by Gina Depalma
On a recent trip to Italy, I noticed something fascinating going on around me in many of the restaurants I visited. When it came time for dessert, many native Italians would simply order fresh pineapple. In one restaurant in Rome, it was ceremoniously carried out to an enthusiastic table of four on a large silver platter, quartered and sliced, left on the rind–it was truly a work of art. Joe Bastianich once demonstrated for me a flamboyant method for spiral-slicing pineapple tableside that he saw in a restaurant in Italy and longed to duplicate here in the United States. For some time now, I have wondered: what is it with this Italian love of pineapple?
I longed to find out if there was a story behind this seemingly steamy relationship between Italians and pineapple. After much research, it seems to boil down to this simple fact: Italians love fresh fruit, and the exotic pineapple remains a perennial favorite. In fact, they can’t seem to get enough of it. It’s no wonder, pineapple is surely ranked among the rock stars of fruits. Juicy and sweet, with a meaty texture and palate-cleansing super-powers, nothing beats the refreshment of a wedge of fresh pineapple after a large, heavy meal.
Pineapple grows not on trees, but on plants, which require a warm, dry climate and well-drained soil. There are four parts of the pineapple plant that are capable of bearing fruit: the shoot, the slip, the crown, and my personal favorite, the sucker. The process of growing pineapples requires much patience. After flowering, the matured fruit is ready to be picked after 20 long months. Some growers have embraced a more modern approach and use synthetic hormones to force the plants to flower and produce fruit more quickly. The process of picking pineapple, however, is largely still done by hand.
There is a small bit of history to recount. Christopher Columbus is likely the first European to come across pineapple in his travels to the West Indies, bringing them back to Europe with him as a prized treasure of his conquest. As Europeans continued to explore the West Indies, Central and South America, they became enchanted by the fruit and brought it back with them to be cultivated in hothouses, becoming a favorite of royalty and wealthy households of privilege and power.
Today, the world’s major producers of pineapple are Brazil, the Ivory Coast, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, the Philippines, South Africa, Thailand, and the United States. Plantations in Hawaii produce almost all the pineapples that are grown in the United States. Availability of fresh pineapple is a luxury we enjoy year-round, but for me, it is especially welcome in the early spring, when the apples and pears are gone and before berries enter the scene.
Enjoying a pineapple is simple. Slice it and eat it. That being said, I do enjoy serving pineapple warm. Roasting it is an especially wonderful way to enjoy it. Cooking pineapple seems to bring out its sweetness, yet it still maintains enough of its bright acidity to pair well with ice cream and richer dessert components.
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Remove the skin and crown of the pineapple, core and cut into thick half-moon slices. Grease a 13x9 inch roasting pan with the soft butter. Sprinkle half of the brown sugar on the bottom, and fan the pineapple slices over it.
In a bowl, mix the remaining brown sugar with the cinnamon and sprinkle it evenly over the surface of the pineapple.
Roast the pineapple in the oven until it begins to caramelize and the juices are bubbly and thickened somewhat. Remove the pan from the oven and add the optional grappa or amaretto to the juices.
Serve the warm roasted pineapple over ice cream.