So last year I planted an apricot tree in my garden, and had about 12 apricots on it by summer. This summer, there were almost 100 lovely little orange jewels beckoning from my tree. After harvesting them I had two ginormous baskets, which I proceeded to eat, and eat, and eat until I had some serious stomach cramps. Then I thought, why not create a Mediterranean summer dinner menu around this fruit? I mean eating them plain is great and all, but I enjoy the challenge of creating different courses with the same ingredient. So I set off to make a lovely three course meal using these gems, with a lot left over to fill a nice hefty jar with some apricot jam to enjoy through the fall.
So I started with a lovely asparagus salad. Usually I just roast asparagus in the oven with olive oil, salt and pepper. This time I just blanched them in boiling water for a few minutes so they would be nice and juicy. I topped them with feta cheese and walnuts glazed with a bit of honey. Then for the dressing, I put three fresh apricots, 1 tsp Dijon mustard, ¼ cup of olive oil, and some fresh thyme in the food processor. I drizzled the dressing over the asparagus, cheese and walnuts and loved the contrast in color and flavor between the orange and the green. I could eat this alone for dinner with a glass of wine and be very happy.
Now for the main course. I always love how Moroccans mix sweet and the savory together, particularly in their tagines. I had some chicken thighs in the refrigerator, so I marinated them in a mix of olive oil, turmeric, cumin, ginger, salt, pepper and a dash of cinnamon. I sautéed them in olive oil until browned, then removed them from the pan. Then I sautéed one sliced onion until it was caramelized, added 4 cloves of minced garlic, and sautéed that one minute more. I finally added a cup of chicken broth, the chicken, a little cornstarch, cilantro and parsley and let it simmer for 30 minutes. Top with and some chopped almonds and you’re done. The tagine tasted delicious over a bed of couscous!
I wanted to make a dessert that wasn’t too sweet that would showcase the apricots in a simple way, so I made a rustic galette. Running out of time fast before dinner, I decided to use a store bought, organic pie crust, which I rolled out flat. As you can see from the tagine above, I love the combo of apricots and almonds. Almond meal has truly been my best friend, coming in handy for coating fish, breads and cakes…and now as a filling for my galette. I mixed one cup of almond meal with one egg, 1 tsp cinnamon, and 1/3 cup of honey. I then spread this mixture over the unbaked crust, leaving a 1 ½ inch border all around. I took ten halved and pitted apricots, tossed them with another 2 tbs of raw sugar, and piled them on top of the almond meal mixture. After folding in the pie crust border, I baked the galette for 30 minutes at about 400 degrees. Absolute perfection with a scoop of vanilla or salted caramel ice cream!
I have never been a huge fan of store bought jams and jellies because they are too darn sweet. So took the rest of the apricots, about a pound, and mixed them with only about ¼ cup raw sugar and a dash of lemon juice. I stirred the fruit over the stove for only about 30 minutes, until the apricots were in the halfway stage between a jam and a compote. My favorite childhood treat was to take a nice slice of toasted baguette, smeared with my mother’s homemade yogurt cheese (lebneh), and a nice helping of my grandmother’s apricot jam. I recreated that memory for my children the following day, during our own lazy summer tea time.
As they sat their joyfully nibbling I thought about the power of food in evoking memories, creating traditions, and passing on something magical to future generations. If you like my treatment of one ingredient several different Mediterranean ways, please leave a comment, and I will create more for you in the future—happy summer!