Think you are allergic? Try cooking that apple
Anyone who has seen my porch in the last of couple weeks knows that I just love apples and can’t get enough of them. I like to peel them and seed them and store them in plastic bags in my freezer. They get a little mushy when they’ve defrosted but since I mainly use them for soup, apple sauce and apple crisps, it doesn’t matter. Besides, despite the raw food movement, we’re starting to learn that not all fruits and vegetables are best for you when they are raw, crunchy and in season (I know, I can’t believe I’m saying it either, it sounds so weird). But think of tomatoes; it’s known now that the cancer-fighting lycopene isn’t available to our bodies unless the tomatoes have been cooked.Apples, it turns out, are also on the list of foods that, in some ways, improve when you’ve heated them. It’s not necessarily that their nutrients are more bio-available after they’ve been cooked, as is the case with the tomatoes. It’s that they spark an allergic reaction in some people if their heat labile proteins aren’t neutralized first by cooking.My daughter often says that certain fruits make her throat and the inside of her mouth feel itchy. I had assumed she was just allergic to, say, cherries and avocadoes. And it’s possible that her allergies are in fact straight food allergies. But that itchy throat and mouth feeling are apparently something called Oral Allergy Syndrome, where your body has a bad reaction to the heat labile proteins. One allergy expert at a university in Ohio theorizes that the heat you generate as you chew and digest neutralizes some of the proteins, which is why you only feel the discomfort in your mouth and throat but not your stomach.True? Allergies are always mysterious, so one never knows. But if you find your mouth itches when you eat certain fruits and veggies, try cooking them first and see if it makes a difference. Apparently some of these allergic reactions are triggered by pollen. A website for a Southern California allergy specialty medical group has a list of interactions that says that people who are allergic to birch are likely to have a reaction to apple pears (presumably this means the Japanese apple pear, also called nashi), carrots, celery, potatoes, hazelnuts and kiwi fruit. People with ragweed allergies might react to watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew melon and bananas. If you’re allergic to mugwort weed (presumably this only applies to characters in the Harry Potter stories) you would get the symptoms when you eat apples, carrots, celery, coriander, fennel and melons. And if you are allergic to grass, you are likely to react when you eat melons, oranges and tomatoes.Of course there are as many ways to cook an apple as there are varieties of apple. And of course different apples react differently to heat. Very moist apples such as McIntoshes are going to melt into a puddle pretty quickly. Denser apples such as the lovely heirloom Rhode Island greenings that are sold at farm markets (they seem to be a variation of the Granny Smith) can retain their shape in a tart or pie. This week’s recipe is a variation on the ricotta and pear tart in the newest issue of Donna Hay’s excellent eponymous food magazine. Ricotta and sliced apple tartAdapted from Donna Hay Magazine2 1/2 cups ricotta cheese, drained; 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar; 1/4 cup raisins; 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest (a microplane grater does this exceptionally well); 1 teaspoon vanilla extract; 1/2 teaspoon almond extract, optional; 1 egg, beaten; 1 packet of puff pastry; two dense apples such as Rhode Island greening, cut in half, peeled and seeds removed with a melon baller; half stick of butter, melted; more confectioner’s sugar for dusting the top of the tart; 1/4 cup honeyTake your puff pastry packet out of the freezer and let it defrost (it should only take an hour or so). Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, mix the ricotta, confectioner’s sugar, raisins, lemon zest, vanilla (and almond) and the egg. Cut the packet of puff pastry in two and roll each half out until it’s very thin and in the shape of a long rectangle and place each rectangle on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper (or you can grease the cookie sheet instead if you have the energy). Evenly distribute the ricotta filling on the two rectangles of pastry, leaving about a half inch at each edge. Roll up the half inch edge, sort of folding it over the edges of the ricotta filling, like a border or a lip. Slice the apples thin and lay the half-circle slices on top of the filling, so they overlap and make a nice pattern. Brush with the melted butter and sprinkle generously with confectioner’s sugar (this is easiest if you put the sugar in a small, fine sieve and then use a spoon to push the sugar through the mesh until it snows gently onto the pastry). Bake the tarts for 20-25 minutes, until the edges puff up and begin to brown. After you take them out of the oven, drizzle honey over the tops and then dust with still more confectioner’s sugar. This tart is delicious warm from the oven but is actually slightly better when it’s had a chance to cool.