I just sat down, looked at the calendar, and noticed that it’s August 9th. June is eleven months old today. On Monday, Delancey will be four years old, and on Thursday, Essex will be one. Is this what happens when you become a firm-and-fast adult? You’ve done enough stuff and crossed paths with enough people that at some point, each day comes with a birthday or anniversary? I mean, in addition to bills and tax deadlines and increasingly tight hamstrings? In other words: there’s always a new reason to eat cake, isn’t there? Or drink wine? Both?
I have a very cold bottle of riesling in the refrigerator. But there is no cake here, and that is because there is no oven. We live in a 1958 house, brown enamel appliances and knotty pine cabinets and banana-colored formica and all, and a couple of weeks ago, the tiny, squeaky-doored Hotpoint oven up and died. No warning! Just when we had finally put aside our differences – you say you’re 400 degrees, I say you’re 350 – and reached an understanding! There won’t be cash for a proper renovation for a while yet, so Brandon went out last week and found a cheap used oven to temporarily replace it. And now we’re waiting for the Sears guy to come install it, because if we did it ourselves, it would all end in a sudden flash of light and a cloud of smoke, and I do not mean to imply that there would be wizardry involved.
In the meantime, there is no cake, but there are apricots poached in riesling and vanilla bean. (Which were supposed to be baked in riesling and vanilla bean, but blah blah blah BLAH.)
It’s probably too late in the summer to talk about apricots? Let’s do it anyway. I’ve made these apricots three times already this year, and I’m not ready to stop. I just made them a fourth time tonight. The recipe is a twist on two others: Nigel Slater’s Baked Apricots with Lemon Tea, from Tender, Volume II (also known as Ripe) and my friend Jess’s Sugared Apricots with Cardamom Pistachios. Nigel’s, if I may refer to him on a buddy-buddy first-name basis, calls for baking apricots in sweetened lemon verbena tea with star anise and a vanilla bean, and Jess’s calls for dredging them in sugar before baking them in white wine and serving them with cardamom-dusted pistachios. I took one recipe in each hand and banged them together, and ta da, I give you Soft Apricots with Riesling and Vanilla Bean.
Here’s the gist: take seven or eight fresh apricots, cut them in half, and press their cut sides into a saucer of sugar. It doesn’t take much – just a couple of tablespoons, and you could use even less, if you prefer. Then arrange the apricot halves in a baking dish if you’re baking them, or in a skillet if you’re poaching them, and tuck a split vanilla bean in there, too. Pour in a good splash of riesling. Then slide them into a hot oven, or set them over a low flame, and let them stay there until their color deepens to the orange of a very good egg yolk, their flesh gets velvety, and if you pick one up in your hand, it feels heavy, slack, almost jiggly, like a slightly tired water balloon. You could eat them warm, but I like them very cold, with a spoonful of their winey syrup.
I first made apricots this way last summer, and though I didn’t write down the method or bookmark the recipes, when this summer came around, I remembered it, sort of, and after a couple of go-rounds and tweaks, I feel confident about sharing it. I think it might be my absolute favorite thing to do with apricots, which is saying a lot, but I’m going to go ahead and write that down before I second-guess it. Either way, I’m posting this not only for you, but also to record the method for myself, so that next summer, I’ll be able to find it without scratching my head. And then maybe I’ll be able to make it five or six times, instead of only four.
You could use any sweet-ish white wine here, though I particularly love the flavor of apricots with an off-dry riesling. (I’ve been using Memaloose 2012 Idiot’s Grace Riesling.) I’ve also used Dolin Blanc vermouth and Cocchi Americano, and both have yielded great results. You’re also welcome to try a drier white wine, or a rosé, and if you do, please report back.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Measure the sugar into a saucer or a small plate. Press the apricot halves, cut side down, into the sugar: each one should wind up with a nice sugar crust on one side. Arrange the apricots, skin side down, in a baking dish that will comfortably hold them all in a single layer. Scrape the vanilla seeds into the baking dish – don’t worry if they clump – and wiggle the vanilla bean down between the apricots. Pour the riesling into the dish, taking care to pour it between the apricots, so that you don’t wash away the sugar.
Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the apricots are tender. [Alternatively, you can do this all on the stove, placing the apricots in a large skillet with a lid and cooking them very gently over very low heat, covered, for 35 to 40 minutes.] Sometimes they start to fall apart, and that’s okay, but I like them best when they maintain their shape and barely resist the fork. Allow them to cool, and then carefully layer them in a jar, and pour the syrupy juices over the top. Chill thoroughly. They’re best eaten icy cold, and as long as they’re covered in syrup, they’ll keep for more than a week.
Serve the apricots with a drizzle of their vanilla-flecked syrup, or with a scoop of ice cream (salted caramel is very good) or a spoonful of plain yogurt.
Yield: many tiny snacks or breakfasts, or dessert for 4 people