There's still very little fresh fruit in season right now – blood oranges are few and far between and quinces have left us now, so we wait for loquats and the first apricots to arrive. What is not to be underestimated, however, is the use of dried fruits in the kitchen. Almost all fruit can be dried, although their flavour does change dramatically: the sugar content becomes intense and it changes their flavour – though that does not prohibit the goodness of their taste. Buy in small quantities and keep in airtight jars. Look for fruit that is dried as naturally as possible with little added sugar. 1
This recipe is Persian in origin and was given to me by my friend Greg Malouf.Found in his beautiful book Saraban (Hardie Grant Books, £30), it is the perfect way to eat fruit when not in season. All the dried fruit used in this recipe should be fairly easy to find in Middle Eastern stores or any good health-food shop or delicatessen.
For the syrup
250g/8oz caster sugar
250ml/8fl oz water
2 cinnamon sticks
6 cardamom pods
The peel of one orange
The peel of one lime
1 thumb of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
12 dried figs
cup golden raisins
6 Medjool dates
6 dried pears
75g/3oz shelled walnuts
Combine the sugar and water over a medium heat in a heavy-based pan, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves, then add the spices and citrus peel, increase the heat and bring to a boil. Add the ginger and dried fruit and walnuts. Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely. Once cool, place in the fridge. It will keep well refridgerated for a week or so.
Figs in red wine
At the restaurant, we serve these soft, boozy figs with cheese. For me they work best alongside semi-hard cheeses such as pecorino or wedges of aged and crystallised Parmesan. Once in a while I also like to serve them alongside a soft and creamy Gorgonzola dolce.
750ml/1¼ pints full-bodied red wine
500g/1lb dried figs
3 fresh bay leaves
2 tbsp caster sugar
The peel of one orange
Pour the wine into a medium-sized, heavy-based pan. Place over a medium heat and bring to a simmer.
Add the figs, bay , sugar and orange peel and cook for a further 5 minutes. Remove from the heat. And allow to cool. Spoon into sterilised jars and place in the fridge. Before using, remove from the fridge and allow to return to room temperature. These figs will last for up to a month in the fridge.
Blood oranges and Medjool dates
My mother used to make this for us when we were children, though with oranges rather than blood oranges, as they were not available at that time. It was the closest thing we ever got to dessert in our house. Once she had sliced the dates and oranges, she spread thick Greek yoghurt over the top and placed in the fridge for a few hours to chill. Leave the dates and oranges to macerate for a couple of hours before you are ready to serve, as the juice from the oranges mingles with the sticky sweetness of the dates, which is one of the most delicious things on earth.
6 blood oranges
12 Medjool dates.
Top and tail the blood oranges using a sharp knife, stand on one end and slice down the sides to remove the skin. Now slice the flesh into eighth-of-an-inch pinwheels and arrange on a plate. Remove the stones from the dates, tear roughly with your hands and scatter over the oranges. Squeeze the juice from the flesh that is left in the orange skin and place in the fridge to chill. Serve with thick and creamy yoghurt alongside – thin yoghurt just will not do.