As we head into high summer, our shops and markets are becoming ever fuller with local produce, and fruit and veg that’s in tip-top condition from all over Europe.
We cooks are faced with an embarrassment of riches, ingredients-wise, as all at once, the trees, field and greenhouses burst forth with goodies.
Fresh fruit, especially, is at its most abundant. Strawberries, currants, berries and gages are all pretty much at or near perfection right now, so we must be quick, and make the most of what is sometimes a quite fleeting period of excess.
Of the many fruits that I love eating, apricots are the ones that I always seem to forget about. Which is a terrible shame, as they have a unique deliciousness that’s hard to beat.
The combination of sweetness and that all-important tartness is essential, twinned with that wonderful perfumed flavour that you don’t get from any other stone fruit. Much as I love plums and peaches, the flavour of an apricot puts it at the top of my list.
And the fruit is so resourceful, too. Not only does it make wonderful tarts and cakes, but one of the nicest jams imaginable – perfect when dolloped onto a warm, buttery croissant.
No wonder that this is the jam used by patissiers the world over as the glaze for their elaborate fruit tarts and buns.
They can also serve the savoury realm well, sitting quite happily alongside roasted poultry and white meat, or even game.
A beautiful country terrine can be made even more tempting with a few sparkling jewels of fresh apricot in the mix, and slightly unripe fruits barbecue well on chicken or lamb skewers, adding a Middle Eastern or North African touch to alfresco lunches.
One of my favourite ways of showcasing great fruit is by making a simple fool.
One of our oldest recipes, dating back to the 17th century or perhaps even earlier than that, a fool is, at its simplest, fresh fruit folded into soft whipped cream.
Popular flavours include gooseberry, rhubarb and raspberry, though it works with almost any fruit, providing it’s nicely soft and unctuous.
As the recipe has evolved, it’s become a little more elaborate, sometimes adding custard or, as here, yoghurt. I like a little yoghurt in my fools as an additional sharpener.
Fresh apricots work well here, but I thought I’d try roasting a few, to add an additional depth of flavour.
Pistachios add colour and flavour, as well as a lovely nutty bite to the soft, pillowy dish, but you could omit them, or add your own preferred nut – almonds or hazelnuts would work really well here.
I think a fool is best accompanied by something crisp and crunchy as a contrast, and as a luxurious dipping tool, so langues de chat and brandy snaps are great ideas for the baked element, but we made brandy snaps only a few weeks back, so I decided upon amaretti.
The rich, decadent almond flavour pairs up really well, and they’re easy to make, though of course you can easily cheat and buy some ready made ones.
So grab those apricots while they last, and have a crack at this super-simple but effective and totally delicious dessert.
For the amaretti:
Four large free-range egg whites
350g unrefined golden caster sugar
350g ground almonds
30ml amaretto liqueur
A little icing sugar, for dusting
For the fool:
650g fresh apricots
A little unrefined golden sugar
The juice and grated zest of one lemon
The leaves from a couple of small sprigs of fresh thyme, verbena or chervil
300ml whipping cream
225g Greek yoghurt
The seeds of one vanilla pod
One tbsp icing sugar
50g slivered pistachio kernels
A little melted butter
First, let’s make the amaretti; preheat the oven to 170ºC / Gas 3. Line a couple of baking trays with baking parchment and brush each one lightly with melted butter. Set aside while you prepare the dough.
In a bowl, whisk the egg whites until they reach the firm peak stage. Gently fold in the sugar, ground almonds and the amaretto to make a smooth even mixture. Transfer to a suitably-sized piping bag.
Pipe 2-3cm blobs of the mixture onto the trays, a few centimetres apart. Bake the amaretti for 10 to 15 minutes, or until lightly golden.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool, before dusting with the icing sugar. Store in an airtight container until required.
Now, the apricots; halve each fruit and remove the stones carefully - they can be tenacious little things.
Heat the oven to 180ºC / Gas 4.
Toss the apricots in a little lemon juice, along with the thyme leaves and a pinch of sugar.
Tip into a suitable baking dish and roast for at least 30 minutes, basting and turning occasionally, until they are lightly caramelised at the edges and nicely
Remove from the heat and allow to cool before chopping into bite-sized pieces and transferring carefully to a suitable container.
To make the fool, whip the cream to a soft-medium peak.
In a separate bowl, combine the yoghurt, icing sugar, pistachio kernels (leaving a few for sprinkling) and the vanilla seeds.
Fold the cream into the yoghurt carefully but swiftly, and then fold in the diced apricots.
Spoon into suitable bowls, garnish with mint or other herbs, a few pistachio pieces, and serve the amaretti separately.