Monday, June 15, 2009

All 'cot up

Apricots (or 'cots, as they're often called in my family) are one of my favorite fruits. The good ones, that is...the grocery store right now has large, fleshy specimens that have no odor and therefore no taste. (When dealing with strawberries with similarly watered-down characteristics, my med school friend BB diagnoses "big berry syndrome.") In fact, the only thing these behemoths have in common with a true apricot is the color, and even that can be suspect: a ripe, fresh, delicious-tasting specimen often has a spray of bright reddish sunburn on one side that the supermarket ones lack.

The growing season of apricots is notoriously short, basically consisting of the month of June. Luckily, I had this past weekend off. My parents were in town from San Diego, which was appropriate since my mom has been the leader of nearly annual apricot-picking family forays. Before I was born, my parents used to make trips with my grandparents each year to Hollister, east of Gilroy, to pick apricots for eating and preserving. My grandfather is now 98 and suffers from Alzheimer's, but until just two years ago he was canning his own 'cots and making his own jam, as he had every year for decades past.

Hollister is pretty far away though, so when I was little, we used to travel just an hour and a half north from San Diego to Hemet. Unfortunately, the orchard we frequented was razed in the early 90s in anticipation of yet another strip mall, so when I was a teenager, we again made the journey up north to Hollister each June. Eventually, the apricot trees my parents had planted in their backyard finally matured and produced almost enough to sustain my mom's nearly insatiable apricot appetite, and the previously annual pilgrimages to Hollister became less frequent. In the meantime, to satisfy my nearly insatiable apricot appetite, my parents would express-mail me and B a dozen apricots at a time, packaged in egg cartons and bubble-wrapped to protect their fragile flesh.

It's a lean year for the apricot trees in San Diego, though, so it was convenient that my parents were here during prime apricot season. We drove an hour east to Brentwood, and picked our own. We also picked peaches and nectarines. And bought ripe red raspberries and strawberries. Also we have fresh kumquats from the tree of B's mom's friends. And a bunch of cherries from our CSA box and the grocery store. I don't know why I didn't take any pictures of the heavily laden trees we picked from, but here's some of the apricot bounty in our kitchen.

And this is just the apricots, after we already gave some away to A&K! We basically have fruit coming out of our ears.

For the time being, after lots of fruit-processing, I'm finally all caught/'cot up. I've made kumquat marmalade and apricot jam. I've made an apricot fruit roll-up and another strawberry one. I've made peach frozen yogurt, and plan to make apricot ice cream. And, just for fun, I made an apricot galette.

I've only eaten at Chez Panisse twice (we've only had two anniversaries to celebrate, after all), but the galette reminds me very much of desserts there. I badly want Lindsey Shere's Chez Panisse Desserts, and after I experiment from that book, I'll let you know if, as I suspect I will, I find a similar recipe.

Galettes are often described in cookbooks as rustic tarts, and they really are a snap to put together. They even look more authentic when the edges are a little messy, and they don't require the fussiness of blind-baking. Simply roll out the pastry dough, sprinkle the bottom with sugar and semolina flour, place the sliced fruit on top, sprinkle with more sugar, and bake. When it comes out of the oven, don't forget to sprinkle with some extra powdered sugar! (Also, cut a slice for yourself to eat before you take any pictures for your blog.)

The galette is delicious with apricots or plums (the latter is what the original recipe calls for), and quickly becomes a dinner party-worthy dessert with the addition of the Armagnac sour cream. Next time, I'm going to jazz it up with some almond meal instead of the semolina flour, and maybe add a little bit of almond extract to the pastry crust; almonds pair so beautifully with stone fruit.

If you have a chance to pick your own produce this summer, whether apricots or other fruits and vegetables, make a point of doing it. And then, make this galette. What a delicious way to showcase summer stone fruit! Enjoy.

Apricot Galette

Serves 8
Time: 45 min active, 3 hours total

For the pastry crust:
1 1/2 c. unbleached flour
1/2 t. salt
1 T. sugar
6 T. unsalted butter (3/4 stick), cut into 1-cm cubes
up to 1/3 c. ice water

For the filling:
2 T. semolina flour
4 T. granulated sugar
10 apricots, pitted and cut into quarters; or 5-6 plums, pitted and cut into eighths
powdered sugar, for sprinkling

For the topping:
1 c. sour cream (low-fat OK)
3 T. sugar
1 T. Armagnac or Cognac

First, make the pastry dough by mixing together the flour, salt, and sugar. Cut the butter into the flour using a pastry blender or your fingers until the the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Mix in just enough ice water for the dough to come together. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured board. Using the heel of your hand, push the dough away from you to incorporate the butter; repeat two or three times. Gather dough into plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375. Roll the pastry dough on a lightly floured board into a 14-inch circle. Place the pastry dough onto a cookie sheet, with or without parchment paper. Sprinkle the semolina flour and 2 T. of sugar over the bottom of the pastry dough, leaving a 1-inch border of dough. Then arrange the apricots over the flour/sugar mixture. Sprinkle fruit with remaining 2 T. of sugar. Fold the excess dough over the outside ring of fruit, pleating the dough as necessary to make the crust.

Bake, loosely covered with a sheet of foil, for 45 to 50 minutes, until juices are bubbling and fruit is fork-tender. Remove foil and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes to brown the crust. Remove from oven and sprinkle generously with powdered sugar. Cool completely on cookie sheet before transferring to a serving platter. Galette may be served room temperature or warm, and is delicious with or without the Armagnac sour cream.

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