May 16, 2012 10:31:41 AM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
Southerners love their banana pudding. Maybe it traces back to the late 1800s, when ton after ton of the tropical fruit arrived in America through Southern ports, particularly New Orleans. (So many tons, in fact, watching banana schooners unload became a tourist attraction.)
Today, Gulfport has the largest banana/tropical fruit handling facilities in the nation, the Mississippi Development Authority tells us, and our fondness for the creamy dessert hasn't wavered. In fact, we just keep dreaming up tempting new ways to enjoy this cool, sweet treat.
While banana pudding itself is always welcome, today's recipes for banana pudding cheesecake, gingery banana pudding with bourbon cream and frozen pudding dessert prove there are plenty of ways to venture out of the yellow comfort zone.
While a banana-infused pudding satisfies the sweet tooth, remember the fruit itself is a nutrient-dense, fat- and cholesterol-free source of potassium, vitamins B6 and C and dietary fiber. All gift-wrapped by Mother Nature in about 110 calories.
Bananas are one of the few fruits picked and shipped green. They continue to develop flavor, color and texture after harvesting. As the banana ripens and its starch converts to sugar, it becomes creamier and sweeter.
Luckily for consumers, ripeness is easy to judge. The main question when selecting bananas is simply how soon you'll want to eat them.
Chiquita Brands International Inc., one of the best-known producers and distributors of bananas, classifies ripeness into five peel color stages: green, green with yellow tips, yellow, yellow with brown flecks, and brown.
Most people like their bananas when the peel is completely yellow, or yellow with a few brown flecks. These are ripe and ready to eat.
Slightly green ones will be ready to eat within a few days. (Green bananas are still very starchy and can be difficult to digest, although there are certain recipes for curries and stews that call for green bananas.)
As a rule, bananas should be left to ripen at room temperature, away from direct heat or sunlight. If you need to speed up the ripening process, put them in a brown paper bag with an apple or a tomato overnight, advises Chiquita. To slow down the ripening process, store the fruit in the refrigerator. The skin may darken, but the banana will be just right for several days.
If your bananas get too ripe before you can eat them, don't send them to the trash. They can be frozen. But first peel them and store in a ziplock bag. The texture of frozen banana may not be the same, but it will still taste good and can easily be used in desserts after thawing.
To freeze mashed bananas for smoothies, shakes and banana bread, you can add a tablespoon of pineapple juice and store them for up to three months in an airtight container.
A few pudding tips
Whether your banana pudding is homemade custard with meringue topping, or instant mix and Cool Whip, here are a few suggestions from food blogger Greg Allbright you might find useful. Allbright recommends using mini-nilla wafers instead of regular size, for a better bite-sized portion of wafer with every spoonful. He also suggests opting for French vanilla pudding mix instead of simply vanilla. "You can taste the difference immediately," he says.
"Most important is to let it chill as long as possible," Allbright states. "If I want it for dinner, I try to have it in the fridge by noon. There is something about letting it congeal and letting the flavors run together that gives a better taste."
With some of today's recipes, cool down that Mississippi summer and enjoy taking your banana pudding to places it may have never been before.
BANANA PUDDING CHEESECAKE
Hands-on prep time: 45 minutes
Total time: 11 hours, 10 minutes
Makes 10-12 servings
1 1/2 cups finely crushed vanilla wafers
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup butter, melted
17 vanilla wafers
2 large ripe bananas, diced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
3 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup coarsely crushed vanilla wafers
Garnishes: sweetened whipped cream, vanilla wafers, sliced bananas tossed in lemon juice
(Source: Rhonda Harms, Clearwater, Fla., Southern Living, March 2012/myrecipes.com)
FROZEN BANANA PUDDING DESSERT
1/2 gallon vanilla ice cream
5.6 ounce box banana flavored instant pudding
2 cups cold milk
2-3 bananas, sliced or diced
1 large box vanilla wafers
1 tub of whipped topping
GINGERY BANANA PUDDING WITH
Makes 8 servings
1/2 cup sugar
5 tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 cups 1 percent low-fat milk, divided
2 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 ripe bananas, divided
12 gingersnaps, crumbled and divided
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon bourbon (optional)
1/4 cup chopped pecans, toasted
2 tablespoons minced crystallized ginger
(Source: Liza Schoenfein, Cooking Light, December 2010)
OVER THE MOON BANANA PUDDING
Makes 12-15 servings
2 (4.6 ounce) packages cook-and-serve vanilla pudding mix
4 cups milk
1 (8 ounce) container sour cream
8 (2.75 ounce) chocolate-marshmallow sandwiches, cut into eighths
3 bananas, sliced
1 (8 ounce) container frozen whipped topping, thawed
(Source: myrecipes.com, from Southern Living, June 2003)
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.