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Looking for some ways to sweeten up your summer? Try cooking with fruit the way the French do. They are expert at preserving fruit in jams, compotes, liqueur, pickled fruits and even jelly candies. Since dessert is just too far into the meal to wait for fruity refreshment, the French eat seasonal fruit whenever possible, not only in sweets, but also in appetizers and entrees.
In Paris, fruit soups have become a fixture on the bistro's menu. At Le Viaduc Café on the Right Bank, Chef Jean-Michel Calvert prepares a peach and nectarine soup infused with mixed-berry syrup and fresh mint. It may be served warm or chilled. Among the fruit soups served at the boathouse bistro Le Rendezvous des Quais is a fresh strawberry "nage" dotted with raspberries, blackberries and red currant and spiked with a hint of anisette liqueur.
Melon appetizers, as opposed to melon desserts, are also commonplace. Although the Italian combo of prosciutto (ham) and melon is popular, the Left Bank's Brasserie Lutetia has an alternative that is decidedly French. It's a fruit cocktail of multicolored melon balls topped with a Sauternes-mint sauce and an almond and mint garnish. It's simple to make (taking less than 15 minutes to scoop out the melon balls and blend the sauce) and it's fun to do. A Muscatel or other sweet dessert wine may be substituted for the Sauternes.
Fruit also goes well with meat, fish, poultry and vegetables, lemon being the most common. Oranges are essential to the mainstay Duck a L'Orange and often take the place of lemons. Le Viaduc Cafe serves a fricassee of chicken with a confit of lemons and limes. Less sweet and more sour than most of our lemon chicken memories, this summer dish is particularly refreshing served cold the following day.
Finally, fruits are vital to a bistro's summer dessert program. They are found in classic tarts (especially tartes tatin, pastries and souffles, as well as in rich extravaganzas like the poire Belle-Helene, a standard of poached pears with ice cream and chocolate sauce. These are rich desserts that are best eaten after a light midday meal and just before an afternoon nap. Talk about a midsummer night's dream dessert!