Moscato Poached Apricots with Lemon Verbena

There are three young apricot trees planted in pots nestling up against the Suffolk pink walls of my house.   It’s taken years to get more than a few apricots, which are eagerly awaited and even counted as they are ripening in our greedy anticipation.  This year, for the first time ever, there were enough to make jam and to make this dish several times over which, considering 6 apricots has been the best amount in previous years, is a real joy.

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Apricots ripening

I must admit that when I planted them I had visions of biting into sun-warmed apricots and having the intense apricot-y juices explode in my mouth (even dribble down my chin so juicy would they be) but sadly this is not the case.  I don’t know whether I’ve chosen the wrong varieties or whether the Suffolk sun isn’t up to the job, but sadly my apricots, though flavoursome, don’t seem to go soft and juicy.

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Thinking about poached peaches (a favourite recipe from Raymond Blanc) which really helps unripe – and therefore non juicy – peaches I decided to try the same with my apricots.  As luck would have it there was a moscato (Mrs Wigley is a truly wonderful name which makes me giggle, but you could use any sweetish wine, pink or white, sparkling or still)  on special offer, 50% off, so I decided to give it a go.

I am so glad I did.  The apricots were completely transformed into soft, juicy and full of flavour.  The finished dish uses only four ingredients and is so versatile.  It’s even vegan if you make sure you choose a vegan wine.  Using baking paper made into a cartouche (easy two stage instruction at end of post) rather than a lid allows the fruit to stay submerged and juicy.  My favourite way to serve these apricots is with madeleines warm from the oven (inspired by another food hero of mine, Rick Stein, but that maybe a stage too far) or its wonderful with vanilla ice-cream – or both!

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Lemon verbena

Now to lemon verbena, it’s not strictly necessary, indeed you could leave it out all together or use lemon balm instead which is much more readily available, but if you can use it, do!  It’s got a lovely sherbety lemon smell and flavour which gives a real depth to the syrup.   I only started growing it a few years ago and I was amazed and how delicious and strong the leaves smell when rubbed. As well as being used for a herbal tea or in all sorts of desserts  – try infusing it into milk/cream for a panna cotta or Creme brûlée – it’s great used with fish.   I’ve never seen it for sale so I think it’s something you have to grow but its worth it!

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Halved apricots in syrup ready for poaching

Ingredients (serves 6)

  • 18 firm apricots
  • 500ml pink moscato (or wine of choice, see above)
  • 100g caster sugar
  • Lemon verbena leaves (optional) I used about 12 with extra for garnish

 

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Method

  1. Put wine, sugar and about 150mls water into a saucepan and heat until sugar has dissolved and syrup is gently simmering
  2. Halve the apricots, put in pan and cover with baking parchment shaped in a cartouche – for instructions see photos below.
  3. Simmer for 10 mins or until apricots are tender.
  4. Remove fruit from syrup and place in serving bowl.
  5. Return syrup to heat and boil until reduced and syrupy.
  6. Remove from heat, add lemon verbena leaves and leave to cool and infuse for 10 mins or so before pouring over apricots.  Serve any remaining syrup in a jug alongside.

To make a cartouche – 

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Fold baking parchment into four and then into a triangle

 

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Measure width against saucepan and cut to fit. Snip a little of pointed end to make a hole for steam to escape

 

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