A perfect apricot is the most elusive of fruits. As with a peach or a plum, ripeness is all, and a good one can be tricky to track down. When you do finally find a glowingly ripe apricot, honey sweet with a pleasing pinch of acidity, and almost jelly-like flesh, it is worth eating on its own, perhaps at breakfast. Pity then, that most of the apricots we find in the shops are pretty hit and miss.
At least that is how it used to be. I can’t be the only person to notice that things are looking up and over the past couple of years a decent apricot is less rare, even in supermarkets. After writing them off as a lost cause, I am buying this fruit again.
If your apricots are not at the point of perfection you have two choices: one is to leave them a day or two and hope they will get there; the other is to cook with them. Even the toughest refuse-to-ripen fruit can be seduced into a decent jam with enough sugar and a bit of slow cooking. But those fruits that are on the verge will work in a pie or tart, deepening in flavour as they soften in the heat. The ripest of mine ended up adding a little tartness to a sautéed duck breast this week, while the rest went into a loose-crusted crumbly pie. Only the perfect ones, flushed with pink and freckled with scarlet, made it to the breakfast table.
The lighter, less cloying dairy produce will flatter a dish of stewed apricots (add a few verbena leaves to the syrup) without smothering. Fromage frais, young, soft goat’s cheeses, faisselle, or an unstrained yogurt are my choice. Don’t waste your time making fools and ices: the flavour will be drowned by the cream. That said, I wouldn’t say no to a trickle of unpasteurised double cream over a warm apricot pie or the crumble tart below.
Duck with apricots
The duck breast is a neat, lean cut of meat that cooks quickly – qualities that can be negative or positive depending on your outlook. The meat and crisped skin of the duck works nicely with ripe apricots.
I have added a few radishes for heat and crunch, and green peas as the classic duck accompaniment. Serves 2.
duck breasts 2, boned, skin on
olive oil 2 tbsp
red-wine vinegar 1 tbsp
butter a thin slice
Put the duck breasts, skin side up, on a chopping board and slash in three or four places, going through the skin and about half way down through the meat. Season with salt and black pepper.
Place a nonstick shallow pan over a moderate heat, pour in the oil, then place the duck, skin side down, in the pan and let the skin brown lightly. Turn the duck over, then cover the pan with a lid and let the breasts cook over a moderate heat for 7 or 8 minutes until they are brown outside and nicely pink within.
Cook the peas for 4 or 5 minutes in boiling water until tender, then drain them in a colander. Trim the radishes and cut them in half. Halve the apricots and discard their stones.
Remove the duck breasts to warm plates to rest. Add the radishes, apricots and drained peas to the pan, together with a little more oil if necessary. As soon as they are hot, add the red wine vinegar and butter and toss the apricots and radishes around in the butter and vinegar till all is glossy.
Spoon the peas, apricots, radishes and pan juices over the duck breasts and serve.
Apricot crumble tart
A jug of double cream or a pot of crème fraîche might be in order here. It is essential to use ripe apricots for this, so keep them in a warm place for a day or two if you have bought them under-ripe. This is a deliberately crumbly tart which will firm up as it cools. Serves 6.
For the crumble crust:
plain flour 200g
sugar 90g, soft, brown
almonds 75g, ground
butter 180g, fridge cold
pine kernels 50g
For the filling:
apricots 350g, ripe
You will also need a classic, sloping-sided tart tin measuring approximately 20cm across the base.
Set the oven at 180C/gas mark 4.
Put the plain flour into the bowl of a food processor, add the soft brown sugar and the ground almonds. Cut the butter into small pieces, add to the bowl, then process for a few seconds, until the texture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Stir the pine kernels into the crumb mixture.
Tip two-thirds of the crumble mixture into a mixing bowl and add two tablespoons of water to it. Stir the mixture so it resembles damp, slightly sticky crumbs. Press the mixture into the base and sloping sides of the tart tin. Take it slowly, pushing down firmly with a large floured spoon or your floured hand. Don’t worry if it looks rough – you want an open, crumbly texture and it will be covered with fruit later.
Bake the tart case for 15 minutes, until it is pale brown in colour and firm to the touch. Remove from the oven. Halve the apricots and discard the stones. Place the apricot halves, cut side down, on the pastry crust. Scatter the reserved crumble over the apricots, almost covering them.
Bake the tart for about 40 minutes until the crust is quite dark and crisp. Remove from the oven and leave to rest for 20 minutes before serving. Cream or crème fraîche will be needed.