Ask Peter: NZ apricots
I stashed quite a few apricots in my freezer last summer (the Central Otago beauties) and I am wondering if you have any ideas on how I could use them to best advantage. I used them instead of dried apricots in my couscous last week and it worked well — they were more mushy but melded with the couscous nicely, turning it a lively colour and it was sweet and fragrant. Chris
How lucky to still have Central Otago apricots — I remember them well from my youth, like some magical wonder when they appeared in the Castlecliff vege shop, and can almost taste them now, packed full of sun-ripened sweet, intense flavour and aroma.
I’m a fan of the apricot — both the small and the large ones, so long as they’re really ripe and softening. While I like a firm peach, I find a firm apricot less appealing. Did you freeze them whole or halve them first before freezing them?
The whole ones will be slightly harder to use as you’ll need to defrost them before removing the stone, which can cause them to collapse, but these are great for making chutneys, jams and crumbles.
What you can do with them now will depend on how ripe they were when you froze them. Have you ever used apricots in a risotto? At this time of year you could make a chicken stock-based risotto with apricots and asparagus. Hopefully that doesn’t sound too odd.
Apricot and asparagus risotto
Have your chicken stock simmering away and add the fibrous ends of asparagus — which you can snap off from the edible spears. Dice boneless and skinless chicken thighs and brown them in olive oil or butter. Sweat down white-fleshed onion without colouring too much and add your rice and chicken, then cook as you would, adding stock as it is absorbed and stirring frequently.
After 10 minutes cooking add thinly sliced asparagus (although keep the top 2cm of the spears whole). When the rice is almost fully cooked, but still with a little bit of bite, add a few diced apricots, a good dollop of mascarpone, generous amounts of grated parmesan or pecorino cheese and a handful of shredded parsley.
The apricots add the fruity sweetness you’d expect, but they also work really well with the chicken (a classic combo) and the freshness of the asparagus. Once you’ve added everything, taste for seasoning, gently stir then leave with the heat turned off and lid on for 5 minutes. Stir again before serving.
I’ve successfully made an apricot shakshuka as well — that wonderfully spicy North African dish of, basically, a tomato stew baked with eggs. If you know the dish, then next time you’re making it, add some large chunks of apricots to the pan along with capsicum and you’ll find the sweetness and aroma of the fruit really does add something magical.
You can also add some pureed defrosted apricots to a mayonnaise and use this to dip southern fried chicken in, and if you add a lot of chopped garlic and chilli as well, it even works with fish and chips.
Meatballs and meatloaf
Carefully dice the apricots while still frozen (if they’re in halves) and add to minced pork or lamb for delicious meatballs, or use whole halves in a meatloaf. In the meatballs the apricots will turn a little mushy but they also add a good hit of moisture to the balls. In the meatloaf, the halves will collapse a bit, but once sliced, and topped with a leafy salad, you’d never know.
You could make a puree from them by simmering with just enough sweet white wine to cover and the scraping of half a vanilla bean. Put a lid on and cook 15 minutes, stirring several times. Remove the vanilla bean and make sure there are no apricot stones in the mix then puree till smooth and either drizzle on ice cream, or fold through some softened vanilla ice cream (before re-freezing).
And, of course, you could stew them with a little sugar or honey, grated ginger and a pinch of cinnamon and use this as the base for a trifle, in a layered sponge cake, as the filling for doughnuts or as the topping for a pav. It may seem odd serving pav in early spring with apricots of course — but then again, you preserved them and it’ll actually be an out-of-season treat for your friends!