Adam Erace Adam Erace battles adult on-set diabetes and cankles as the restaurant critic for the Philadelphia City Paper. He also writes about food and travel for publications like Details, Fodor's and Southern Living. He lives in South Philly with his wife, Charlotte, and two rescue mutts, Lupo and Marco.
via flickr/Bruce Guenter
Each month, Adam Erace picks a crop that’s in season locally rightthisveryminute and asks some of the city’s best chefs how they’re preparing it.
If you order the biscotti plate at Le Virtù this week, you’ll find a special guest: a small orange orb hand-dipped in chocolate, the papery petals of its inverted husk twisting skyward like a wind-tossed hairdo, a convenient handle for plucking the Halloween-hued treat from its cookie pals. It’s a cape gooseberry, physalis peruviana, “Tiny, golden yellow fruits that resemble tomatillos,” according to Virtù pastry queen Angela Ranalli. “The berry itself is protected by a beautiful, paper-thin husk and looks like a Chinese lantern.”
Cape gooseberries, also known as ground cherries, are not to be confused with regular gooseberries. While the local season for those sweet, floral, pink or green baubles ended in August, the cape gooseberries crop is reaching its apex just now.
“Cape gooseberries have a unique flavor, one that is really hard to describe,” says Ranalli. “It’s kind of sweet and sour, but then there is another layer of flavor to them that makes it all its own. I have given a spoonful of cape gooseberry jam to people and asked them to guess what it is. Anyone who hadn’t tried the fruit before failed in guessing that it’s the product of single berry.”
The flavor suggests a cross between tomato and pineapple, making them naturals in seafood preps. “I will usually use them raw,” says Marc Plessis, who crushes the fruits into a salsa for his Kona kanpachi crudo at Pennsylvania 6. “The combination of tart with the fatty fish is a great pairing.”
Back at Le Virtù, cape gooseberries have also filled the role of green tomatoes in Ranalli’s seasonal crostata. Topped with hazelnut crumble and mascarpone gelato, the tart is a full-throated expression of this unusual local fruit and, like the cookie plate, comes with a whole gooseberry garnish, this one enrobed in orange blossom meringue. “The husks and golden berry make it such a gorgeous component to an autumn dessert, like fallen leaves.”
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