With their intensely floral perfume, soft creamy flesh and tart-but-also-sweet tang, apricots are a highpoint of the early summer fruit bowl. And as their season is short, fans of the downy-skinned stone fruit are well advised to enjoy them while they can.
Apricots range in colour from the palest yellow through to rose-blushed orange, and when perfectly ripe the kernel inside should fall away easily from the flesh. Good apricots are easy on the eye as well as the palate and best eaten freshly picked from the tree in places where they grow best like the Middle East, California and Australia.
For those of who don’t reside where apricots live their best life, the fruit have a habit of being an anti-climax. The flesh is often sharper and crisper, or blander and flourier, than we hoped. This explains why apricots are held in less popular esteem – certainly in Britain – than their stone fruit relatives the peach, nectarine, plum and cherry.
But this is where cooking comes in. The oven, grill and hob are true friends to apricots, as heat magnifies their sweetness and turns hard flesh to jammy loveliness. Turn them into tarts and pies, jams and ice creams, crumbles and cakes, and you can salvage disappointment if your apricots are a touch too sour or hard.
For simplicity, try poaching them.In a pan, gently simmer 50g sugar and 150ml water to make a syrup, and then add flavourings if you like. A few drops of rosewater or orange blossom water are lovely, or add citrus zest, cardamom seeds, a split vanilla pod, a cinnamon stick or splash of booze (brandy, Cointreau, Grand Marnier or Kirsch are good). Add 400g fresh apricots halved and stoned, then simmer until soft. Serve withgently whipped cream or Greek yoghurt.
Apricot also love to be baked. Arrange halves in a baking dish so they fit snuggly, shower with booze (white wine or any of the alcohols suggested for poaching) and and sugar (brown is delicious). Roast in a moderate oven until tender and, ideally, caramelised at the edges.
Jam made with fresh apricots is a great pleasure to eat on fresh bread or good toast. Try ringing some changes by combining apricots with other ingredients in the jam pot. Oranges, peaches, ginger, raspberry and rosemary are all tasty additions.
But apricots are not just for sweet stuff, as devotees of Moroccan lamb tagines will attest. Both the fruit and the lamb succumb pleasingly to sweet spices like cinnamon, coriander and cumin. And the tartness of apricots is a foil to the fatty richness of lamb. Chicken and pork also buddy up nicely. Toss them whole into the roasting tray with a whole chicken, chicken thighs or a leg of lamb. Another idea is to make stuffing for a rolled pork belly: combine a mixture of chopped onions, apricots, sage and/or thyme and fresh breadcrumbs.
A winning apricot salad is easily prepared by tumbling together some of the following ingredients with a vinaigrette spiked with ras el hanout: sliced fresh or roasted apricots, chickpeas, roasted squash, crunchy toasted seeds and nuts, cooked grains or quinoa, rocket or other punchy leaves.A plump ball of burrata, a wedge of creamy goat’s cheese or slices of gilled halloumi are all delicious served alongside because apricots and dairy flavours have a great rapport.
Great apricots pairings: white chocolate, dark chocolate, almonds, Greek yoghurt, cream, goat’s cheese, cinnamon, cumin, vanilla, rose, orange
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