First thing in the morning, while the kettle comes to the boil, I turn the fruits that have been slowly ripening on a white dish on the kitchen counter. Each fruit – a peach, an apricot or nectarine – gets a gentle squeeze with the whole hand (never a poke with a thumb – that I witness all too often in the shops) and, more importantly, a deep sniff. When ripe, the scent of the peaches is often reminiscent of roses. Smell rather than touch is often the best way to judge if they are ready to eat.
I have been bringing the summer’s stone fruits home to feast on. The season is all too short. I am all too aware that in a few weeks they will be gone until next year. I used the apricots in a salad this week – with couscous, mint, parsley and toasted pine kernels. The tiny grains of dough and green herbs settled in the fruits’ hollows and the dressing – green, lemony and tart – made the whole thing sing. I have made a similar dish before with lentils and nectarines, but I think this was better, the tiny Turkish fruits working nicely with the parsley, like a fruited tabbouleh.
The fruit’s extreme fragility requires thoughtful transit – I rest the peaches on top of my shopping bag to bring them home – as if I were carrying a dozen eggs without an egg box. Once in the kitchen, there is a certain amount of nurturing required, and that is what I take pleasure in. I took the apricot couscous to the table on a huge platter, together with a tomato salad with a crisp crust of parmesan and crumbs.
Couscous with apricots and mint
I use instant couscous here, with no apology. This quick-cooking version needs just a few minutes in a bowl, covered with boiled water or vegetable stock rather than a long steam over hot water. You can use water, but I prefer vegetable stock, which makes the grains more interesting. It is best to separate the grains of couscous by tenderly running a fork through them once they have soaked up the stock. Serves 4
fine couscous 150g
vegetable stock 250ml
pine kernels 2 tbsp
spring onions 8
olive oil 2 tbsp
apricots 350g, ripe
For the herb dressing:
lemon juice 2 tbsp
olive oil 2 tbsp
mint sprigs 15g
parsley sprigs 15g
Put the couscous into a mixing bowl and pour over the hot stock. Set aside for a good 10 minutes until the stock has been fully absorbed.
In a shallow pan, toast the pine kernels, watching carefully and shaking the pan from time to time, until they are golden. Roughly chop the spring onions, discarding the dark green tips.
Return the empty pan to a moderate heat, warm the olive oil, add the spring onions and let them cook for 5 minutes until soft. Halve and stone the apricots, then cut each half in two.
Make the dressing: in a medium sized bowl, whisk together the lemon juice and olive oil. Remove the leaves from the mint and parsley and finely chop two-thirds of them, leaving the remainder whole. Add the chopped and whole leaves to the dressing with a little salt and black pepper.
Run the tines of a fork through the couscous to separate the grains then add the herb dressing. Add the apricots, pine kernels and onions and toss everything together. Serve at room temperature.
A deeply summery dish of marinated mozzarella with a crisp layer of crumbs, tomatoes and parmesan – I think of this as a pizza without the crust. The crispness of the topping is an essential contrast to the soft, herb-scented mozzarella beneath. I use a metal baking tray to bake the crumbs and tomatoes – it helps the crumbs to crisp more successfully than if you use a china baking dish. You can get the mozzarella marinating then finish the dish just before you eat. Serves 4 as a light supper
buffalo mozzarella 2 balls
olive oil 75ml
assorted salami and prosciutto 50g, thinly sliced
For the tomato dressing:
tomatoes 3, medium to large
basil leaves 8, medium (taken from above)
olive oil 1 tbsp
breadcrumbs 40g, fresh and white
Tear the balls of mozzarella into rough pieces and place, snugly, in a serving dish. Finely chop the basil leaves (reserving 8 for later) and the parsley, then add the olive oil and a few twists of black pepper. Pour the herb mix over the mozzarella, cover and refrigerate for an hour (up to 4 hours is fine, but no longer).
Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Make the dressing: cut the tomatoes in half, scoop out and discard the seeds, dice the flesh into small pieces, then set aside in a mixing bowl. Tear or shred the basil leaves and finely grate the parmesan then add to the tomatoes. Stir in the olive oil and breadcrumbs, then spoon on to a metal baking sheet in a shallow layer (it will crisp more effectively that way) then bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes until the crumbs have started to crisp and the cheese has turned golden.
Divide the slices of salami and prosciutto between 4 plates. Remove the mozzarella from the fridge and divide between the plates. Take the tomato and parmesan from the oven and scatter over the cheese and serve.