marinade for the whole thing--it just gets better and better as it sits. So if you're one of those fancy people who does holiday brunches, I'd ask that you give this one a try, and please invite me. Thanks.

Sweet & Spicy Fall Fruit Salad Serves 4

I love the endless possibilities with a recipe like this. For the apples, I love crisp, just-sweet-enough Fuji; for the pears, firm D'Anjou. Other awesome additions would be toasted pepitas or other chopped nuts to add a bit of earthiness. This is a great do-ahead fruit salad--the longer it marinates in the sweet, spiced syrup, the better it gets.

The obvious way to serve this would be with breakfast or brunch and a hearty egg dish, but with the balance of sweet, tart, spicy and bitter notes here from the variety of fruits, it would be positively dreamy served with a cheese plate and Champagne (which could also be breakfast or brunch, I suppose--no judgement, here).

2 medium apples 1 medium firm, ripe pear 2 Fuyu persimmons 1 large orange 1 large pink grapefruit 1/2 cup pomegranante seeds 1/4 cup dark brown sugar 1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg 1/8 teaspoon cardamom 3 whole cloves 1 star anise Pinch of salt

Core the apples and pears, and cut the tops off the persimmons, and cut into 3/4-inch chunks. Place in a large serving bowl. Using a sharp knife, remove the peel and the pith from both the orange and the grapefruit. Holding the peeled fruit over a small saucepan so that any juice drips into the pan, cut the sections from both the orange and grapefruit by slicing between the thin white lines of membrane, leaving the membrane and any other pith behind. Place the sections into the bowl and squeeze the juice from the remaining membrane of both the orange and grapefruit into the saucepan (there should be a fair amount of juice).

Add to the saucepan the brown sugar, vanilla bean, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, cloves, star anise and salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove the pan from the heat. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod into the syrup; discard the pod. Pour the syrup into a small metal pan and place it in the freezer to cool it quickly. Strain over the fruit. Discard any solids in the strainer.

Add the pomegranate seeds and toss to blend well. Cover and chill before serving, about 1 hour.

FruitShauna Sever