This week’s column was going to be about grilled food but the thought of dragging the dust laden barbecue from the garage and lighting it under the sluggish grey sky, had all the appeal of to a visit to a dentist in Transylvania.
Instead the consolation prize has been the silky, sunny stone fruit from the Mediterranean. Green grocer’s shops are now full of blushing pink peaches and golden glowing apricots.
The window of opportunity to use these fruits is now, earlier or later and they will have the textural appeal of a cricket ball and the fruitiness of a turnip.
The American chef Alice Waters controversially put a solitary ripe peach as the dessert course on her no choice dinner menu in her restaurant in Berkeley in California.
When you have a perfect piece of fruit, why would you gild the lily? The peach came from the garden beside the dining room and had the benefit of the west coast sunshine, so it made sense in every way.
A peach that has travelled here will never have that fresh from the tree,fragrant juiciness, so it’s good to add a few flavours.
A good way of using it is to slice it, adorn it with salty Parma ham and a drizzle of good oil. Peaches work well with a creamy Mozzarella or Feta cheese and some toasted pumpkin seeds will add a crunch. Fresh apricots can be treated similarly and their sharpness makes a good contrast to fatty meals. I had a delicious starter in Browns in Town restaurant in Londonderry last week, that paired crispy pork belly with a fresh apricot puree – simple but sublime. Apricots in a lamb tagine is a similar approach – dried apricots adding a sweet scented punch to the rich lamb.
My first recipe this week calls for pickled fresh apricots that can be made and kept for up to a month. Their sweet, snappiness is summery foil for the spicy meat. A tagine is essentially a stew, cooked in a conical covered terracotta pot but a casserole dish will do the same job. A stew at this time of year mightn’t be appropriate, but this one with the apricots will brighten up a dull summers day. Neck of lamb fillet is a cheap cut, packed with flavour and ideal to soak up all the flavours.
When I was young my mother would freeze peaches when they were at their best and then bring them to life again poached with honey, in the insipid, cold winter months. But while they’re at their best now they serendipitously go really well with elderflowers, that now embellish the road sides with their balmy scent.
Make or buy a cordial to flavour the peaches, roast them and then puree some to make a simple fool.
As Alice Waters would say: “Life is better than death, I believe, if only because it is less boring and because it has fresh peaches in it.”