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Prunes get a bad rap. Most people think you need an AARP member card to buy them. Thing is, they start out life as plums and are really no different than a raisin is to a grape. Manufacturers like Sunsweet and Sun Maid have been playing this up, rebranding their prune packaging with words "dried plums." Whether you buy into this new branding or not, I firmly believe it's time to start rethinking the prune.
One way to start re-imagining the prune is to pickle it. You simmer a pound of them it in a spiced liquid of tart red wine vinegar, brown sugar and honey. After 20 minutes on the stove, the prunes are warm, plump, perfectly sweet and tart.
If the idea of pickled prunes isn't floating your boat yet, I entreat you to cast your mind back to the last time you ate Chicken Marbella. One of the most beloved recipes from the classic Silver Palate Cookbook, it was everywhere when I was a kid. Back then, I wasn't particularly excited by the idea of prunes and olives with my chicken, but a few years ago, someone brought it to a family gathering and I fell in love.
I spent most of the evening picking the prunes and olives out of the dish and eating them together. There was something about the briny, salty flavor of the olives with the intense sweetness of the prunes that I couldn't get enough of. These pickled prunes combine those two flavors into a single, easily storable bite. And, when I get a craving for Chicken Marbella, I make a quick, faux version using leftover roast chicken and these prunes.
These pickled prunes also go really well with roasted meats and assertive cheeses. I like to roughly chop a couple and whisk them into the vinaigrette to drizzle over a sturdy green like arugula.
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About the author: Marisa McClellan is a food writer, canning teacher, and dedicated pickler who lives in Center City Philadelphia. Find more of her jams, pickles and preserves (all cooked up in her 80-square-foot kitchen) at her blog, Food in Jars.