Dish

Gotta Go Bananas

Ah, the banana. If you've looked around our markets lately, you might have noticed the several varieties from which you can make your selection. You can choose the short and chunky dwarf, finger, or red banana. You can check out the bananas that taste like other fruit -- the Manzano carries traces of green apple, for example, and the Orinoco is perfumed with a strawberry scent. Or you can opt for cooking bananas such as plantains, and fry 'em up in deep fat. Delicious.

But no matter how popular these specialty bananas have or may become, in America it's hard to beat the Cavendish. That's the name of your everyday yellow banana, the ones you allow to turn brown on your kitchen counter, the ones you see chimps peeling on TV, the ones your mother tells you to eat after working out because they contain potassium. These bananas are mild and flavorful, good for baking and even better for eating out-of-hand. But one of their best qualities, as many Miamians have recently discovered, is that they're ideal for throwing.

Shaped like a kinder and gentler boomerang, these bananas zip through the air. They fly hard and fast, maybe with a wobble here and there, but don't come back. They land well, too, like seaplanes, the fruit buffeted inside its tough skin but not usually breaking through. City hall can attest to this, given the copious bunches recently flung on its doorstep. Of course the real problem city hall currently is facing is not how to raise the image of Miami politicos (that's damn well impossible) but what to do with all those fast-ripening bananas.

Making banana bread would be an obvious option, since most recipes for this quick (nonyeast) bread call for very ripe, even overripe, fruit to be added. But following a detailed recipe could prove a little challenging for the likes of Miami Mayor Joe Carollo, who can't seem to follow the bylaws of his own office. Waiting for something to fully cook isn't Carollo's style: He's more apt to go off half-baked.

Cookbook guru Linda Gassenheimer claims she'd "rather have a banana daiquiri, anyway," and that's probably a good call for ousted City Manager Donald Warshaw. The creaminess of the bananas would soothe all that nasty indigestion a mean ol' boss and a threatening rival can inspire. Plus the slug or two of rum couldn't hurt. Maybe if everybody got a little tipsy together on this classic banana drink we could all be friends again, just like in that video where Warshaw sings Carollo's, ah, praises.

But if we wanted to sling some more grease on the fire, we could always serve the boys up a good, hearty portion of bananas Foster. A little flambéing might still those flapping tongues. Finally, Gassenheimer notes, banana cream pie is "an old-fashioned staple," and frankly, if the mayor and his cohorts didn't already have pie on their faces, I'd personally make a few hundred and toss them their way.

Unlike Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez, who thinks the throwing of bananas equals a racial slur to Cubans, chef Paula Block agrees we "have elected a bunch of monkeys to [run our] city government. And in a cost-cutting move a few smart voters have decided to appease them ... by providing them with a free lunch." Can you say peanut butter-and-banana sandwiches? The nostalgia of this dubious dish probably wouldn't translate to the people running (into the ground) our city that they're being childish, but at least the peanut butter would have the beneficial effect of shutting up their mouths.

Steven Raichlen, author of regional cookbooks like The Caribbean Pantry Cookbook, says he likes living in South Florida because of the bananas, particularly the apple bananas. (Personally I like it here because of the nuts, but that's a different column. I think.) He'd use the fruit to make innovative products, like banana salsa. But the best way to get out of a banana jam like the one city hall is in, he claims, is to make, well, banana jam. Perfect for our new (temporary) chief of police to spread on his morning toast while he waits for the other banana bush to drop. Raichlen has lent us his recipe, which we've adapted here for city use:

100 ripe bananas

60 tablespoons fresh lime juice

13 1/3 cups fresh orange juice or water

30 cups sugar

10 vanilla beans, split lengthwise and cut into thirds

2 1/2 teaspoon salt

20 tablespoons banana liqueur

Peel the bananas and mash with a fork. Place them in a cauldron with all of the ingredients except the liqueur and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until thick, about 30 minutes. Stir in the liqueur and remove the cauldron from the heat. Spoon into sterilized canning jars and let cool to room temperature. Store in a cool, dark place -- we suggest Carollo's office, say midafternoon, when the mayor takes his well-deserved nap.

 
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