Robert Schueller is to fruit and vegetables what Rick Rubin is to rock ‘n’ roll. Part scout, part evangelist (not to be confused with “Hour of Power” televangelist Robert Schuller) and part zealot, you may not recognize his name, but you’ve been buying the produce he peddles — everything from Alphonso mangoes to Japanese sweet potatoes — for years.
“We supply every major grocery chain here in the U.S.,” says Schueller, director of publicity for Melissa’s/World Variety Produce, the Los Angeles-based certified organic produce distributor, “including the top 20 retailers in the country: the Super Walmarts, Super Targets, Safeway, Wegmans.” Schueller, who started with Melissa’s in 1997, also co-created the company’s new cookbook “Melissa’s Everyday Cooking With Organic Produce” (Wiley, $29.95) by interviewing organic farmers, setting up the book’s seasonal produce chart and providing details on how to buy, store, prep and use each fruit and vegetable.
Melissa’s is responsible for much of the specialty produce that has arrived on the U.S. scene in the last 10 years. On any given day, from the 280,000-square-foot office-warehouse complex and state-of-the-art certified organic packing facility, the company supplies grocery stores and markets from Miami to Alaska with 800 or so items imported from around the world.
“In 2007, we introduced fresh mangosteens to the marketplace, imported from Thailand,” says Schueller, referring to the lustrous sweet-and-tangy Southeast Asian fruit with a cult-like following. “That was also the first year we introduced Indian Alphonso mangoes to U.S. consumers,” he adds. “Back in 2000, we introduced rambutans, and then dragon fruit in 2001.” (The former is a lychee-like fruit with wild red bristles; the latter a magenta cactus fruit with the flavors of pineapple and kiwi.)
“Melissa’s Everyday Cooking with Organic Produce” teaches cooks how to buy and store the likes of Kadota figs, jicama and kumquats, butter lettuce and sugar snap peas, and what to do with them once they’re staring you down on the kitchen counter. In addition, it makes the most of now widely available organic grocery staples “to create an all-organic experience,” says Schueller. “If you’re eating a regular green salad with organic heirloom tomatoes on top, you’re saying the salad is just 20% organic? That never really made sense to me,” he laughs. Instead, the book focuses on dishes that can be made from top to bottom with organic ingredients like olive oil, beans and rice, many of which Melissa’s also distributes.
The cookbook is the second collaboration between Melissa’s and Orange County Register food columnist Cathy Thomas. The first, “Melissa’s Great Book of Produce” (Wiley, $29.95) is an encyclopedic reference on all things ripe and juicy. With both books on hand, consumers have an arsenal for tackling accessible recipes that make the best use of organic produce year round.
Now’s a good time to try the recipe for Turkey Breast Cutlets With Kumquats and Fresh Spinach, before kumquats disappear. For dessert? “May begins the season for stone fruits like apricots,” says Schueller. He suggests the Apricot, Cherry and Blueberry Cobbler, one of his favorites.
Both recipes are reprinted from “Melissa’s Everyday Cooking with Organic Produce.”
Turkey Breast Cutlets With Kumquats and Fresh Spinach
1 egg white
1 cup dried bread crumbs
Freshly ground black pepper
1¼ pounds turkey breast cutlets
Vegetable oil for frying
2 shallots, thinly sliced
6 kumquats, thinly sliced crosswise, seeded
4 tablespoons sugar
⅔ cup water
⅓ cup dried cranberries or dried cherries
⅓ cup white wine vinegar
¼ teaspoon dried red chile flakes
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 large garlic clove, minced
6 cups packed baby spinach leaves
- Adjust oven rack to middle position. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- In shallow bowl or pie pan, beat egg white and pinch of salt until frothy. Place breadcrumbs in second shallow pan or pie plate. Season cutlets on both sides with salt and pepper to taste. Dip a cutlet in egg white, holding it over pan to let excess drip back into pan. Dip both sides in crumbs. Set aside and repeat process with each cutlet.
- In large, deep skillet (preferably nonstick), heat ¼-inch vegetable oil on medium-high heat. In two batches, add cutlets and brown on both sides. Place on rimmed baking sheet in single layer and place in oven. Bake until thoroughly cooked, about 8 to 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, return skillet to medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil along with shallots. Stir to release browned bits. Add kumquats, sugar, water, cranberries, vinegar, and chile flakes. Bring to simmer, stirring frequently until sugar dissolves and mixture thickens, about 8 to 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in separate large, deep skillet. Add garlic and cook 30 seconds. Add spinach and cook until wilted, stirring occasionally as needed. Divide spinach between 6 plates. Check cutlets for doneness; no pink color should remain. Cut cutlets into 1-inch strips and place on top of each portion of spinach. Top with kumquat sauce and serve.
Apricot, Cherry and Blueberry Cobbler
2 pounds ripe apricots, unpeeled, pitted, quartered
1 cup blueberries
1 cup pitted cherries, halved
½ cup plus 2 teaspoons sugar
3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon minced lemon zest (colored portion of peel)
4½ tablespoons sugar, divided use
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
½ cup whole milk
½ cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
Optional for serving: ice cream
- Adjust oven rack to middle position. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease 2-quart shallow baking dish or 12-inch oval gratin dish (at least 2⅛ inches deep) with butter; set aside.
- Prepare filling: Place apricots, blueberries, and cherries in large bowl; gently toss with rubber spatula. Add sugar, cornstarch, juice, and zest; gently toss to distribute dry ingredients. Place in prepared dish.
- Prepare topping: In separate large bowl, stir flour, 3 tablespoons sugar, salt and baking powder together with whisk. Add butter and use pastry cutter (gadget with 4 to 6 stiff wire loops attached to a handle) or 2 knives to cut in the butter (until the largest lumps of butter are about the size of peas). Or combine dry ingredients in food processor and pulse once or twice, then add butter and pulse until largest lumps are pea-size and transfer to bowl. Combine milk, cream, and vanilla in small bowl; pour over flour mixture. Give few strokes with large wooden spoon. Use clean hands to gently blend. Dough will be wet.
- Pinch off golf ball-size lumps of sticky dough and drop onto fruit, leaving small spaces between dough. Sprinkle with remaining 1½ tablespoons sugar. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until dough is nicely browned and fruit mixture is bubbling.
- Cool on wire rack 15 to 20 minutes before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature, alone or with scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Photos, from top:
Melissa’s latest cookbook. Credit: courtesy of Melissa’s/World Variety Produce
Turkey with Kumquats and Fresh Spinach. Credit: Nick Koon
Apricot, Cherry and Blueberry Cobbler. Credit: Nick Koon