stone fruit

Juicy fruits

Stone fruit is at its peak right now. There’s nothing better than enjoying a perfectly ripe peach, apricot or nectarine- juicy, sweet and full of flavour.

When selecting fruit, it should yield slightly to gentle pressure in your hands. Colour is not necessarily a guide to flavour, but make sure there is no green colour around the stem as this indicates unripe fruit. Ideally, there will be a balance of sweet and tart flavours. As the fruit ripens, it will become softer and juicier, although it is generally agreed that the fruit will not continue to ripen once picked.

Most fruit is commercially transported while still firm, as the fruit bruises easily.

Allow it to continue to soften at room temperature and only refrigerate when it has reached the desired softness.

Whilst there are many individual varieties of stone fruits, there are two major types of peaches and nectarines: yellow and white flesh. White peaches and nectarines ripen faster than yellow fleshed varieties. They can be clingstone, freestone or semi freestone. As the name implies, with clingstone varieties, the flesh clings to the fruit’s pit and freestone separate easily. As a rule, early season are clingstone, moving to freestone in the peak season.

Not just for dessert, peaches are especially delicious served in a simple salad. Try a combination of buffalo mozzarella and cured meats for a balance of salty and sweet flavours. Or try apricots, simply poached in a light sugar syrup with any combination of aromatics such as cinnamon sticks, cardamon pods, star anise, vanilla pods and citrus zest.

And lastly, you really should try the hazelnut frangipane tart. It’s very quick and easy to whip up, yet looks so professional and tastes like a little slice of heaven.

nectarine and hazelnut frangipane tarts

Whip up some frangipane cream to make these impressive and easy tarts. Use different fruits to make your own flavour combinations.

A really good quality puff pastry will make these even more special.

100g softened unsalted butter

100g caster sugar

100g ground hazelnut meal (or almond meal)

1 egg + 1 yolk

½ (half) tsp vanilla extract

2 ready rolled sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed (I recommend Careme brand)

6 ripe nectarines, cut into thick wedges

orange marmalade to glaze (optional)

To make frangipane cream, place butter, caster sugar and hazelnut meal in a food processor and blend well. Add 1 egg and vanilla essence and process until well mixed. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 200C.

Cut each pastry sheet into three equal lengths. Place on two lined baking trays. Score a 1cm border around the edge with a sharp knife. Brush with egg yolk to glaze. Place spoonfuls of frangipane cream onto the centre of the pastry and spread to the inside edge of the border, about 5mm thick.

Place nectarine slices on top.

Bake in oven for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 180C and bake for a further 15 minutes or until golden brown and puffed around the edges.

Remove tarts from oven and cool on wire racks.

Place some marmalade in a microwave safe bowl and heat on medium power for 20 seconds to warm.

Glaze the tarts with warmed marmalade, if desired.

makes 6.

salad of fresh peach, serrano ham and buffalo mozzarella

Make a delicious plate of summer with this combination of the sweetness of juicy ripe peaches, the mild creamy slightly tart freshness of buffalo mozzarella, the salty smokiness of thinly shaved serrano ham and the fresh zingy hit from basil and mint.

1 cup rocket

½ (half) cup torn mint leaves

½ (half) cup torn basil laves

4 ripe peaches

2 tbsp hazelnut oil

½ (half) tbsp sherry vinegar

salt and pepper to season

2 buffalo mozzarella

8 slices serrano ham

Scatter rocket and herbs over a serving platter.

Mix oil and vinegar together with salt and pepper to season. Drizzle over dressing and gently toss.

Halve peaches and remove pits. Cut into thick wedges.

Tear the mozzarella with your hands and place on the platter. Drape over the serrano ham and tuck in the peach slices. Season with a little extra salt and pepper.

Serve with a crusty ciabatta.

Serves 4.

poached apricots with orange blossom water

A simple poaching syrup that can be used for many different fruits. The cooking time will depend on the firmness of the fruit.

2 cups sugar

4 cups water

1 vanilla pod, split and seeds scraped

2 star anise

1 cinnamon stick

1 orange

1 lemon

1 kg ripe apricots

2 tbsp orange blossom water

thick yoghurt to serve

Place water and sugar in a wide based pan and cook over medium low heat until the sugar dissolves. Add vanilla pod and seeds, star anise and cinnamon. Peel two thick strips of skin from the orange and lemon with a vegetable peeler. Reserve the orange and lemon for another use. Add to the poaching liquid and cook gently for 10 minutes to allow the flavours to infuse.

Halve the apricots and add to the pan. Reduce heat to low and gently cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool. Add orange blossom water.

Serve at room temperature, or chilled, with a dollop of yoghurt.

serves 6.

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