I have a confession of sorts.
I don't eat bananas. Well, no that's not accurate, I do eat bananas. I just don't buy them anymore. With going "locavore," bananas are no longer on our grocery list. Plus, did you read that article in the New York Times? If you did, you know which one I'm talking about. If you didn't, here it is. I don't know. The article struck some liberal environmentalist chord deep down within me, and I have not purchased bananas since then. But I do like bananas, and my locavore convictions only go so far, so I will eat them at other people's houses. I mean I wouldn't want to offend anyone, right? (My father-in-law planted a banana tree in his yard this last summer. It's too young to produce fruit yet, but I am anxious to see if it does, because I think I would like to have one myself.)
This last weekend I was assigned the task of driving my 88-year-old grandmother to a post-Thanksgiving dinner with family in the Sacramento area. The drive from Chico to Sacramento is only about 90 minutes, but that didn't dissuade my perpetually-prepared grandmother from packing a couple of bananas 'in case we got hungry.' Not surprisingly we did not get hungry, so we arrived in Sacramento with two intact bananas.
And the family members who had been assigned the task of bringing a pie had cancelled. So the plan was to have cranberry bread and Ginger Gems (delicious, soft, molasses-ginger cookies that my step-mom makes). While both baked goods are really good, I just felt like a big family feast needs a special ending. If not a pie, well, at least something semi-spectacular. I know, "spectacular" is a big claim (which is why I humbly prefaced it with "semi"), but c'mon a dessert that gets lit on fire is pretty cool.
Though this recipe may not be fitting with our farmers market theme, it does fit the you-can-do-it-without-opening-a-cookbook theme. Butter, brown sugar, bananas, a dash of cinnamon, a splash of vanilla and some rum and viola! Basically it is bananas in a warm caramel sauce, but something about lighting it on fire takes it to special-occasion-dessert status. Serve over vanilla ice cream-- an item I am increasingly convinced should be in everyone's freezer--with a soft cookie to sop up any extra sauce and melted ice cream. Fabulous!
Makes 8 dainty servings or 4 indulgent servings. Increase or decrease as needed.
1/4 cup butter (half of a stick; if using unsalted butter, add a pinch of salt)
1/2 cup brown sugar
pinch of cinnamon
3 medium bananas, ripe, but not overripe
1 teaspoon vanilla extract*
1/4 cup (2 fl ounces) rum
1 quart vanilla ice cream
1 cookie per guest
1. In large skillet over medium to medium-high heat, heat butter and sugar, stirring occasionally. Heat until the butter and sugar have melted and combined, less than 5 minutes.
2. While sugar-butter mixture is heating, slice your bananas (either in quarters--horizontally in half and vertically in half--or on the diagonal into 3/4" thick coins).
3. Sugar-butter mixture should be bubbling. Stir in a pinch of cinnamon (and a pinch of salt if using unsalted butter). Carefully add bananas. You don't want to get burned by that hot sugar. Carefully turn bananas to coat. Let cook about 1 minute. Add vanilla extract and rum.
4. Now here is the fun/dangerous part. You may want to turn off the heat under the pan while you do this: Turn away from the stove and light a match, then carefully bring the lit match over the skillet. The alcohol vapors should catch on fire. Wahoo. They'll burn for a few seconds. Hopefully your guest will catch the action and be adequately impressed.
5. To serve: Scoop ice cream into each bowl. Spoon caramel sauce and bananas over ice cream. Garnish each serving with a cookie.
* In our family, we make our own vanilla extract by steeping vanilla beans in vodka. My brother-in-law, who spent some time bartending and knows a thing or two about cooking, recommends a middle-of-the-road vodka such as Seagram's. Recipes for vanilla extract abound on the internet, but basically you slit the pods (about 6 or 8 of them), put them in a bottle of vodka and let it sit at least 6-8 weeks. Leave the pods in the bottle, and as you use up the extract, add more vodka. My dad has a couple more vanilla beans in his bottle than I do, so his extract seems stronger than mine. If I was using my extract (6 beans that have been steeping in 750 ml of vodka for 2 months) it is still a bit lighter in color and flavor than my dad's (which smells and looks more like commercial extract), so I would double the amount of vanilla.