Apricots roasted in verbena honey syrup

10 July 2014

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I’m completely in love with this dessert.

For years I have in vain chased the apricots of my childhood; just picked, intensely ripe, every juicy bite cooked by the Provençal sun to a sweet compote. Nothing comes close, and so, for years, I have spurned apricots; sighed in resignation.

I don’t expect to resuscitate these childhood memories here in London, but I have found a recipe to rekindle my interest in the forsaken fruit.

Cooking less-than-perfect apricots in a sugar syrup is the obvious solution, you say. I agree, of course, but this method takes it a step further. Roasting concentrates and intensifies aroma while the lemon verbena elevates a potentially stodgy dessert of stewed fruit to a surprising burst of flavor.

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Apricots roasted in verbena honey syrup, adapted from a recipe by Allison Parker
The original is a recipe for apricots with vanilla and chamomile, which I received, from my friend, through the unlikely channel of an email recipe exchange. I’ve transformed it in honor of the vibrant verbena plant in my garden.

12 apricots

1 cup (200 g) sugar

1 cup water

3 small twigs fresh lemon verbena

3 Tbsps fragrant liquid honey (borage honey worked beautifully)

Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C)

Wash the apricots, slice them in half, remove the pits.

In a small saucepan, bring the sugar and water to a boil, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Reduce to the heat, add the verbena and honey, and simmer gently for about 10 minutes. Pick out the verbena sprigs and reduce syrup for another 5 to 7 minutes, swirling the pot occasionally making sure the sugar doesn’t start to burn.

Pour the syrup into a pan which will fit all the apricots in one layer. Place the apricots in the syrup, cut side down, and spoon a little syrup over each hump of fruit.

Roast in the oven (rack in the upper third, so the apricots get slightly bushed from the heat) for about 10 minutes. Turn over the apricots, baste with syrup, and roast for another 5 to 10 minutes, until soft.

Let cool and serve at room temperature, with a big dollop of clotted cream, crème fraîche, or thick yogurt.

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Clafoutis de Lily

1 July 2014

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There are two schools when it comes to cherry clafoutis. Those who pit the cherries, and those who don’t. I like not to, because it allows the clafoutis to be ready for the oven in just a few minutes; because the pits reputedly impart flavor; and because I don’t mind gently removing the pits with each mouthful. It prolongs the enjoyment.

Thomas, on the other hand, is adamantly against pits. Indignant. What had I done? Never mind that a clafoutis had miraculously materialized within the 15-minute half-time break of Brazil vs Chile. Still, he insisted, had he known, he himself would have pitted the cherries.

Pits are polarizing. The good news is, at the end of the day, no one complains. Certainly not the one who surreptitiously finished the last remaining piece of clafoutis to which I had been looking forward throughout all of Colombia vs Uruguay.

Practically any fruit can go into a clafoutis but for me the craving springs with the seasons’ first cherries. Sour cherries even better. But no matter the fruit.

Pulling up in her ageless navy blue Renault 4L, my father’s fairy godmother Lily never arrived with fewer than one or two cakes, crates of homemade jams, and, always, little boxes of cotignac. But ask anyone in the family, Lily is practically synonymous with clafoutis. And, many years ago, she gave me the recipe!

Fruit
2 spoonfuls flour
5 spoonfuls sugar
3 eggs
2 glasses milk
Salt
Whiskey

Beat the ingredients together and pour over the fruit in an ovenproof dish.
(Some fruit – apples, pears, apricots – should first be allowed to brown in butter and sugar)

As far as I remember Lily always left the pits. Perhaps that is why, to me, clafoutis if foremost cherry, with pits.

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Clafoutis de Lily
Though I have translated into more precise measurements and added my two cents in parentheses, I leave the recipe, in its masterful simplicity, intact.

About 1 kg fruit

2 Tbsps flour (or 1 Tbsp flour and 2 Tbsps ground almonds) plus one for dusting the fruit

3 eggs

5 Tbsps sugar plus one for dusting the clafoutis

250 ml (1 cup) milk

Pinch salt

1 Tbsp whiskey (or kirsch if using cherries)

Preheat oven to 375°F (200°C).

If using apples, pears, apricots, plums, or peaches: brown the washed or pealed, cored, and quartered fruit in a large skillet with a generous pad of butter and sprinkling of sugar until golden brown. Set aside. If using cherries, pit them. Or not.

Butter an ovenproof that will fit all the fruit snugly in double layers.

Place the fruit in the dish, sprinkle with a tablespoon of flour, and toss gently to dust the fruit.

In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar until frothy. Add the milk, then the flour, salt, and whiskey (or kirsch).

Pour the batter over the fruit and slip into the oven.

Bake for about 30 minutes, until the batter is set and the top nicely golden. In the last 5 or 10 minutes of cooking sprinkle a spoonful of sugar over the clafoutis.

Let cool.

(I much prefer clafoutis to be completely cool, though some like it lukewarm. Like the the question of pits or no pits, it is entirely up to you.)

Sunday reading | 29.06.2014

29 June 2014

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London in June. There have already been more beautiful days of summer this month than I was ever led to believe were likely to occur here in an entire year. So let me mention two things I’ve learned these past few months: English weather is mild, pleasant, and no matter how much it rains the sun will come out at some point, if only for a minute, every day, usually at dusk. Also, no matter how relentlessly glorious all these lingering June days have been, somehow Londoners will still complain that it is sure to rain on the weekend.

One couldn’t hope for a prettier summer, and here are a few ways to celebrate:

I loved this post by the Wednesday Chef on roasting strawberries. I admit I am one of the uninitiated and have always been wary of cooked strawberries, but this has me convinced and I’ll be sure to buy a few too many overripe strawberries very soon to give it a try.

On the other hand who needs prodding to jump at anything that involves elderflower? Naturally this elderflower and coriander vodka by 101 Cookbooks has me swooning with envy.

I am the first to be overwhelmed by the onslaught of cookbooks; the sheer quantity of great-looking, amazing-sounding cookbooks, by people and restaurants I love. The list is dizzying, and the result is that I haven’t bought one in months. Part of me wants to pick up everything, the other is reminded of the many, little used tomes I have on my shelves. But once in while everything is just right, there is no question: here is a cookbook worth getting. Buvette, one of my favorite restaurants in New York, with beautiful photographs by Gentl and Hyers of Hungry Ghost Food and Travel. Can’t wait.

In the meantime I will, if I may, turn to one of my favorites, right here on Nettle & Quince. Rhubarb ice cream. Simple and spectacular.

Rhubarb rosemary jam

7 June 2014

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This is me realizing that jam need not be a well planned out, day-long project. It can be, of course, and should, on occasion, because is there a better way to spend a day than whiling away the hours hunched over bubbling vats of sugared fruit? This is not about those days. This is about how making jam can be an afterthought, as easy as clearing out the fridge before a week-long holiday.

I was the first to consider jam making an incredibly laborious process. Carefully timed trips to the market to grab the last of the season’s fruit at an unbeatable bargain, endless kilos of berries to cut and trim and wash, giant jam pans boiling furiously for hours… I didn’t make jam very often. For one, market vendors in New York don’t usually sell off fruits for a good bargain, even as they pack up to leave  (I’ve tried); second, fruit at home often disappears so quickly I need to hide it to keep it safe (and I have); third, I don’t own a jam pan, giant or otherwise.

So I don’t (didn’t) make much jam. There were exceptions, naturally, few and far between, so noteworthy I usually recorded them, here, and here.

A few years ago my mother gave me Christine Ferber’s book (available only in French). Christine Ferber is a world re-known Frenchwoman from Alsace, widely described as the ‘fée des confitures’ (jam fairy). I’ve never actually eaten from one of her jars, but I have read so many tantalizing descriptions that I feel I might have. Taken literally, her technique is quite time-consuming, but using her inspiration, some latitude, and a little improvisation (she would be appalled), I’ve realized that making jam can actually fit quite snugly into my life.

Key is that the process in divided into two parts. In the evening, prep the fruit, mix it with sugar and lemon juice, and let it sit overnight in the refrigerator. The next day, cook the jam. Chances are, it’s easier to find 15 quick minutes in the evening and another 45 of mostly cooking time the next day, than scheduling a full long slot for the entire process.

Emboldened by this realization, last week I made jam, the easiest thing I found to save a few remaining bunches of rhubarb.

Rhubarb jam recipe

1 kg rhubarb

1 kg sugar

Juice from one lemon

Few sprigs rosemary

Wash the rhubarb, trim the ends, and chop the stalks into 1/2 inch (1 cm) pieces.

In a saucepan, mix the rhubarb, sugar, and lemon juice.

Let sit overnight in the refrigerator.

The next morning, cook the jam. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook for approximately 30 minutes. At first it will bubble furiously, but as the jam jells it thickens, the bubbles slow down and burst at a more leisurely pace. To check whether the juice has “gelled,” take out a small spoonful and let it cool. Once cold, the juice should have thickened in the spoon, and when you try to pour it the drip is not liquid but heavy, as though it was sticking to the spoon. Cook longer if necessary and check again.

Meanwhile, sterilize the jars in boiling water for 5 to 10 minutes.

Once the jam is ready, stir in the rosemary to steep for about 5 minutes. Remove. Pour into sterilized jars and close tightly.

Jam is best stored for a few weeks (and up to a year at least) before eating.

 

 

Eating out | All the way across town to The Brackenbury

22 May 2014

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I’d be hard pressed to find a restaurant less conveniently located from where I live. Try as I may, I couldn’t figure out a way to get there in less than an hour. Miraculously, the Picadilly line would take me all the way; I guess I could find less conveniently located places, after all.

This is something one learns quickly about London. As any experienced Londoner readily points out, the city is huge, travel is inconvenient and slow. Choose your neighborhood well, because that’s where your life will unfold, it’s where you’ll stay. I was determined not to get trapped by this insularism, at least hold out as long as I can.

I might admit that the friend who suggested The Brackenbury lives much closer to the restaurant. I could have lobbied for a more practical choice, somewhere half way; but I know her well, and I trust her hunch. This was the place she’s really wanted to try. And anyway, on principle, I am game.

On the way toward the tube I began questioning whether being so open minded really is such a good thing; after a good 40 minutes on the train I began grumbling that this place better be very good indeed; partially lost and sidling into deserted dimly lit streets I concluded this probably wasn’t such a great idea.

Finally I arrived. From the street it looked bustling and warm and inviting. I relaxed.

The Brackenbury feels very much like a neighborhood restaurant, and resolutely untrendy. The space is a bit drab. With carpeted floors, comfortable seating, and starched tables arranged in nooks up and down steps in adjoined rooms that resemble an expanded home.

Most importantly, the food is great. The calf’s liver was probably the best I’ve ever eaten; perfect texture, cooked beautifully, impeccably accompanied by the most delicious polenta and kale. The starter was a simple salad of bitter lettuces whose name I can’t recall and it was very good (though when my friend ordered the same later as a main course it was a bit sloppy and overdressed). For dessert there was sweet, tart, ethereal rhubarb Eton mess.

Simple, and one of the very good restaurant meals I’ve had in a while.

Would I try to convince someone to trek all the way across town, late at night, for dinner at the Brackenbury? Perhaps not. But if I lived a bit closer I’d go again in a heartbeat.

The Brackenbury

Open for lunch Fri-Sun 2.00-3.00 pm
Dinner Tues-Sat 7.00 -10pm
Closed Monday

http://brackenburyrestaurant.co.uk/


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