I I am putting away a growing collection of goodies ready for Christmas. The plum pudding is already in its glazed porcelain bowl; three or four jars of dark minced meat enriched with brandy and a few marinated pears await the big day in the kitchen cupboard. Add to that this week’s big jars of dried apricots, plump and full of sweet wine, and the row of big jars of chutney, thick with sweet fruit and spices, and I’m already starting to relax.
There will be a lot to do in the kitchen in the coming weeks. A few delicious hidden bits will be invaluable for Christmas and New Year. Chutneys to accompany a pork pie or a plate of smoked salmon. Plum jam to go with the Boxing Day ricotta cakes, hot from the pan, and a jar of honey mustard dressing to ooze with the gravadlax I plan to make. Tiny things, but cupboard treasures (a cook’s little lifelines) for those of us responsible for the Christmas party.
I’m not always the most organized cook and it feels good to make preserves and condiments now rather than at the last minute or even at all. Such things are money in the bank for a busy cook; the less I have to do at the last minute, which is a totally good thing. But there is another reason. Such details are a pleasure to create. There are worse ways to spend a fall afternoon than stirring a pot of mangoes, onions and spices in a warm kitchen. Likewise, the smell of figs, prunes or apricots simmered with wine (or brandy or Marsala) to serve as an alternative to Pudding are rewards in themselves. Plumped dried fruit will also make a special breakfast, spooned over yoghurt, shimmering ribbons of syrup deliciously countering your healthy start to the day.
Mango and tomato chutney
Few lunches are finer than those that involve pork pie and a glistening little mound of tangy-sweet chutney. This one, with tomatoes and mangoes, is particularly succulent, spicy and sweet and goes perfectly with pork pie, mature firm cheeses or slices of sweet pink ham. I also use it to season rice, a spoonful slipped into the steaming grains. No need for the prettiest mangoes – it’s not the season – but look for the ripe (and therefore tastiest) fruits.
It is important not to take your eyes off the balloon because the chutney arrives in the last minutes of cooking. This is when it tends to brown and the sugar caramelizes. Be careful when stirring, as chutney is, like jam, prone to rather exuberant bubbling. For 3 jars of 500 g
white malt vinegar 450ml
red peppers 4, small and warm
mangoes 1.3 kg (approximately 3)
yellow mustard seeds 2 teaspoons
cinnamon stick 1
dried chili flakes 1 teaspoon
grounded ginger 1 teaspoon
Nigella seeds 2 teaspoons
Allspice berries 6
Powdered sugar 400g
You will need 3 sterilized and capped storage jars.
Peel the onions and chop finely, then put them with the vinegar in a large, deep frying pan over medium-high heat and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat a little and let the onions cook, partially covered with a lid, for about 15 minutes until softened. Be careful that the vinegar does not evaporate completely.
Meanwhile, cut the chillies in half, discard the seeds (unless you like your chutney very spicy), then chop them finely. Peel the mangoes and cut the flesh from the core then roughly chop it. Add the mangoes and peppers to the onions. Chop the tomatoes, add them, then let everything continue to cook at a low simmer.
Stir in the mustard seeds, cinnamon stick, chili flakes, ground ginger, nigella seeds and whole allspice berries, then add the sugar. Leave to simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring regularly and taking care that the mixture does not stick.
Finely grate the zest of the limes, then squeeze the juice and stir both into the chutney with 1 teaspoon of salt. Decant into sterilized storage jars, seal and store.
Apricots with muscat and brandy
These canned fruits will keep for several weeks in a cool, dark place. Decant the deeply fruity liqueur into glasses, saving the fruit plump to serve with thick, strained yogurt or even, if you’re feeling exceptionally decadent, sabayon.
It’s not just apricots that you can apply this treatment to. Prunes and dried figs can also work. If you can, make them a good three weeks in advance – they will last for weeks in a dark cupboard. The golden, slightly spicy juice can also be used in a cocktail. Makes 1 large Kilner pot
Dried apricots 500g
star anise 4, whole
black peppercorns 6
Powdered sugar 150g
muscat or other sweet wine 1 bottle of 750 ml
Place the apricots in a deep stainless steel skillet. Remove 3 or 4 long strips of zest from the orange and place them in the pan. Add the star anise, peppercorns and cloves, then pour in the brandy and sugar.
Bring everything to the boil and let it bubble until the sugar has dissolved, avoiding the temptation to stir – this will make the liquor cloudy. Once the sugar has dissolved, stir in the sweet white wine and allow the mixture to return to a boil.
Transfer the fruits and their syrup to a sterilized storage jar and seal. Set aside a week or two before serving.
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