Summer seems to be lingering in Adelaide at the moment. Not in a nasty “Oh, my god it’s going to be how hot today?” kind of way, but in a very pleasant warm, sunny “I think we’ll have lunch outside again” kind of way. Never mind that my summer clothes are starting to look just a little tired or that I am unable to get away with the five day stubble on my legs – I might as well enjoy the weather while it lasts. Although, if the weather gods are listening, it would be totally perfect if we could have some rain at night. My poor garden is very thirsty.
There are still lots of lovely, ripe tomatoes to be found and I’m happy to eat them while I can, but I haven’t quite finished stocking up on some for the duller days ahead. One beautiful way to save the fresh taste of summer tomatoes is to slow cook them in the oven and store them in oil. I used cherry tomatoes for this. These small, red bombs are gorgeously sweet and intense. Cooking them in this way deepens and compounds the taste, making them little explosions of potent summer flavours in your mouth – evoking the sunnier days gone by. I’m not too sure how long they will keep in your fridge as I’ve never had the opportunity to find out in this house – they are snapped up pretty quickly.
I’ve been known to eat these with a spoon straight out of the jar, but they are also good in salads, tossed through pasta or on foccaccia. For this batch I added fresh thyme and garlic, but rosemary, oregano and/or chilli flakes would be quite wonderful too. The taste of the olive oil will be important here, so try not to skimp on the quality. Make sure that your jars are very clean – wash with hot soapy water and dry in the oven, or run them through a hot cycle in the dishwasher. Like so much of my cooking this recipe is dead simple, but the end result is really, really more than the sum of it’s parts.
Cherry Tomato Confit
- 1 kg ripe cherry tomatoes stalks removed, halved
- 100 mls good olive oil
- 3 cloves of garlic peeled and very finely sliced
- Sprigs of fresh herbs of your choice thyme, rosemary or oregano are great
- Sea salt
- ground black pepper
- Extra olive oil for storing
- Preheat oven to 170C.
- Drizzle some of the oil over the base of an oven-proof dish and spread to make a film over base of dish.
- Place tomatoes cut side down in dish.
- Sprinkle with garlic and herbs, then drizzle with remaining olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
- Cook in oven for 40-50 minutes until tomatoes are soft and just collapsing, but not charred.
- Cool, then place in jars and cover with extra olive oil.
- Store in refrigerator.
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It’s the first day of autumn here in the Adelaide Hills today and there are signs of harvest everywhere. Driving along the winding roads becomes a little more hazardous as we dodge the large grape-picking machines which travel from vineyard to vineyard, the enormous double-trailered (there’s probably a name for these) trucks carrying the precious grapes to the wineries and various private cars, vans, trucks and utes (pick-ups) loaded with ladders and itinerate pickers heading to and from the apple orchards as the apple harvest begins.
Not so at our house, though. I managed to steal some of the plums away from the birds, but our other stone fruit and ALL of the apples are long gone – ravaged before ripening by the voracious galahs, corellas and rosellas. We still have our citrus fruit (thank heavens for bitter rinds), the quinces ripen quite late up here and I can always seem to find some ripe figs that the birds have missed.
We have a scrawny orange tree that I have been nurturing along for some years. That, and an up-until-recently unidentified citrus, have been overshadowed and stunted by a scruffy, unattractive Paper Bark tree whose existence has been the subject of intermittent marital disagreement. A recent visit by some horticulturally savvy friends shed light on the identity of the anonymous citrus – a Tahitian Lime, no less – and the tree next to it which I had never even really noticed. Seems that this is a White Mulberry and what I had always assumed to be it’s nondescript flowers are, in fact, the most ambrosial tasting fruit I have ever eaten. This tree, too, has been stunted by the increasingly ugly Paper Bark. In a calculated move a little like Eve (but plumper and older) with the apple, I lured the disputing spouse under the tree and fed him some of the White Mulberry fruit. One taste was all it took for The Husband to pronounce the death sentence upon the blot on the landscape and it is astonishing how quickly the citrus trees have responded to the extra light, water and space.
Our oranges don’t look like much, but they have an amazing flavour and I have been working on ways to combine them with the only other ripe fruit to hand at the moment – the figs. I made a vow at the beginning of summer to try to make more home-made ice cream and am proud of this gorgeously fragrant recipe which I eventually came up with. While there are a couple of steps, it really is not a fussy recipe and is well worth the effort. I found that the flavour of the orange blossom water tends to dissipate after freezing so you may need to beef this up a little. After I’d made it I also thought some toasted, slivered almonds would be a great addition – so feel free to play around with it. A Thermomix makes this easier, but is not necessary – I have given instructions for either stove-top or TM.
Orange Blossom Fig & White Chocolate Ice Cream - wicked!
- 1 cup fresh orange juice
- 2 Tbsp honey
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 500 gms fresh figs stems removed and quartered
- 2-3 tsp orange blossom water
- 250 mls pouring cream
- 250 mls full cream milk
- 150 gms white chocolate finely grated
- 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste
- 2 egg yolks
- 70 gms caster sugar
- Place orange juice, honey and cinnamon stick into small saucepan and bring to the boil over moderate flame. Remove from heat and allow to steep for an hour or two then remove and discard cinnamon stick.
- Preheat oven to 180C.
- Place quartered figs in a shallow, greased oven tray. Pour over the orange juice and honey mix and roast figs until all the juice has evaporated and the fruit has caramelised - about 20 minutes. Watch carefully towards the end to avoid burning.
- Cool the fruit before placing in food processor and pulsing until finely chopped.
- Stir in orange blossom water.
- Combine the cream and milk in a saucepan. Add chocolate and vanilla paste and heat, stirring, until chocolate melted. Cool a little.
- Beat sugar and egg yolks together until thick and creamy.
- Add a small amount of the warm cream/milk mixture and blend well before gradually adding the egg yolks to the rest of the cream/milk over a low flame. Cook over low heat for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly, until mixture just thickens and coats the back of a wooden spoon. Refrigerate until cold.
- Place in ice cream machine and churn until frozen, place in freezer container, add figs and stir through. Freeze until solid.
- THERMOMIX INSTRUCTIONS for Ice Cream
- Grate the chocolate at speed 8 for 5 seconds.
- Add milk/cream and melt together 2 mins, 50C at speed 3.
- Add butterfly and vanilla paste and sugar. Process 2 minutes at speed 4, adding the yolks one at a time through the lid.
- Refrigerate until cold and then proceed as above.
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One of my favourite things about summer is the seasonal fruit available – especially stone-fruit. We grow some here on our hill and always get more plums than I can generally use, but rarely score any of the apricots or peaches from the greedy, marauding birds. When I recall the stone fruit of my youth it conjures up the smells of summer and I have fond memories of hot afternoons sitting under the apricot tree in the back yard of my great-aunts, feasting on the sun-warmed ambrosial fruit. Sadly, that is not the case with much stone-fruit today which is picked green to facilitate transport and storage. If you want the real, sweet, fragrance of summer you need to grow your own apricots or buy them from a farmers market.
The apricot is actually a species of Prunus and has been cultivated since ancient times, probably originating in Armenia. These fruit trees are now cultivated all around the globe and grow particularly well here in South Australia, in the Riverland. If you don’t grow your own and can’t manage to get to the farmers market, but lust after this taste of summer there is another way to coax the very best of the the flavours out of these golden globes and it is as simple as roasting them!
Roasting apricots caramelises the sugars and releases the perfumed juice. The addition of vanilla adds depth to the concentrated flavours produced from this and I’ve included a couple of ingredients that will complement and lift the apricots up a notch.
Vanilla Roasted Apricots
- 8 fresh apricots halved & stoned
- 1/4 cup vanilla sugar see note
- 2 - 3 Tbsp butter
- 6 gingernut biscuits crushed
- orange blossom water
- Thick cream or yoghurt to serve
- Preheat oven to 180C.
- Place apricots, cut side up, in a greased baking dish.
- Sprinkle generously with the vanilla sugar then place a teaspoon of crushed gingernut biscuits in each half, following with a knob of butter on each one.
- Bake in oven for 10-15 minutes, until fruit is collapsing and soft.
- Cool for 10 minutes, then sprinkle the fruit with the orange blossom water before serving with either cream or yoghurt.
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Whenever anyone asks me what were the high points of our recent trip to Europe I always answer with two simple words – the food. We happily indulged ourselves whenever possible, knowing we would be walking it all off within days and I was pleased to note that I came home carrying no more extra baggage than my shopping.
I was having a conversation about our foodie finds with my friend Kris Lloyd, the hugely talented and multi-award winning Woodside Cheese Wrights, not long after we got back and was waxing lyrical about some butter made from clotted cream (cultured butter) which we had bought on our last day in London. It was part of a significant haul that we took home from London’s Borough Markets (more about that later) for a final feeding frenzy and had made quite an impression. Kris commented that she had recently been “playing around” (her words) with cultured butter, including one which she had washed in whiskey. With the taste of the delicious, golden London lipids still lingering, to say I was eager to try Kris’ efforts would be something of an understatement.
Cultured butter is something of a recent discovery for many Australians, but has been in use for 100’s of years in Europe. The butter which we are used to is what Europeans refer to as sweet cream butter – delicious, but lacking in the depth of flavour of cultured butter. Cultured butter is made in exactly the same way as ordinary butter, but a live culture is added to the cream which is allowed to ripen for some time before being churned, salted (or not) and rinsed. Kris adds the culture to her cream 24 hours before she uses it to make butter, giving the cream time to “clot”. Cultured butter has a richer, deeper flavour which some find somewhat tangy and also comes with a little probiotic boost from the addition of the live culture.
Kris gave me three different batches to play around with – an almost unsalted butter, salted butter and the remarkable whiskey-washed version – and I’ve had a very happy day or two getting to know them. They are all truly delicious and definitely add an extra facet to the dishes I used them in – a Mushroom and Almond Bruschetta with Chevre and Vanilla Poached Oranges with Pikelets. I kept these recipes fairly simple in order to let the ingredients do the talking – there’s no point in using outstanding produce and then smothering it with other flavours and fancy techniques – good food doesn’t need to be tricky. The mushrooms I used came from Marco the Mushroom Man in the Adelaide Central Market and the sublime oranges were in our CSA box from Jupiter Creek Farm – all fresh, local and fabulous. I couldn’t help adding some wonderful Beerenberg Caramelised Onions to the mushroom dish – they finished it off perfectly.
- 500 gms Portobello mushrooms, sliced
- 30 gms toasted almonds, ground as fine as your food processor will allow
- 100 gms Woodside Cheesewright chevre
- 80 gms Cultured butter
- 1 tbsp chopped thyme
- 1 good pinch of salt
- Beerenberg Caramelised Onions
- 2 large slices sourdough bread
- Melt the butter in moderately hot pan, add mushrooms and salt, cook gently.
- When mushrooms begin to soften add the ground nuts and the thyme, continue cooking until mushrooms are cooked to taste.
- Slice bread and toast. (At this point you may/may not choose to butter it with more of the cultured butter. I’ll leave you to guess what I did.)
- Pile the cooked mushrooms on the toasts, sprinkle each with a teaspoon or two of the caramelised onions, then crumble the chevre over the top, serve.
The whiskey washed butter was used in an even simpler dish of pikelets with vanilla poached oranges, but the combination was absolutely stunning and much appreciated by the guests to whom I served it yesterday for afternoon tea. My good friend Meg is very partial to a wee dram or two of whiskey and her eyes glazed over just a little while eating these.
I’m sure everyone can work out how to make basic pikelets. As for the vanilla poached oranges – the oranges were simply peeled, making sure all of the pith was removed, sliced about 10mm thick and gently poached for ten minutes in a syrup made of 1 1/2 cups of white sugar, 1/2 cup of water and one vanilla bean, split open and scraped – hardly a recipe at all! I cooled them slightly in the syrup, buttered the hot pikelets with the whisky washed butter and layered the oranges and pikelets, topping with a dab of the precious butter. Eat, then swoon.
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I seem to have come to a stage in my life when I enjoy the colder weather more than the heat. Casting my mind back, I struggle to empathise with the slender young woman who lived for the long, hot days of summer, who happily spent hours lazing on the beach and who thought nothing of baring her upper arms in a skimpy, wispy, summer dress. She’s long gone – and so are the skimpy, wispy frocks. The woman I am now embraces the cooler weather and welcomes the camouflage of warm layers, scarves and jackets. This current version of me is also very keen to get back into some of the comfort food that seems to go so well with a roaring fire, fluffy slippers and daggy, old cardigans.
One of the things I still really, really enjoy about summer is the stone fruit – it is difficult to imagine tucking into a big, juicy peach or apricot in winter woollies. These fruit are just made for bare arms to catch the drips and who on earth would consider licking runny juice from a jumper sleeve? While the bulk of the stone fruit might be well gone by now, those of us who subscribe to Jupiter Creek Farm CSA boxes are still finding the occasional late plum nestling in the produce box. The assorted varieties of plums available in Australia fruit from January right into early Autumn and it was on these that my eye fell when checking out the fruit bowl yesterday.
I feel just a little bit cheeky offering a recipe for a clafoutis as they are a very basic dish and most of us can throw one together without too many directions, but there may be one or two of you who haven’t given this charmingly simple dessert a try. Originating in France where the traditional fruit used is cherries, a clafoutis is basically a thin pancake batter poured over fruit and baked. The beauty of this dish is that either fresh or canned fruit can be used without detracting at all from the end result, it is dead simple to make, uses everyday pantry ingredients and can be served hot or at room temperature. I used the last of my autumn plums which sank in the baked batter, making a deliciously jammy layer in the bottom of the dish and served it with pouring cream.
- 1/2 cup caster sugar, plus 1 tbs extra
- 6-8 plums, halved, stone removed
- 3 eggs
- 1/2 tsp vanilla paste
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- finely grated rind of 1 lemon
- 1 cup plain flour
- 3/4 cup milk
- 2/3 cup light sour cream
- Icing sugar to serve
- Preheat oven to 180C. Grease a pie dish, sprinkle with 1 tbs caster sugar, swirling to coat the bottom and sides of dish.
- Place plums face down in bottom of dish.
- Place all other ingredients in food processor and whizz until well blended.
- Pour over fruit.
- Bake for 25-35 minutes until browned and puffed up. It will fall as it cools.
- Dust with icing sugar before serving.
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Our annual competition with the birds for the fruit in our orchard saw us lose big time this year. Once again every singe apple was stripped from the trees whilst still green – we never had a prayer of getting any. We have a couple of ancient peach trees, plus an almost moribund apricot and very strict vigilance paid off in a tiny way with 2 peaches and 3 apricots being our score there. Mind you, they were worth it – the apricots were like nectar from the gods. The utterly reliable plum tree gave us plenty to share with the birds, as have the fig trees (see more about them next week) and the quinces.
I have been somewhat “challenged” by quinces in the past and suffer from vivid flashbacks to an afternoon spent at my aunts kitchen table, sitting in front of a bowl of, grainy, bitty, stewed quinces, under pain of death should I move before they were consumed. This clearly damaged my developing young psyche to the point that my quince curiosity stopped at quince paste or quince jelly.
Quince trees are native to the Caucasus region of South-west Asia and why anybody ever became curious enough about them to actually consider eating them is quite a mystery to me. They are related to apples and it is thought that the many scriptural and mythological references to golden apples were, in fact, references to the quince. Quinces were considered sacred to Aphrodite and used as a ritual wedding gift by the ancient Greeks, were used in cooking in ancient Rome, have been lauded in poetry and are noted for their delicate rose-like scent. However, the fruit is too hard and too sour to eat raw unless they have become “bletted” (splendid word meaning to become soft with decay – must pop it into the conversation more often) and they really require a long, slow cook to bring out their best.
The sight of the quince tree boughs bending to the ground under the weight of the fruit eventually stirred some incipient feelings of guilt in my bosom. All of my foodie friends fall over themselves to get to my quinces at this time of the year and some become a little misty about them in their poached and baked forms. My friend Lizzy from Bizzy Lizzy’s Good Things recently inspired me with her quince post and then I happened upon this deliciously spiced version from Ganga’s A Life (Time) of Cooking. It seemed to me that this is a fruit that would lend itself particularly well to the charms of the slow-cooker so, with a nod to the two afore-mentioned blogs, I headed off down my own road to Damascus and my quince epiphany.
The following recipe for poaching in the slow-cooker results in a deliciously fragrant, slightly spiced and not too sweet fruit. It was divine with custard, but would also freeze well for later use in tagines or casseroles. However, for a sublime quince experience which will just about make you weep with joy, I’d suggest following the extra steps and baking them after poaching. I think this might just have changed my life.
- 750 mls water
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup port
- 4 quinces, peeled, quartered & cored
- 1 small lemon, washed, thick sliced
- 3 whole star anise
- 4 cloves
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 vanilla pod
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled, sliced into chunks
- Place sugar and water into pot over medium heat and stir until sugar has completely dissolved. Add port and heat. Pour into slow-cooker.
- Place fruit pieces into syrup immediately after peeling or they will discolour.
- Add lemon, ginger, spices.
- Split vanilla pod, scrape seeds into syrup and add whole pod.
- Place lid on and cook on high for 1 hour.
- Reduce heat to low and continue cooking for 6-7 hours.
- Cool the fruit in the syrup – this will help it take up more colour.
- Remove fruit from syrup and set aside.
- Strain syrup and pour into pan over medium heat.
- Bring to boil, then continue to cook until syrup reduced by half.
- Cool, then pour over fruit.
- It will keep in this syrup for well over a week in the fridge. Serve with custard, cream or masarpone.
To take this fragrant, luscious dish and turn it into something absolutely gob-smacking try this.
Preheat oven to 180C.
Line a baking pan with baking paper and place fruit in a single layer.
Pour over 1/2 cup of the syrup.
Drizzle with honey or maple syrup. I actually used cumquat syrup and was mightily pleased.
Bake for 40 minutes or until edges begin to caramelise.
Serve as above, then weep with joy.