Cherries and I get along perfectly well. Figs, fresh and straight from the cooler, are my best friend. Peaches, well, we go back a long way. And watermelon and I are practically family. Apricots, however, are a different matter. Simply put, we don't get a long. Maybe I haven't found the right one. Oh I've looked. Farmers' markets at home, San Francisco, New York City. Straight from a neighbor's tree. But I've yet to bite into one that didn't bite back with a mealy astringency or serenade me with flavors I've only read about in Alice Waters' and Deborah Madison's titles.
I've come to feel that a perfectly ripe apricot is like Prince Charming—they only exist in fairy tales. So why the hell did I have two pounds worth hanging out in my fridge? Well, call me a romantic fool. I want to believe in that magical apricot. And these flirted with me on the farmers' table and like a fool, I believed their soft caresses and their promises of intense times. Once home, I grabbed one straight from the bag, a little warm from the sun, and took a bite. The prince was still a frog. What's a girl to do with less-than-awesome apricots? Compromise, of course.
Food waste is inevitable in my fridge. My seasonal affairs with cherries, peaches, tomatoes, anything juicy and ripe, begins with lustful savoring. Best when they're naked and ungussied. Then, it ends with forgetfulness and the shame of neglect until they rot and get chucked into the garbage can when the next weekly, more appealing batch arrives.
The only thing that saved my less-than-lusty apricots was a dinner party with pastry chefs. When you eat at the home of a pastry chef you discovery quickly that they don't like to make dessert for a planned dinner party and are happy to loan the responsibility onto others. This time is was me and I was glad to do it.
During a period of rampant lamb consumption, I relied heavily on Claudia Roden's New Book of Middle Eastern Food. Flipping through the recipes, I noticed many included "mish mish," apricots. Dried, fresh, pureed, in savory stews and refreshing pastries. Between complicated recipes for almond coils and preserves, I found allure in the unassuming. Apricot granita.
Fresh pitted apricots go into the food processor, skins and all, until you get what Roden calls "cream." Then with the blade still running you drizzle in some simple syrup. In my case, syrup infused with ginger, for badly needed evening cocktails.
The puree darkened to the hue of fall pumpkins. But the tart flavor I found so offensive in fresh form was perfect and summery in the velvety mixture. From there in, forgetfulness is an asset for the recipe.
Traditionally, you're supposed to mind it every half hour with a folk and a stir. I couldn't be bothered. Roden's recipe called for the puree to be put into ice cube trays, frozen, chopped in the food processor, placed into a big container and then stored away to be thawed out a bit before serving.
I simply left it all in a big container, froze it, thawed a few minutes and hacked away at it (almost theraputically) with a fork. I think I win on efficiency.
The result: a surprisingly unctuous treat. The low sugar content made the fruit sing. Refreshing and altered for the better. An apricot affair to remember.
So now, instead of eating fresh apricots straight from the fridge like I do the figs and cherries, I take a spoon and look above to the freezer for a treat. More formally, serve with cardamom whipped cream (recipe below) and pieces of pistachio torrone or nougat. For something a little off the wall but good, savor the granita naked and after the last crystal has melted on your tongue and your mouth has warmed up again, take a bite of dark chocolate, maybe a Madagascar origin and see why chocolate snobs use "stone fruit and apricots" to describe it.
2 pounds of apricots, washed and pitted * 1 cup simple syrup * juice of 1 lemon
Puree the fruit, skin and all in a food processor. With the blade running, pour in the simple syrup and lemon juice. Pour into a container that'll sit well in the freezer. Stir every so often with a fork to form lovely crystals. Or freeze completely, let thaw for 15 minutes and then attack at will with a fork. Freeze until ready to serve.
For the simple syrup: Combine 3/4 cup sugar with 1/2 cup water in a small sauce pan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve all sugar. Remove from heat and let cool. You can add fresh sliced ginger, a smashed stalk of lemon grass, or even a crushed cardamom pod or two. Once cooled, remove the infusion and use as directed. Also quite good in cocktails ...
For the cardamom whipped cream: This component takes the longest because you have to wait until the pods have infused in the sugar. But other than impatience, you shouldn't have a problem achieving flavor by crushing two cardamom pods (flat side of a knife, meat mallot, mortar and pestle, etc.) and placing it into a cup's worth of granulated sugar. Keep covered and stir every so often to distribute the citrus fragrance. After about two days it should be usable. Also lovely with deep, dark coffee.