THE hard, tart quince, with its mild apple-pear flavor, is one of those fruits that definitely needs help in reaching its full potential. It’s just not much good without some cooking. There are the familiar jellies, jams and preserves, of course. But there’s a lot more too.
For a very simple dessert that really does show the fruit at its best, bake quince whole until they are fork tender. This will take about an hour depending on the size of the fruit (be sure to turn them during the baking to prevent burned spots). Let the quince cool until they’re easy to handle and cut them into quarters.
Even after mellowing in the oven, the quince will still be tart, so I like to drizzle a little butter then sprinkle sugar over the top before popping them under the broiler until they get a little char around the edges. Then the nutmeg. It’s amazing how a sprinkling of freshly ground nutmeg brings out the flavor. I like to finish it with drizzle of creme anglaise. Served warm, this makes a heavenly wintertime dessert. (Even easier, skip the creme anglaise and just serve it with good vanilla ice cream.)
The combination of dried cherries and quince is irresistible in our quick strudel. It’s a good idea to start with fresh filo dough: The frozen sheets can stick together and tear easily. Keep opened filo dough sheets covered with plastic wrap and a towel until you’re ready to use them. If left uncovered they tend to dry out quickly, making the dough crack and hard to handle.
Quince also works well in savory dishes, adding a nice accent to meat (try dropping cubes into a stew sometime). It’s especially good in a sauce with veal. Start with beef broth, homemade or canned. And finishing it with a swirl of butter at the end adds richness, sheen and a bit of thickening.
When selecting quince choose large, firm yellow fruit without blemishes or bruises. Keep them at room temperature to ripen, and enjoy a dividend: Quince are also a wonderfully aromatic fruit.