I have to admit that trying to figure out Arizona's official state food was a challenge, mainly because it doesn't have one. Officially, that is. Arizonans are making a bid for the chimichanga. There is fierce rivalry in Arizona over who exactly dropped the first burrito into a vat of hot oil and thus invented the chimichanga, however, there is little doubt that they have become hugely popular in the state.
Cacti are also an integral part of Arizona's cuisine. The prickly-pear cactus thrives in the state. Their large, colorful blossoms appear in yellow, pink, red or purple and grow from the tip of cactus nodules, which later ripen into delicious red fruit.
When gathering the fruit, you have to use tongs or some type of leather or rubber gloves to avoid direct contact with cactus. Why is that you ask? The long spines on the pads of the cactus, or nopales, aren't half as worrisome as the fuzzy-appearing spots called glochids, which are bundles of hundreds of tiny fiberglass-like spines. Once they embed themselves into your skin, they are difficult to remove.
Once you have harvested the fruit, the glochids can be removed by several methods. You can incinerate the spines by passing the fruit through an open flame. If you don't have a blowtorch, hold the fruit over a burner of a gas stove. You can also use an abrasive, like sand, or rinse them throughly under water. The other option is to peel the skin of the prickly pear with a knife.
The best way to get the flesh out of the fruit is to slice them in half and use a spoon to scoop it out. Watch out for the antioxidant pigments (betacyanins), which will stain everything, including hands, to a bright magenta.
Prickly pears yield little flesh and become soft when cooked so you'll need to bulk up the pie volume by adding a firmer fruit like apples. Another good fruit to pair with prickly pears is unripened pears or pears that need to be cooked to soften them. Allow for the bright color; not to mention the extra juiciness of prickly pears by adding enough starch. I also suggest using a more thin and delicate crust to balance the delicacy of the prickly pear.
I coudn't get my hands on any prickly pears locally but I promise as soon as I track some down, I'll make the following pie.
Prickly-Pear Cactus Pie
4 (or 2 more to replace an apple) cactus pears
2 tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. tapioca starch
1 tbsp. lemon juice
- Preheat the oven to 350º F.
- Take the 4 plus cactus pears and rinse them throughly under water, or use an abrasive (such as sand) to remove the fine spines (glochidia).
- Cut each pear in half, and scoop out the core of seeds, leaving what seems a thin layer of flesh attached to the peel. Scrap this flesh into a bowl, removing any major fibers.
- Bulk up the cactus with 2 apples: peeled, cored, and sliced.
- Stir in the remaining ingredients. Place the mixture into a bottom crust (in a 8-inch pan). Place a top crust, fold under the 1-inch overhang and crimp the edges. Cut venting slits and brush the pastry with milk or an egg/water mixture. Sprinkle caster sugar on top of the pie.
- Wrap the edges in foil or some other pie guard. Bake the pie for 30 minutes. Let cool for an 1 to 2 hours before serving.