Fruit dishes


Mexican watermelon ice

So, summer is drawing to a close. I first realised this when I saw plants and bushes slowly shrivelling, ready to turn into skeletons, marvelled at apple and pear trees already heavy with fruit, and experienced the crunch of brown leaves under my feet. Actually, it dawned on me even sooner: when my brother got his ‘A’ level results, I started seeing ‘back to school’ notices everywhere, and somebody invited me to an end-of-summer ball.

This simple, 3-ingredient watermelon ice is typical of what you would buy from a street vendor in Mexico. Everywhere in Mexico you see vendors proffering fresh fruit, from the mundane to the paradisiacal. The fruit may be peeled, sliced and ready to eat, or pureed and blended with mineral water for liquid refreshment, or even poured over crushed ice and served as a slush in a wax-paper cone. Whatever the form, the basic notion is essence of fruit. Watermelon ice is delicious served with cookies for a dessert: Mexican wedding cookies (available in some delis), lime cookies or chocolate cookies are all ideal.

The tequila is optional, but it does more than add flavour: the alcohol prevents the mixture from freezing so solid that you can’t spoon it out without completely defrosting it. You can use cantaloupe, honeydew or any other type of melon in this recipe, or even substitute mangoes or berries. However, the watermelon gives it a richly seductive, sinful scarlet colour. And why not? This may be your final fling of the summer: the sunny season’s last hurrah. Until next year, of course…. Serves 4.

4 lb/ 2 kg ripe watermelon (weight after removing rind and seeds)
2 oz/ 50g to 3 oz/ 75g caster (superfine) sugar, depending on the fruit’s sweetness
3 tablespoons tequila (optional)

1.    Roughly dice the watermelon and puree it in a food processor.
2.    Transfer the puree to a large bowl. Stir in the sugar to taste, and the tequila, if using. Mix well to dissolve the sugar.
3.    Place the fruit mixture in the freezer and chill for about 2 hours, or until it begins to freeze around the edges and across the top.
4.    Remove from the freezer and whisk to break up and mix in the ice crystals. Return to the freezer and chill for about 2 hours more.
5.    Once again, remove from the freezer and whisk again, breaking up the ice crystals and remixing into an evenly granulated mixture. Cover with a plastic wrap and return to the freezer until frozen through – from another 2 to 3 hours, up to several days.
6.    Remove from the freezer 45 minutes before serving so that the ice softens enough to spoon it out. Serve in attractive glasses, sundae dishes or paper cones.

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Wimbledon cake

I love tennis. Or more accurately, I love the time of Wimbledon Championships. You get glimpses of Ye Olde England – the near-mythical age of fogs and mists, men walking around in top hats and ladies nibbling on crustless cucumber sandwiches.

I must admit that, other than a few glorious heatwave-friendly salads (the one with miniature baby potatoes, fresh peas, mozzarella, wild rocket, toasted pine nuts and extravagant quantities of silky green asparagus was particularly delicious), I haven’t done much cooking since the Championships began. I have either travelled down to London to visit Wimbledon, or have been glued to my TV watching Wimbledon, or have been sitting in my garden with strawberries and Pimms imagining myself to be at Wimbledon.

Except for this cake. I wanted to concoct a strawberry and cream cake that could be enjoyed not only during Wimbledon, but on all special summer occasions – of which there are plenty. Since there’s enough cream in the filling, I didn’t put any butter in the cake (only small quantities needed for greasing the cake tin). Happily, it works. The semolina gives the cake a slightly crunchy, dense texture.

I used strawberry jam that I had made last month from tiny little strawberries that grow in my garden. I was going to post the recipe, but given that some food bloggers are sharing recipes for exotic and imaginative jams and marmalades, my own humble effort felt a little, well, humble.

Serve the cake with crustless white cucumber or watercress sandwiches, plump scones, a pot of tea, and a glass of champagne or Pimms for the taste of England in summertime. Makes one 8-inch cake.

For the cake:
Unsalted butter, softened, for greasing

3 eggs, separated
4 oz/ 100g caster (powdered) sugar
Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
3 oz/ 75g semolina

For the filling:
8 oz/ 200g strawberry jam or coulis
A few fresh strawberries, finely sliced (optional)
5 fl oz/ 150 ml clotted or whipping cream, lightly whipped

To finish:
Icing (superfine) sugar
Fresh strawberries, sliced or left whole (optional)

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C/ 350F/ gas mark 4. Grease a deep, round 8-inch (20 cm) cake tin and line it with buttered greaseproof paper (butter side up).
2. Place the egg yolks, sugar, grated orange zest and juice and the semolina into a bowl and mix well until thoroughly combined.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until they are stiff but not dry, then gently fold them into the orange and semolina mixture. Pour into the prepared cake tin.
4. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 30-35 minutes until well-risen and pale golden brown. The top of the cake should spring back when lightly pressed with a finger.
5. Allow the cake to cool in the tin for a few minutes, then turn out and leave to cool completely on a wire rack.
6. Meanwhile, heat the strawberry jam or coulis on gentle heat until it is runny. (I’m suggesting 200g, but adjust the quantity – half a jar, whole jar – to suit your own taste). Let it cool a little at the same time the cake is cooling.
7. To fill, carefully split the cake in half horizontally and fill with the strawberry jam, the clotted or whipped cream and, if using, a few sliced strawberries.
8. Just before serving, sift some icing sugar over the top and, if desired, decorate with fresh strawberries. Enjoy the cake a little warm or at room temperature – but it must be eaten on the same day as it won’t keep.

Caribbean mango ice cream

Everyone talks about summer berries and stone fruits at this time of the year – but what about mangoes, which are in season right now? How can you possibly resist their voluptuous shapes, their vibrant sunset colours, their heady fragrance that is somewhere between flowers and honey and, of course, their seductive juiciness?

This is a rich, old-fashioned Caribbean recipe – it harks back to the time when people didn’t feel guilty about eating so much cream and eggs, and when essences used in cooking weren’t synthetic but natural. Enjoy it in that spirit – and don’t forget to use only the best quality ripe, sweet, juicy mangoes (any variety is fine), and only a touch of spice, to bring out the flavour of the mangoes and not overwhelm the ice cream. Buy fresh cream from a farm shop or farmers’ market if there is one near you – it really will make a difference to the taste.

In Britain, not only is it near-tropical weather right now (and it looks like it’s here to stay), but we also have National Ice Cream Week kicking off this week – so what better excuse to indulge in a delicious, cooling sweet treat?
Makes 2 pints/ 1 ¼ litres.

8 oz/ 200g fresh, ripe mango flesh (weight after removing skin and stones)
Around 2 oz/ 50g white sugar (optional, depending on how sweet the mango is)
3 pints/ 1 ½ litres single cream
6 egg yolks (from medium-sized organic, free-range eggs)
6 oz/ 150g caster sugar
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon allspice berries, finely crushed in a mortar
1 or 2 drops natural vanilla extract

To serve:
Fresh mango slices

1.    Pulp the mango flesh. Add sugar if needed, and stir until it has dissolved. Set aside while you get on with the rest of the recipe.
2.    Heat the cream on medium heat, stirring frequently. Bring to a boil, then remove from the heat immediately. Let it cool a little, stirring occasionally to prevent a skin forming.
3.    Whisk the egg yolks with the caster sugar until fluffy and creamy, and gently combine with the cream. (You can use the remaining egg whites to make meringues or omelette).
4.    Mix well, and add nutmeg, crushed allspice and vanilla extract.
5.    Return the mixture to a low heat (or use a double boiler). Cook until the mixture becomes creamy custard, thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Stir constantly to prevent lumps forming and burning. Do not allow to boil, otherwise the mixture may curdle.
6.    Remove from heat and allow to cool completely – it helps to stand the pan in ice cold water. While the custard is cooling, add the mango pulp and stir frequently.
7.    To freeze the ice cream: either use an ice cream maker, the ice cream compartment of a refrigerator or a freezer. If you use either of the latter two options, the ice cream must be taken out approximately every 30 minutes and beaten or whisked to prevent ice from forming, and to obtain a creamy consistency. Once you have done so, return the ice cream to the freezer immediately. Repeat the process until the ice cream has set and you have reached the desired texture. Serve with fresh mango slices.

thai-lettuce-wraps-with-tofu-and-pineapple

According to Thai culinary philosophy, every Thai dish should be a perfect balance of savoury, sweet, sour and hot – and if any single flavour dominates, then the dish is all wrong. Well, actually I’m putting it simplistically. Thai gourmets would judge each dish in terms of the first flavour that hits the tastebuds, the second flavour and the third flavour – and how harmoniously all three work together. So I guess you’d need to know what a traditional dish is supposed to taste like in the first place before you could judge. You’d also need a finely tuned, razor sharp, educated palate – and, if you don’t already have it, the good news is that it can be developed.

All this goes to show how complex a language food is: learning to cook a few dishes from a country is akin to knowing just a few words of a foreign language, and it is only by immersing yourself in a country’s culinary heritage with an open mind and a spirit of adventure that you will learn the full vocabulary. Be respectful of different cuisines, become curious, ask questions, read up, and prepare to experiment with new ingredients, flavour palettes, and cooking techniques. Cookery is, in other words, a journey rather than a destination – and like all good journeys, along the way you will learn a lot about yourself.

This lovely, summery recipe has bland, meaty tofu pieces taking on the sweetness of palm sugar along with the savouriness of soy sauce, sharpened by a background of chilli heat, refreshed by the sour, tangy, fruity overtones of lime, lemongrass and pineapple. Cashewnuts provide the necessary crunch, and the entire dish is perked up by the effusive liveliness of fresh green herbs.

Serve these light flavour bombs as appetiser or snack, or hand them around to your guests while they’re building up their appetites before a barbecue. Serves 4.

1 iceberg lettuce with unblemished leaves
12 oz/ 300g firm tofu
4 oz/ 100g cashewnuts
4 pink shallots, trimmed, peeled and halved
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 large stalk lemongrass, trimmed
1 or 2 fresh red birdseye chillies
2 tablespoons groundnut oil
4 fl oz/ 100 ml light Thai beer or mild vegetable stock
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon palm sugar or light brown sugar
Salt
4 oz/ 100g fresh pineapple, diced small
Large handful of fresh coriander (cilantro) and mint leaves
2 limes, quartered

1.    Carefully remove the whole outer leaves of an iceberg lettuce, taking care not to break them. Cut off coarse stems and scrape off any tough ribs. Wash the leaves thoroughly to remove grit, and leave in a colander to dry for several hours, or as long as possible.
2.    Drain the tofu between several sheets of kitchen paper, and cut into small pieces.
3.    Dry roast the cashewnuts in a small frying pan until lightly browned. Remove from the heat, and leave to cool a little.
4.    In a small mixer, coarsely chop the nuts – some pieces should still be visible as they will provide texture. Remove and set aside.
5.    Place the shallots, garlic, lemongrass and chillies in the mixer bowl and finely mince into a paste.
6.    Heat a wok on medium heat. Pour in the oil. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the shallot paste. Turn the heat to low, and fry for about 5 minutes until the aromatics turn a light golden colour and perfume your kitchen.
7.    Add the tofu, and stir-fry for another 2 or 3 minutes.
8.    Add the beer or vegetable stock, soy sauce, sugar, and a little salt if needed. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat to very low. Simmer without the lid until the liquid has completely evaporated, stirring occasionally.
9.    Add the pineapple pieces and stir-fry until they’re evenly coated.
10.    Remove from the heat, and mix in the chopped cashewnuts. Let the mixture cool a little.
11.    Now make sure that the lettuce leaves are completely dry – wipe them with a kitchen cloth if necessary. (Wet leaves will make the dish soggy, so I’m emphasising this point). Spoon the tofu and pineapple mixture into the centre of a lettuce leaf. Top with a few coriander and mint leaves. Squeeze over a little bit of lime juice. Wrap the lettuce leaf tightly to make a parcel. Repeat until you have used up all of the tofu mixture.
12.    Serve immediately with extra lime wedges and, if you like, some Thai chilli sauce.

fried-date-cakes

If you like sweet, sticky Middle Eastern sweets but don’t want to spend too long in the kitchen preparing them, you’ll enjoy these quick and easy pan-fried date cakes. The flavour is reminiscent of the sweetmeats found in Lebanon and Morocco.

If you are vegan, substitute butter with light, unflavoured oil like sunflower, omit the honey and add a splash of orange juice with a little finely grated orange rind instead.

Add orange flower water only if you have it on hand: no need to buy it especially for this recipe, which will taste good without it anyway. Serves 4.

6 oz/ 150g plump, juicy, smooth-skinned dried dates
4 oz/ 100g whole almonds
4 oz/ 100g plain white flour
1 tablespoon orange blossom honey (or other honey)
2 teaspoons orange flower water (optional)
3 oz/ 75g butter, melted, plus more for greasing
1 oz/ 25g sesame seeds

To serve:
Plain yoghurt, double cream or vanilla ice cream
Honey

1.    Remove the stones from the dates. You should be left with approx 4 oz/ 100g date pulp.
2.    In a food processor, pulverise the almonds until they are coarsely crushed but still retain some texture. Add in the dates, and whizz again.
3.    Add flour, honey, orange flower water if using, and about half of the melted butter and whizz once more. Make sure everything is mixed thoroughly, but do not overprocess as the little cakes will lose their texture.
4.    With lightly greased palms, shape the date mixture into medium-sized patties. You should have around 10 to 12.
5.    Spread the sesame seeds on to a plate, and roll the patties in them until they are evenly coated.
6.    Heat the remaining butter in a non-stick frying pan. Fry the patties for 2 or 3 minutes on each side until lightly golden. Drain on kitchen paper.
7.    Serve hot with yoghurt, cream or ice cream, and a drizzle of honey. Some sliced fresh or grilled bananas (or grilled oranges) would also go well with these cakes.

passionfruit-muffins

These American-style muffins are quick and easy to make, and infused with a distinct tropical fragrance: the sweet, sharp, and hauntingly elusive tanginess of passion fruit will instantly transport you to a far-off island. They are ideal for breakfast for the day after Valentine’s Day…

You can make the muffins more elaborate by adding a splash of orange juice, a little finely grated orange zest, and a pinch of freshly ground allspice berries. You can ice them, too, with fresh orange or passion fruit flavoured icing if you like. I prefer them plain, however, accompanied by tropical preserves, and extra passion fruit pulp squeezed over the top.

I have suggested you remove the seeds from the fruit because I personally don’t like the crunch of the seeds in this recipe – but you can leave them in if you wish. Makes 12 muffins.

6 passion fruits
2 oz/ 50g softened butter, plus extra for greasing
10 oz/ 250g plain white flour, sifted
1 heaped tablespoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 heaped tablespoon sugar
8 fl oz/ 250 ml milk
1 egg, lightly beaten

1.    Pre-heat the oven to 220C/ 425F/ gas mark 7. Thoroughly grease 12 large paper muffin cups.
2.    Halve the passion fruits. Scoop out the pulp, and put through a fine mesh sieve, pressing it down firmly with the back of a spoon. You should be left with only pulp and juice. Discard the seeds.
3.    In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar, and mix well.
4.    In another bowl, mix together the passion fruit pulp with milk and egg.
5.    Tip the liquid ingredients into the dry ones. Mix everything together quickly with a light hand, just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Do not beat the mixture.
6.    Divide the mixture between the greased muffin cups, and place each in a 12-cup muffin tray. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until they are well-risen, and a skewer inserted into the centre of a muffin comes out clean.
7.    Remove the muffins from the tray, and leave them (in their paper cups) on a wire rack for 2 or 3 minutes to cool.
8.    Serve warm or cold with butter and preserves (particularly Jamaican guava jam, if you can find it, or pineapple or papaya jam). Fromage frais, or thick creamy yoghurt with extra passion fruit pulp poured over it, goes well with the muffins, too.

baked-pears-with-fudge-sauce-on-blue-plate

Ok, so you’ve been good all month. You’ve eaten healthily… most of the time. You’ve kept to all your new year resolutions (well, you have, haven’t you?). So you certainly deserve a little treat.

This is a slightly elaborate dessert of pears stuffed with dried fruit and nuts, bathed in a sweet spice-infused honey and citrus sauce, dolloped with hot chocolate fudge sauce. What’s more, the heart-shaped fruit is perfect to feed your loved one on Valentine’s Day. Tempted?

So how does this healthy but indulgent treat fit into the concept of ‘global veggie’? Well, it’s loosely inspired by the poached pear desserts of Italy (I also make those), the stuffed baked apple puddings of England (I spent my childhood making those), and the classic Pears Belle Helene of French cuisine. But to be honest, I never need an excuse to whip up a sweet treat.

Ideal for dinner parties, these pears can be served with the sauces on their own, or accompanied by double cream, mascarpone, or vanilla ice cream for an extra flourish of extravagance. Serves 6.

For the pears:
6 ripe but firm, unblemished pears (any variety)
2 oz/ 50g hazelnuts, toasted and finely chopped
2 oz/ 50g almonds, toasted and finely chopped
2 dried ready-to-eat apricots, finely chopped
1 tablespoon apricot jam
Amaretto liqueur, to taste

A little softened butter, for greasing

For the honey and citrus sauce:
5 oz/ 125g aromatic honey (such as orange blossom)
3 fl oz/ 100 ml orange juice
Juice of 1 lemon
3 fl oz/ water
2 cloves
1-inch piece cinnamon

For the hot fudge sauce:
3 oz/ 75g unsalted butter
1 oz/ 25g good-quality cocoa powder
1 oz/ 25g good quality dark chocolate, finely chopped or grated
6 oz/ 150g white or light golden brown sugar
3 fl oz/ 85 ml evaporated milk
Small pinch of salt
A few drops vanilla essence

Edible flowers for garnish (optional)

1.    First, prepare the pears. Peel them, but leave the stems intact. Using a corer, carefully remove the cores from the bottom end of the pears.
2.    Mix together the nuts, apricots, jam and liqueur. Stuff the mixture into the pears, packing in firmly.
3.    Grease a baking dish that’s just large enough to hold the pears. Arrange the pears so that they are closely huddled together, stem side up.
4.    Heat the oven to 180C/ 350F/ gas mark 4.
5.    Combine all the ingredients for the honey and citrus sauce in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil.
6.    Pour the honey and citrus sauce over the pears. Cover the dish with a lid or a piece of aluminium foil, and bake in the pre-heated oven for approximately 40 to 50 minutes. The pears should be tender, but not falling apart. Take the baking dish out of the oven every 15 minutes or so, and baste the pears with the sauce.
7.    Meanwhile, make the hot fudge sauce. Melt the butter in a non-stick saucepan, add the cocoa powder, and whisk until smooth.
8.    Stir in the chocolate, sugar, and evaporated milk. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring continuously so that it doesn’t stick. Remove from the heat immediately.
9.    Add a pinch of salt and a few drops of vanilla essence, and mix well. Cool a little.
10.    Place the pears in individual serving dishes along with any remaining honey and citrus sauce, and pour the hot fudge sauce over each pear. Garnish with edible flowers, if you like.