This week has been incredibly fruit-full, literally. Despite the chill in the air that feels like autumn rather than summer, I’ve been able to access excellent tomatoes and basil. I’ve made three types of chutney and have tomato segments processing to semi-dried in the oven and dehydrator. They will later today be dipped in vinegar, then covered with olive oil – wonderful to have on hand for a whole range of dishes and breads. Iit’s essential to dip them in vinegar to increase the acid level to extend their shelf life) I keep them in the fridge – if the oil solidifies a little, just remove the jar from the fridge an hour or so before they are needed- the oil will quickly liquify again.
A friend gave me a huge basketful of tiny little pears which I am absolutely delighted with. For years I have been wanting to make Angela Hartnett’s Mustard Fruits which calls for just such small pears. Also necessary is mustard essence which can only be purchased in Italy. I tried making mustard fruit with mustard oil but it just wasn’t quite right. Son Alistair worked with Angela at the Connaught in London and he told me that mustard fruits are beyond sensational. So now with all the required tools at hand I am able to make them properly at last. Given the luxury of so many tiny pears, I think I’ll make a quadruple batch.
Plums are pouring through the door – blood plums, yellow plums of several varieties and tomorrow there will be more. There are damsons to come as well. There’s a busy time ahead and already the preserving bottles are full, all 300+ of them. Never mind – there are always sauces, pickles, sauces and fruit pastes and cheeses, not to mention cordials to be made. And then there’s worcestershire sauce of course.
Pesto has been made by the bucketful – so delicious that I can’t resist the temptation to make more, lots of it as it freezes really well for later use. The recipe for that is to follow.
Fruit pastes are a really good way to use excess fruit – especially the much undervalued crabapple and excess plums. You simply cook the fruit with just a little water until soft, then sieve it or pass it through a food mill. For each cup of pulp you add one cup of sugar. Bring it to the boil, stirring, then cook until it’s really thick, stirring often and almost constantly towards the end of cooking time – until a spoon scraped through the middle leaves a definite line. You can either pour it into small jars, or if it’s really thick into a foil lined baking tray. In the case of the latter, it can later be cut into squares, rolled in castor sugar, then stored in an airtight container between sheets of baking paper. You can serve it with cheese, as a confectionery. Often I skip the rolling in castor sugar and roll the squares in melted chocolate instead. Very nice.
In the case of plum paste, try adding a little port – about 2 tablespoons to 400g of paste, or more if you like it – delicious! Incidentally, it is equally delicious in a paste made with figs.
So there is a bit to be going on with. My favourite of the month is pesto and basil seems to be abundant almost everywhere, so here is the recipe. Freeze it in small containers if you make a great deal, in which case it is not necessary to cover the surface of the finished product with oil. This recipe is made in the food processor which is quick and easy, but you can make it in a mortar and pestle as many people prefer to do. I use light olive oil so that the flavour does not overpower that of the basil and pine nuts.
2 cups fresh basil leaves
½ cup pine nuts
2 gloves garlic, peeled
½ cup light olive oil
1 to 2 teaspoons lemon juice, optional
½ cup shaved or shredded parmesan
¼ to ½ teaspoon salt
Place the basil leaves, pine nuts and garlic in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. With the motor running, gradually add the oil, then the lemon juice (if using) and parmesan. Add salt to taste.
Pour into a container and cover surface with a little olive oil. Cover with a lid. Refrigerate.