Edible Containers Complement the Taste and Texture of Their Fruity Fillings. Since They Can Be Made Ahead, They Are Perfect for Entertaining Summer Guests. : FRUIT IN A BASKET

Times Staff Writer

How about a basket of fruit? Or to be more precise, fruit in a basket that you can also eat?

We've come up with half a dozen or so edible baskets in which to serve fruit. These baskets not only provide complementary flavor to the fruit, but also enhance their beauty.

Best of all, the baskets can be prepared ahead and refrigerated or frozen to be brought out whenever needed during the busy summer season, when friends and relatives tend to drop in most often. The baskets can be filled as we suggest in the recipes given, or with concoctions from your own imagination. There are no rules. Creams, puddings, syrups, sauces and fruits of all kinds may be used.

One of the most elegant containers for fruit is the white chocolate scallop shell, which we formed directly on a scallop shell, chosen for its especially suitable design. The melted chocolate is simply spread on the rounded side of the shell, cooled until hardened, then pried off when ready to use. You can use any container shape you want, including paper cups. The same spreading principle applies. The only trick is to apply several coats of chocolate in order to achieve a durable shell or container. Although durable and sufficiently lubricated due to the fat content in chocolate, shells should be carefully handled. Keeping them chilled will diminish the chance of their cracking, breaking or melting quickly.

Our shells were filled with melon mousse (which can be done ahead) and topped with assorted fruit and melon balls, resembling pearls.

In another dessert, instead of meringue shells, we used frozen whipped cream shells made with yogurt and whipping cream for stability. The shells are filled with mascarpone cream (plain cream cheese can be substituted for the creamy Italian cheese) and crowned with berries.

The whipped cream shells (with or without their cheese filling) can be frozen until ready to use.

Fried tortilla shells, another dessert shell that can be prepared well ahead and stored airtight in the refrigerator until ready to use, does especially well with ice cream and puddings as well as fruit. We give a recipe for shells filled with mangoes and an easy mango cream made with ice cream, fruit and tequila. You can vary the ice cream and the fruit for this simple sauce.

Bread pudding is a perfect shell for brandied fruit. The pudding is formed in miniature ring molds and baked. You can add hard sauce or any fruit sauce desired. We chose a brandy sauce with peaches.

If you've never worked with shredded filo dough, you will find the experience well worth the price of a package of kadaif , the Arabic name for shredded filo. The dough can be found at most Middle Eastern stores that also sell filo dough. Desserts using kadaif are widespread throughout the Middle East and the Balkans. Kadaif is used chiefly for layering desserts made with nuts. We have used the natural suggestion of texture of the shredded dough to make a nest resembling a haystack and filled it with sorbet and raspberry sauce. In Middle Eastern cuisine, a honey syrup is usually used to soften and flavor the shredded dough, but any syrupy sauce can be used. We also suggest using ice cream or puddings with the kadaif.

And, finally, fruit form natural shells for ice cream in another dessert. Peaches, nectarines, pears or apricots can be used for this dessert. The peeled and halved fruit are sprinkled with brown sugar and drizzled with brandy to cook in foil on a grill. Once cooked, cavities are topped with ice cream and served warm.

MELON MOUSSE IN WHITE CHOCOLATE SHELLS

2 cups cantaloupe or honeydew puree (mashed pulp of 1 small melon)

1/4 cup lime juice

1/4 cup sugar

1 to 2 tablespoons melon or raspberry liqueur, optional

1 envelope unflavored gelatin

1/4 cup cold water

1/4 cup whipping cream

White Chocolate Shells

Assorted fruit and tiny melon balls

Combine puree, lime juice, sugar and liqueur in bowl. Remove and set aside 1 cup puree mixture.

Add gelatin to cold water and dissolve over hot water. Stir into remaining puree mixture. Fold in whipping cream. Chill to set slightly. Spoon mousse into White Chocolate Shells.

When ready to serve, spoon some of reserved puree onto bottom of serving dishes. Place shell over puree and garnish mousse and plate with fruit and melon balls. Makes 6 servings. White Chocolate Shells

6 scallop shells

2 cups chopped white chocolate

Place scallop shells in freezer overnight. Melt white chocolate in top of double boiler over hot water or carefully in microwave.

Spoon to coat back of a scallop shell sprayed with non-stick coating, rotating to spread chocolate evenly and thickly. Place on saucer and freeze quickly just until set. Carefully remove molded chocolate from scallop shell. Repeat with remaining scallop shells and chocolate. (Paper cups with fluted sides can be substituted for shells.)

DEEP-FRIED TORTILLAS FILLED WITH MANGO CREAM

6 small flour tortillas

Oil for deep-frying

Powdered sugar, optional

2 large mangoes, peeled and sliced or diced

Tequila-Mango Cream

Mint leaves

Place tortillas in small wire basket and top with another basket (or ladle) of smaller size to keep in place. Heat oil until very hot. Dip tortilla in basket into oil and fry a few seconds until crisp but not browned. Remove and drain on paper towel. Continue to fry until all tortillas are fried. Cool. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Place each fried tortilla on individual plate. When ready to serve, fill with mango pieces and lace with Tequila-Mango Cream. Serve remaining cream on side. Garnish with mint leaves. Makes 6 servings.

Variation: In place of mangoes, use berries and/or other fresh fruit in season. Tequila-Mango Cream

1 1/2 ounces tequila

1 cup vanilla ice cream

1 cup chopped mangoes or papayas

Place tequila, ice cream and chopped mangoes in blender container. Blend until smooth.

BREAD PUDDING NESTS

1/2 loaf French or Italian bread

2 cups milk

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 tablespoon vanilla

1/2 cup raisins, optional

Sliced ripe peaches, berries or other fresh fruit

Brandy Sauce

Tear bread into pieces and place in large bowl. Stir in milk.

Beat butter with sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in evaporated milk, nutmeg and vanilla. Stir in bread mixture and raisins. Spoon into 12 to 14 greased small ring molds.

Place molds in baking pan and add water to come halfway up molds, being careful not to submerge molds. Bake at 350 degrees about 30 minutes or until firm. Let cool slightly, then unmold onto serving dishes. Fill with fruit and top with Brandy Sauce. Makes 6 to 7 servings.

Note: If small ring molds are not available, bake in small tartlet or brioche pans and scoop out center to fill with fruit. Brandy Sauce

3 egg yolks

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 cups milk

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1/4 cup water

1 1/2 ounces brandy

Lightly beat egg yolks in saucepan. Add sugar, vanilla and milk and blend well. Cook over low heat until mixture comes to boil.

Blend cornstarch in water and stir into hot mixture. Continue to cook until thickened. Remove from heat and stir in brandy. Cool.

FROZEN WHIPPED CREAM SHELLS WITH FRUIT

1 cup whipping cream, whipped, or 1 3/4 cups non-dairy whipped topping, thawed

1 cup vanilla yogurt

1/2 cup flaked coconut, plain or toasted

Mascarpone Filling

Raspberries and blackberries or other fresh fruit

Combine whipped cream and yogurt, blending well. Stir in coconut. Spoon into dessert glasses or spoon in mounds on wax paper-covered baking sheets or trays.

Make depression in center of each with spoon to form shell. Or pipe through pastry bag with large star tip to form 6 shells. Sprinkle with additional coconut, if desired. Freeze until firm, about 1 1/2 hours. Fill each shell with about 1 tablespoon Mascarpone Filling. Mound with berries. Makes 6 servings. Mascarpone Filling

1/2 cup mascarpone, creme fraiche or ricotta cheese

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Blend together mascarpone, sugar and vanilla until smooth.

HAYSTACK SHELLS FILLED WITH FRUIT ICE

1/4 (1/4-pound) package shredded filo pastry (kadaif), or 6 sheets filo dough, finely shredded

1/4 cup toasted or plain flaked coconut

1/4 cup butter, melted

Fruit Ice

Raspberry Sauce

Mint leaves

If using kadaif dough, fluff to loosen dough. Add coconut and fluff to mix into dough. Drizzle with melted butter and toss between hands to incorporate butter into dough. Divide dough into 6 equal portions. Pat each portion into greased large muffin tin or deep tart pan. Bake at 350 degrees 15 minutes or until pale golden in color and crusty. Set aside.

If using filo dough, stack sheets by 2, brushing each sheet with melted butter and sprinkling lightly with coconut. Cut sheets into halves or 5- to 6-inch squares. Press each square into well-buttered shallow muffin tins. With shears, cut extended portion of dough into fine vertical strips, stopping at rim. Position cuttings at random to resemble hay. Bake at 350 degrees 5 to 7 minutes or until golden. Cool, then remove cups carefully. Store in cool, dry place until ready to use, up to 1 week.

Fill each case with 1 scoop Fruit Ice. Lace with Raspberry Sauce. Garnish with mint leaves. Makes 6 servings.

Note: Shredded filo dough (kadaif) can be found at most Middle Eastern grocery stores and some supermarkets. Fruit Ice

3/4 cup water

3/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 cups chopped fruit of choice

Combine water, sugar and lemon juice in saucepan. Heat over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Cool.

Place fruit in blender or food processor container. Blend or puree until mixture is smooth. Combine with cooled syrup. Freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's directions. Raspberry Sauce

1 (10-ounce) package frozen raspberries, thawed

2 tablespoons raspberry liqueur

1/4 cup whipping cream, whipped

Puree raspberries until smooth. Strain to remove seeds. Mix with raspberry liqueur and fold or swirl in whipped cream.

BARBECUED BRANDIED PEACH SHELLS

6 large peaches, nectarines, pears or apricots

3 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup brown sugar, packed

1/4 cup brandy

Vanilla ice cream

Chopped nuts

Peel peaches, then halve and remove pits. If using pears, peel, halve and scoop out seeds to form cavities.

For each serving, place peach halves, cut side up, on square of foil. Dot with butter, sprinkle with brown sugar and drizzle with brandy. Close halves to form whole fruit.

Wrap in foil, sealing edges to prevent juices from escaping, then twist both ends. Barbecue over low coals until tender. Remove from coals, then remove foil and fill each fruit half with scoop of ice cream. Garnish with chopped nuts. Makes 6 servings.

Note: If cooking in oven, bake at 450 degrees 30 minutes. Open foil and place under broiler until peaches are browned, then fill each half with ice cream and garnish with nuts.

Food styling by MINNIE BERNARDINO and ROSE DOSTI / Los Angeles Times

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