Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Plum Gorgeous! Ham Panini with Fig Relish; Cherry Clafoutis!

We Canadians know full well to appreciate fruiting season. Not just appreciate but long for, relish in, and grieve when over. Oh sure, we rely on global neighbours for an off-season fix here and there, but there is something magical about fresh in-season fruit. Beyond primal feasting on juicy fruit flesh, there are many different ways to enjoy nature's bounty, and even preserve some for the leaner months.

Romney Steele grew up in her family's world famous Nepenthe restaurant in California, and her previous book My Nepenthe was part memoir, part cookbook, and wildly popular. Plum Gorgeous is the fruit-laden follow-up and is, as advertised, a gorgeous book.

Filled with full-page colour photographs and poetic asides, Plum Gorgeous is a delight for the senses. Romney Steel offers up 60 recipes, both savoury and sweet, that raise orchard fruits to a whole new level.

A love affair with nature's sweetness. 

In our KitchenPuppy test kitchen, we whipped up the Fig Relish and Ham Sandwiches and Cherry Clafoutis for dessert. The panini were delightfully complex and balanced sweet and savoury wonderfully. We used the leftover fig relish for crostini with cheese during the week. Absolutely delicious. And the Cherry Clafoutis is a cakey/custardy French dish in which the batter souffles up around tons of gorgeous fresh cherries. What could be better than that?

Plum Gorgeous
Recipes and Memories from the Orchard

by Romney Steele
Hardcover, 192 pages

Fig Relish and Ham Sandwiches (panini)
From Plum Gorgeous

A comforting grilled ham and cheese sandwich turns divine with a figgy relish and other quality ingredients. You can interpret this sandwich any way you like, but I am fond of it with thin slices of prosciutto and buttery Toma cheese, a semi-hard cow’s milk cheese from the Aosta region of Italy. Sprinkle with a dusting of Parmesan just before serving. The relish can be made ahead and kept in the refrigerator, and makes more than you will need. Reserve any extra to enjoy with cheese and wine in the afternoon. It will keep for several months in the refrigerator.

Makes 2 sandwiches, serving 2 to 4

2 artisanal rolls, or 4 slices ciabatta bread
Sweet butter
Toma cheese, sliced or grated
Several thin slices prosciutto
Basil leaves
Arugula
Fig Relish (recipe follows)
Olive oil or butter
Grated Parmesan cheese, for garnish

Fig Relish
Makes about 1 cup

1 basket Kadota or Mission figs (about ½ pound), stemmed and peeled
½ cup sugar
½ cup apple cider vinegar or champagne vinegar
1 teaspoon mustard seed
Pinch salt
About 1 teaspoon dry mustard (optional)

Slice the rolls lengthwise and spread a little sweet butter on the bottom halves. Layer each with some cheese, a few slices of prosciutto, and a couple basil leaves along with a tussle of arugula. Spread a generous amount of fig relish on the top half of each roll, then place on top of the layered half. Gently press down to adhere.

Heat a cast-iron pan over medium-low heat and lightly brush with olive oil or a little butter. Add one or two sandwiches at a time and cook until lightly browned on one side. Brush the tops with a little more oil and turn over. Place a pot lid or heavy plate on top and gently press down as they cook. Cook until the cheese is melted and the roll is nicely browned and crusty. To serve, slice each sandwich in half on the diagonal and dust with a small amount of Parmesan cheese.

Coarsely chop the figs and place in a small pot with the sugar, vinegar, mustard seed, salt, and ¼ cup water. Bring to a boil over medium heat and simmer, stirring on occasion, for 20 minutes, until it resembles a loose jam. Stir in the dry mustard to taste, if using. Transfer to a glass bowl or jar. Refrigerate once cool.

Cherry Clafoutis
From Plum Gorgeous

Sweet black cherries baked in custard is a specialty of the Limousin region of France; it’s a popular no-fuss dessert served warm or cold, dusted with a little sugar. Traditionally the cherries are left whole so the pits imbue a little of their almond flavor. This is how I’ve always done it too, though you can surely pit them (and my daughter thinks I should); in fact most people do. Try making the clafoutis with other stone fruit like plums and peaches or, in the fall, fresh figs or dried prunes soaked first in brandy for a twist.

Serves 6 to 8

4 cups sweet cherries
½ cup turbinado or Demerara sugar
1 to 2 tablespoons kirsch
6 eggs
1 cup whole milk
2/3 cup crème fraîche
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
6 tablespoons flour
Pinch salt
1/3 cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted
Confectioners’ sugar (optional)

Wash and stem the cherries and pit if you prefer; pat dry. In a bowl, toss the cherries with 2 tablespoons of the sugar and the kirsch, more or less as you like to taste. Set aside at room temperature for at least 20 minutes, allowing the flavors to meld.

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Generously butter a 9-inch cast-iron skillet or earthenware dish. Scatter the cherries in the bottom of the dish.

Combine the remaining 6 tablespoons sugar, the eggs, milk, crème fraîche, vanilla, flour, and salt in a blender. Blend to combine thoroughly; strain if necessary to remove any lumps of flour, then whisk back in by hand.

Pour the custard over the cherries. Bake the clafoutis for 35 to 40 minutes, until puffy and golden and just set in the middle. Sprinkle with the toasted almonds and dust with confectioners’ sugar, if you like, before serving.