FOOD: What’s a Ground Cherry?

FOOD: What’s a Ground Cherry?

What’s a Ground Cherry?
by Tom yates

Chef Tom’s Food and Cooking Column appears on page 13 of the Ace Weekly print edition. Text and Photos by Chef Tom.

It seems that every summer I become infatuated with something new and different from our farmers’ market. It’s not like I don’t get around. Things simply pop up and totally surprise me. This season, I’m totally smitten with ground cherries from Stonehedge Farm.

So, what are ground cherries? Tucked inside papery lantern-like husks (like a tomatillo), ground cherries aren’t cherries at all. Confused? Join the club. Because they’re in the same physalis genus as tomatillos and in the same family as tomatoes, they have the characteristics of both fruits. Also known as husk tomatoes, strawberry tomatoes, or dwarf cape gooseberries, ground cherries are tiny nightshades that are understandably misunderstood.

Captivated by their dried husks, I tried one and was hooked. With subtle hints of pineapple, strawberry, and vanilla (some say butterscotch), ground cherries have a tomato/grape texture. Firm. Juicy. Sweet. Tart. Fabulous. Draped in culinary ambiguity, ground cherries can be used in either sweet or savory preparations. Packed with pectin, they’re often used in pies, jams, chutneys, and jellies. They don’t always have to go that route. Eaten raw, their mild sweet acidity pops in salads and salsas. I used my latest haul of market ground cherries to explore their savory side.

Sea Bass and Ground Cherries en Papillote with a Saffron White Wine Sauce.

Small effort, big payoff.

I warmed 1/2 cup of dry white wine over a medium flame. When the wine hit a gentle ripple, I added a pinch of saffron and pulled it from the heat to allow the saffron to bloom.

While the saffron steeped in the wine, I thinly sliced two small Madison County red bliss potatoes , julienned 1 small carrot, slivered 1/2 shallot, halved a few red candy grape tomatoes, frenched (sliced on an extreme bias) 10 Casey County tenderette green beans, and julienned 1/4 red bell pepper. After slipping 2 cups of ground cherries from their delicate husks, I halved them and set them aside.

The sea bass in waiting? Two gorgeous certified sustainable center cut fresh sea bass fillets that I snagged from the Lexington Seafood Company.

En Papillote. In parchment. Although just about anything can be cooked in parchment paper, the method works beautifully with fish and vegetables. It doesn’t have to be fussy. After filling the parchment paper with ingredients, simply seal the edges securely to trap the steam while they bake. They can be folded like a gift or crimped and sealed from the top. I lean toward the heart-shaped method because I believe it produces a tighter seal. However they’re crimped or sealed, cooking en papillote makes for easy clean up. The total package.

Page 13 of the Ace August 15, 2013 print edition.

Using kitchen shears, I cut two sheets of parchment paper into two 15″ x 24″ rectangles, folded them half lengthwise, and cut half-hearts using the folded sides as a guide. When opened, I had two large paper hearts. Kitchen arts and crafts.

After drizzling Oliva Bella olive oil onto the right side of the heart, I layered the potatoes, red peppers, carrots, shallots, tomatoes, and pats of butter onto the middle portion of the parchment paper. I nestled the sea bass fillets on top of the vegetables and scattered the ground cherries over the fillets before drizzling them with the saffron-infused white wine.

I pulled the other side of the parchment paper over the filling and sealed the packets. Starting at the deep part of the rounded heart, I formed very tight pleats on sharp diagonals for a tight seal and finished by twisting the pointed end under the package.

Signed, sealed, and almost delivered.

After a much needed wine break, I brushed the tops of the parchment parcels with vegetable oil, placed them onto a sheet pan, and slid them into a 400 degree oven to steam/bake for 20 minutes. I let the puffed packages rest for 5 minutes before snipping them open to release the steam. To echo the flavor profile of the cooked vegetables, I finished with blanched green beans, whole raw ground cherries, shallots, and fresh dill.

Wow. The golden sea bass filets were so ridiculously tender that one quiet exhale caused them to flake into slippery soft shards.While the underlying vegetables added texture to the vibrant white-fleshed fish, the ground cherries melted into the fruity olive oil and wine to create a buttery tart/sweet sauce that balanced the subtle floral undertones of the saffron. Sea bass and ground cherries.

With a paper trail.
Edible origami.

This article also appears on page 13 of the August 15, 2013 print edition of Ace. Click to subscribe to the Ace e-dition (delivered to your inbox every Thursday), and read more of Chef Tom’s Ace food columns.