Friday, 29 May 2009

Compote d’Abricots á la Lavande (Apricot and Lavender Compote)

Even a mediocre peach is worth eating out of hand, so too a bowlful of less than perfectly sweet cherries. But an underripe apricot—dry, wooly-textured, with almost a tannic bite—has few redeeming virtues. Despite this, impatience and whiff of honeyed perfume have seduced me more than once, only to discover, once home, that the abricots’ rosy-tinged shoulders are only slightly more tender than my own laptop-wrecked ones.

Were it not for the fact that Michelin-class patisserie is available just down the road, I might have attempted a tart. Jam was likewise eliminated, as I doubt I could improve on that supermarket standard, Bon Maman. After a few days on the counter, by which time the apricots were infinitesimally rosier but no softer, I settled on a lavender-scented compote, courtesy of Clotilde Dusoulier’s Chocolate and Zucchini.

I must confess to being a bit jealous of Clotilde’s fame. But it’s undeniable that her recipes not only work, but tend to offer a creative twist on the simple, market-driven French food I like most. The compote is a perfect example: judiciously used, the lavender adds sophistication and complexity, while an intelligent use of heat (and butter) creates an unctuous glaze for the fruit without turning it into mush.

The recipe suggests serving this alongside butter cookies. I usually have it alone or over yogurt, but it could easily dress up some good vanilla ice cream or buttery cake. And should unsprayed lavender be hard to find, either dried verveine (lemon verbena) or even a bit of fresh thyme might make interesting substitutions.

Compote d’Abricots á la Lavande (adapted from Chocolate and Zucchini)
Serves 2-3
Total time: about 20 minutes: Active time: 10 minutes
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1/8 cup granulated sugar
Small pinch sugar
Just over a pound of apricots, stoned and halved
1 tsp dried unsprayed lavender flowers

Gently melt the butter in a frying pan big enough to fit the apricots in a single layer. Add the sugar and allow to melt without stirring for 3-5 minutes, by which time it should be lightly caramelised. Add the salt and abricots and stir to coat. Cover and cook on a low to medium heat until the fruit is just tender, about 8 minutes.

Remove the fruit with a slotted spoon and set aside. Sprinkle the lavender over the remaining pan juices, turn up the heat to medium-high and cook uncovered until thick and syrupy, about 4 minutes. Lower the heat and return the apricots to the pan, stirring gently to coat. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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