Juicy apricots. | Marc Fosh

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Before peaches and nectarines really begin to appear on our local market stalls, juicy, sweet and sour apricots come into season bringing loads of flavour to liven up our springtime recipes. Apricots have been around forever and ancient Romans were so impressed by this fruit’s early ripening that they took to calling it praecocium, Latin for “precocious.”

Apricots are actually sour-sweet in flavour with a wonderfully fragrant character and a mixture of fresh and tropical tones. They are silky smooth with a soft, velvety skin that ranges from pale yellow to deep orange. Although an apricot’s colour is not always a reliable guide to flavour, its best to steer clear of very pale varieties, and always avoid wrinkled or blemished skins. The flesh should feel moderately firm with some give so purchase plump, fairly firm apricots that are soft and juicy—they should also be eaten as soon as possible.

At this time of year apricots are just about the best fruit choice in local markets. Low in calories and packed with nutrients, just three fresh apricots will give you almost half the vitamin A you need for the day along with a healthy dose of vitamin C, potassium and fibre. In addition, apricots are packed with beta-carotene, an antioxidant that helps neutralize free radicals that damage cells. I often find that fresh apricots can be disappointing little fruits to eat raw, but apply some heat and sweetness and you’ll be well rewarded. They have a great affinity to all dairy flavours but also marry well with almonds, chocolate, vanilla and oranges. Apricots also work well with goat’s cheese, pork and off course lamb.

One of my favourite all-time dishes is a lamb Tagine with apricots. Lamb and apricots both have a great rapport with sweet spices such as cinnamon, cumin and coriander. The intense sweetness and sharpness of the dried apricots cuts through the lamb’s fattiness and with the addition of spices, the end result is heavenly. This dish can be traced back to the thirteenth century and was featured in the The Bagdad Cookery Book in a recipe called “mishmishiya” which means apricoty!

To ripen apricots, place the hard fruit in a brown paper bag for one or two days. Ripe apricots should be stored in the refrigerator to prevent over-ripening. Fresh apricots can be frozen: just halve the fruit, remove the pit, and freeze on a baking sheet. Once frozen, place the apricots in a sealable plastic bag.

Another local fruit to look out for in May are loquats or “Nisperos” as they are known in Spain. There are many varieties, each with a slightly different appearance. Generally, the loquat is pear-shaped, with smooth dark orange to orange-yellow skin. It has soft, creamy yellow flesh with a sweet and sour taste and 2-4 large seeds in the centre. The two most common varieties in Spain are the Argelino (Algar) and the Tanaka. Loquats are in season during the months of April, May and June, and are generally enjoyed raw, but because they contain loads of pectin, they can easily be made into jam or preserves.

Lamb Tagine with Apricots.

Simple Lamb Tagine with Apricots and Coriander

This recipe is from my cookbook - Modern Mediterranean: Sun-drenched recipes from Mallorca and beyond.

Serves 4 | Cooking time: 1 hour 45 minutes | Preparation time: 20 minutes, plus 4 hours marinating

1kg lamb shoulder, diced
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp cayenne pepper
100ml olive oil
2 onions, peeled and chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp saffron threads
750ml chicken stock (bouillon)
600g canned chopped tomatoes
120g fresh apricots, sliced
1 tsp chopped preserved lemon
Bunch of fresh coriander (cilantro), roughly chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 In a large bowl, mix the lamb with the cinnamon, cumin, sweet paprika and cayenne pepper, cover and transfer to the refrigerator to marinate for at least 4 hours, or overnight is ideal.

2 Warm the olive oil in a large heavy saucepan over a medium heat, add the marinated lamb and brown on all sides.

3 Add the onions, carrots and garlic and cook gently for 1–2 minutes, then add the saffron threads, stock (bouillon), tomatoes and apricots.

4 Bring slowly to the boil, season with salt and pepper, then cover with a lid, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for 11⁄2 hours.

5 Add the chopped preserved lemon and coriander (cilantro), check the seasoning and serve immediately.

Clafoutis of Apricot & Almonds
Clafoutis of Apricot & Almonds.

Clafoutis of Apricot & Almonds

Serves 4

3 eggs

3 egg yolks

250ml cream

100g sugar

12 apricots

50g sliced almonds

1 teaspoon corn flour

30ml dry sherry

1 Beat the yolks, whole eggs and the sugar until it begins to thicken. Add the corn flour and sherry. Mix well.

2 Bring the cream and mint leaves to a boil. Pass through a sieve.

3 Add the cream to the egg mixture.

4 Arrange the apricots in a shallow Pyrex dish. Pour the mixture on top and sprinkle with the sliced almonds. Bake in a 180 degree oven for 15 minutes, until the mixture is just set. Dust with icing sugar and serve with ice cream.

Apricot, ginger & coriander brandy-Cocktail

Serves 2

6 apricots, stoned

10 coriander leaves

Juice of 1 lemon

100ml brandy

1 small piece of fresh ginger

Juice of 1 orange

1 Place all the ingredients in a blender and mix for 30 seconds. Pour over crushed ice and serve.