Over the past year the fig has climbed through the ranks to make itself my favourite fruit. This is no doubt down to having access to the best figs I had eaten in Spain and then during my trip to Italy, indulging in unhealthy quantities of ‘fichi caramelatti’. Their versatility as an ingredient seems endless in their fresh and dried forms, their aesthetics unsurpassed, whilst the previous fig post I made has been my most visited
Caramelisation of these sugar-heavy fruits is quick and produces some complex flavours, for me the near burnt caramel flavour really sets off the fresh sweetness that remains in the untouched seeds inside. Eaten raw or cooked, figs lend themselves to a huge range of preparations and combinations so try and buy in bulk and experiment especially with some conserves or jams. In the UK they are especially expensive but I have been fortunate enough to buy some cheap crates from the Italian baker near me who also holds a passion for figs and thus buys some serious quantities which he puts to use in some amazing cakes. We are also currently waiting for the figs on the neighbours tree which hangs conveniently over the fence to ripen.
Caramelized Figs with Ricotta Ice Cream and Fig Biscotti
The idea for this came from a ‘gelateria’ I visited in Italy which offered a fantastic caramelized fig and ricotta flavour. I decided the texture of the figs is too good a thing to put in an ice cream so serving them separately was logical. I made this at a dinner for 16 and so decided that quantity of ice cream wasn’t feasible with the small machine at my disposable and so asked my favourite Italian shop to make a batch. It is cream based and with a little sugar, but I can’t find a recipe on the web which sounds up to scratch, it had a really creamy texture whilst internet versions seem more flaky.
The fig and walnut biscotti recipe is from the infamous Smitten Kitchen which in turn is lifted from the Batali ‘Babbo’ cookbook – they are really flavoursome and worth making just to eat on their own. I omitted the cloves and probably left them in the oven slightly too long.
To Caramelize the figs, simply halve and sprinkle with sugar. Place cut side down in a skillet over a high heat until caramelized.
Millefeuille of Prosciutto, Burrata and Caramelized Figs
This could be a lunch for one, or divided as an antipasto dish. The combination of silky prosciutto with creamy mozzarella and the sweet fig flavours is fantastic and I feel this is a lovely way to display them.
Caramelize the figs as above and get layering!
There is a memory I have of sitting on a beach somewhere in Europe, sinking my teeth into the ripest, juiciest and most flavoursome peach of my life which seemed to melt in my mouth. So vivid was this bite that I have a near sensory experience upon thinking about it now and long to eat a fruit so perfect again.
Throughout my year in Spain I have eaten my way through the very best each season offers, purchasing from one of the World’s greatest food markets with a daily turnover of the freshest produce available. From this I have learnt the importance of exhibiting the natural qualities of ingredients and not over-loading dishes with too many flavours. I had thought about how to honour the glorious peach without just simply eating it, for I know back home in England that these fruits are not what I have become used to here over the last few weeks.
There is a distinct lack of sweet things on this site and I put that down mainly to lack of equipment here which just about stretches to an overheating hand blender. But a couple of weeks ago I met an editor who asked me to do a simple dessert for the 4th edition of her magazine ‘Revista Couche’. I was over the moon and immediately knew I wanted to do something with peaches, one of my favourite fruits, whose peak season is arriving and at least some Spanish people must be in search of new uses for the copious quantities they have.
I quickly decided on a ‘tarte fine’ as I feel its elegant simplicity wouldn’t vow for attention with the real star of the show, and to keep the recipe easy a shop-bought puff pastry can be used. I spent some time working on how to keep the peaches moist and flavoursome throughout cooking. Experimenting with poaching in syrups before baking but felt they imparted too much sugar and over-softened the already ripe peaches. However, this would work for the unripe offerings at home and allows for extra flavour to be infused if they were otherwise tasteless (star anise went particularly well). Finally, to retain their natural flavour I settled on a short maceration with brown sugar which drew out some of the juices but then allowed for a syrup to be poured over at the end of cooking, adding moisture and a rich peach flavour.
The idea for the rosemary pairing is taken from Heston Blumenthal’s peach ‘tarte tatin’ served with a rosemary and syrup cream. I instead infused mascarpone whose addictive creamy richness features more and more in my food. The aromatic peach boosted by a peach syrup sits perfectly alongside the subtle pine notes within the mascarpone upon a thin flaky pastry.
Unfortunately in a rather dramatic and rapid turn of events, the magazine has had to stop. Some powerful ans seemingly threatened competitors applied pressure upon the sellers of advertising space to cut their links and within two days the free magazine had no choice but to close. It is a shame and lost opportunity for me; but for the young, ambitious team behind it, it means losing their career and years of effort. I felt it captured the mood of the Spanish economy perfectly: the established staying put nicely at the top without many problems whilst the small man is left without any hope of joining and sharing with them.
Peach Tart with Rosemary Infused Mascarpone
makes 4 individual tarts
For the tart:
6 of the best peaches available
2 tablespoons brown sugar
For the rosemary infused mascarpone:
4 tablespoons whipping cream
1 large sprig fresh rosemary
200g mascarpone cheese
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
For the peach syrup:
liquids remaining from maceration
oven @ 180C
Using a heavy knife aim to cut the peaches first in half and then cutting through the stone into thin slices (some impact from above onto the blade should slice through it nicely). By cutting through the stone, the slices retain their shape well. Use a small knife to then cut out the stone from each slice.
Place in a bowl and mix well with the sugar. Cover and leave to macerate 1 hour in the fridge. If using unripe fruit then this stage can be substituted for poaching the whole fruit in syrup or macerating for longer and/or with alcohol.
Meanwhile, roll the pastry to a 2mm thickness and cut out four individual tarts of around 5″ diameter. Place on baking parchment and use a fork to poke holes in the centre of the tart, around 5 stabs is fine.
Lay the slices onto the tart bases as desired, allowing a second for any excess moisture to drip off back into the bowl before placing. Place the tarts on a tray in the oven for 25-30minutes, checking regularly and removing when the pastry is golden.
Meanwhile, place the cream and rosemary in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer and turn off the heat before it boils completely. Allow to infuse for 20 minutes.
Using a fine sieve strain the infused cream into a high-sided bowl or jug, discarding the rosemary. Add the other ingredients and whisk for 5-10 seconds with an electric whisk to combine well, soft peaks should also form.
With the tarts removed from the oven and allowed to cool on a rack for 5 minutes, add the syrup which is left in the macerating bowl to a small saucepan and on a high heat reduce until a syrupy consistency. Stirring constantly. Don’t allow to thicken too much as it has to cover four tarts and will continue to thicken whilst cooling.
To serve, place a spoonful of the mascarpone into the centre of each tart. Then, using a spoon, drizzle each tart with some of the syrup. Enjoy warm or cold.
In the mighty world of hams in Spain, nothing surpasses the acorn eating, wild Iberico pigs that provide the cured meat world with ‘Jamon Iberico de Bellota’, to be served and consumed only in paper-thin, translucent slices. Despite it’s fame, as a student I can’t quite justify a price tag of around €90 per 100g of the stuff. However, I happily downgrade to Serrano whose silken texture; meaty yet fruity and floral flavour isn’t as rich as Iberico ham but whose uses are much more versatile without causing offence to any onlooking Spaniards. I’ve definitely eaten my fair share of these melt-in-the-mouth hams this year and fully intend on taking as much of a leg as possible to England.
To quote the godfather of Food Science, Harold Mcgee: “Hams are to fresh pork what long-aged cheeses are to fresh milk – a distillation, an expression of the transforming powers of salt, enzymes, and time”
Serrano (or parma etc) with figs is a tried and tested combination; flavours and textures readily complementing each other without any work required. It was something I ate regularly on arriving in September in time for fig season and have missed them ever since they disappeared from the market in October. So I was very happy upon the appearance of these black figs, also known as giant figs which precede the smaller varieties that arrive in August. Their fleshy interior isn’t red like many varieties but they have a wonderful flavour, not so syrupy but just sweet enough with some woody notes.
My ‘go-to’ man for herbs in the market introduced me to this purple basil which I believe is the Red Rubin variety. I had never seen such vividly coloured basil before. It has a lovely floral aroma, not quite as pungent as standard green basil, and has a bit of a citrus taste alongside the sweet basil flavour. I intend to make a ridiculously deep purple pesto with my next purchase.
The balsamic I used was of the ‘glaze’ kind, the overused, controversial plastic bottle stuff that any Italian would turn their nose up to. A raspberry balsamic glaze at that. But then I don’t think it is any worse than using a shop bought balsamic anyway. In Italy vinegars from Modena of quality are sold labelled with the age of the content, are syrupy in consistency (getting thicker the older they are) and extremely complex in flavour as they must be a minimum of 12 years old. Around 35 kilos of grapes are converted over time by acetification, fermentation, maturation, evaporation and other processes to produce 250ml of balsamic vinegar. So that ‘traditional balsmic of modena’ you get in your posh deli for £10 is most probably wine vinegar coloured with caramel and sweetened with sugar, with some young balsamic and cooked down grape must if you’re lucky. Unnecessary rant over.
Black Figs with Serrano, Purple Basil and Balsamic
Makes a great easy starter of antipasti
Serrano ham in paper-thin slices
purple basil or similar variety if unavailable
Trim top hard stalk off the fig and cut a cross down to the midpoint of the fig. Press at the base of the fig at 4 points towards the centre so the top slits you made open up.
Wrap each fig with slice of ham and plate. Dress the fig and plate with the basil and vinegar. Serve
Despite being hot here in Valencia most of the year one thing which has signified the start of summer and the need to refresh oneself is the appearance of Gazpacho on almost every menu. Made well it is truly one of the most satisfying things one can eat in the heat. Served ice-cold and filled with the season’s finest tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers; those adverse to ‘cold soup’ need to experience the real thing.
The idea for watermelon gazpacho came from a meal in Havana, in the well-established king of tourist restaurants – La Guarida. Having thought it was a very original dish and a welcome change from the never-ending mountains of rice and beans I was quite surprised to find not only was it a well-practised dish in Spain but that the shockingly pinky-red dish I had eaten was merely a more traditional gazpacho with watermelon added. Far from the simple, distinct flavour I had experienced. So I decided to create my own stripped back watermelon gazpacho.
Upon seeing some kumquats in the market I wanted to add another element to the plate. I had never cooked with them before but with their wonderful appearance; tart and slightly acidic taste I thought would sit well with the freshness of the watermelon and the spiciness in the prawn marinade. Then I tried the cooked Kumquat and was blown away, little caramelised rounds of goodness, serving it both ways on the plate starts to exhibit it’s diversity as an ingredient
I was so happy with how it came out, such vibrant colours and flavours yet so easy to make, it honestly won’t take you more than half an hour to prep and cook; plus some chill time in the fridge in-between. There can’t be a better place to eat this than sitting outside on a sun-soaked evening with the BBQ burning. It was also a great excuse to utilise my latest flea market purchase: a decanter with ice-compartment.
Watermelon Gazpacho with Prawns and Kumquat
serves 4 as a starter
For the Gazpacho
Half of a watermelon, de-seeded and flesh roughly chopped
Flesh of one tomato
2 capfuls of vodka
sea salt and fresh cracked pepper to season
Process the watermelon flesh with the tomato in a blender until smooth, add the vodka and season to taste. The pepper really added something to the dish and worked well with the melon giving it a more aromatic fresh taste whilst the salt takes off the really sweet edge.
Refrigerate for a minimum of two hours until ready to serve, then strain through a fine sieve into a jug.
For the Prawns
20 raw prawns, with shells
2 tablespoons of olive oil
small handful of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
6 kumquats, sliced into thin rounds (if unavailable substitute for lime zest)
teaspoon of chilli flakes or 2 fresh chilli peppers
Peel the head, legs and shell from prawns, leaving the tail in tact (de-vein if you like – I didn’t) . Heads and shell can be set aside or frozen to make a good fish stock.
Add prawns to a bowl with the olive oil, parsley, kumquat slices, chilli and a pinch of salt. Leave covered in fridge to marinate for 15 minutes – we can’t leave this too long as the acidity from the kumquats could start to cook the prawns.
To cook the prawns:
In a pan: Heat some olive oil from the marinade on a high heat in a wide heavy-based pan until smoking then add half the prawns. They will need to be cooked just 1 minute each side if the pan is hot enough but cut into one to check before removing. Cook the remainder in the same way.
On the BBQ: undoubtedly more flavourful and ‘smokiness ‘really works with the other flavours. Skewer prawns and kumquat slices from marinade and cook for 1 minute each side over hot coals.
1 small cucumber cut into thin batons
5 kumquats, sliced into thin rounds
Arrange the cooked prawns, cooked and fresh kumquat and cucumber as you wish on the bowl. Pour over the strained Gazpacho at the table
The idea for this tart came purely was based purely on sight, two fruits nestled next two each other in the market which looked so perfect together I knew I had to combine them somehow. There is something about mounds of fruit that is so appealing and I find it hard to believe I could be inspired this way walking around the packaged products of a supermarket. I love the idea as food as a sensory experience, how sight, sound and touch influence our enjoyment as well as the taste and smell. That moment upon seeing a dish so appetizing that one salivates and impatiently waits to eats it is surely most common in sweet things. With the great weather and the start of the season for both these fruits this is a perfect pudding with some cream, ice cream or just as it is.
As always there are cherry and apricot tarts/cakes/pies everywhere but this is my version. The recipe for the pâte sucrée I got from this amazing blog which provides a quantity for two tarts. I used the pastry I had left over in the freezer from the last batch which meant it was so quick to assemble but in an attempt to defrost it even faster I dried it out a little, the final result was still great it just crumbled around the top edges. Of course to make this really quick you could substitute for a shop-bought pastry.
I also list the recipe for the amount of almond cream I used, next time I would probably use less and reserve some in the freezer as it covered up the fruit more than I wanted upon rising.
Cherry and Apricot Tart
for a 9 1/2” tart tin
1/2 kilo ripe apricots half and de-stoned – I used two varieties
For the Almond Cream:
130g chopped or ground almonds, plus extra to garnish
120g butter, cubed
1 whole egg plus 1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon flour
With a food processor or blender combine the sugar and almonds until well ground and combined. Add the butter and continue blending until combined and continue adding the other ingredients allowing each to combine before adding the next.
Prepare the pastry and blind bake as explained in the recipe here, leave to cool.
Preheat oven to 170C
Pipe around 3/4 of the almond cream into the base and spread evenly.
Layer fruit on almond cream as desired and bake on middle oven shelf for 40 – 45 minutes when the cream will have a lovely golden colour and the fruit just cooked through.
Leave to cool on a wire rack then serve or refrigerate until ready to eat.