Although you wouldn’t know it from the humid, sticky weather here this week, Autumn is upon us, and so are some of my favourite fruits; figs, apples, pears and quinces.
The last few weeks of summer have been mostly dry and dusty here, and we are so ready for the change of season. So keen to feel the cool air settle down around us, to start collecting pinecones and wood, smell that first fire of the season and to see the farm change colour (hopefully from brown back to green thank you very much).
The orchards of Orange, are thick with fruit right now. Pickers are hard at it and the markets and shops are full of late Summer and early Autumn’s best. So, to celebrate this time of plenty, why not have a few friends over for a tartine brunch? Go on. It’ll be fun and really delicious.
A tartine is basically a French word for an open sandwich, and in this case we’ve used a beautiful fruit and nut sourdough loaf, sliced thinly and toasted, then spread with homemade ricotta and topped with any of the below. This is a really great way to easily feed a bunch for brunch as you can have everything done in advance (and even that is hardly any bother) and just lay out all the different elements with a pot of coffee and one of tea for everyone to help themselves. So here’s what we have here, all four tartines were delicious but my favourite was the fig one.
Homemade ricotta with quince butter
Homemade ricotta with apple butter
Homemade ricotta with poached pears and vanilla salt
Homemade ricotta with fresh figs and sweet dukkah
Vanilla salt and sweet dukkah
Both of these ‘condiments’ are my new addiction. They both are great to have on hand to pep up pretty much any dish, are easy to make and lovely to give away in little jars as prezzies. The vanilla salt is incredible lightly sprinkled over everything from a tomato salad to a chargrilled venison steak and in this case, poached pear tartine. Thank you so much to my new favourite food writer Renee Erickson for the idea (if you haven’t seen her book A boat, a whale and a walrus, yet, please check it out).
To make the salt, just take about 1/4 cup sea salt and place in a bowl. Split the bean using the tip of a sharp knife then scrape along the cut surface to collect the vanilla seeds and mix these into the salt. At this point you can just seal the salt, with the vanilla bean pieces in a jar, ready to use. Or you could place the vanilla salt with one of the bean pieces in a food processor and whizz to combine. I do this because I quite like the little woody pieces of vanilla bean in there but you mightn’t so just stick with the seeds! Keeps for a month or so.
As for the sweet dukkah, I used this recipe and am now using the end result on pretty much everything from breakfast cereal to platters of fresh fruit and bowls of natural yogurt. Warm with cardamom, cinnamon and coriander, aromatic with toasted hazlenuts and pistachios and sweetened with dates, it’s just delicious and particularly good with these fig and ricotta tartines.
This post seems to be full of favourite new recipes so please excuse the superlatives. But hello quince butter…you are incredible! I’ve been making lots of the apple butter below recently, mostly because my kids adore the stuff and Tom, particularly seems to have it on everything from toast at breakfast to yogurt after dinner. And because we have lots of quinces on hand at the moment, thanks to my mother and mother-in-law’s prolific gardens, I’ve been poaching them like crazy. So I thought I’d apply the same idea to one tray of quinces as the apple butter; i.e pureeing then roasting in the oven to thicken up. The result is a smooth, brightly coloured and flavoured butter-free butter.
Use quince butter wherever you’d reach for lemon curd or similar. I think it’s amazing with the mellow, creamy ricotta on these tartines but it’s also great with yogurt, and, we discovered yesterday, on toasted banana bread.
4-6 quinces, peeled, cored and cut into quarters (reserve the cores)
2 cups sugar
1 tbsp vanilla paste
1 cinnamon stick
First you need to poach your quinces. So to do this, start by preheating the oven to 150C. Combine the sugar, lemon, vanilla and cinnamon in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring so the sugar dissolves. then let simmer for a few minutes. Meanwhile, arrange the quince pieces in a deep baking tray, all in one layer (try not to pile them on top of each other as they may break up while cooking). Don’t worry if they colour a little, this won’t affect the end result at all. Tie the cores together in a piece of muslin if you have it, and add to the tray (I never seem to have any muslin on hand so just scatter a few cores over the top of the quinces then fish them out later). This serves to add colour and pectin to the fruit while cooking.
Pour the sugar syrup over the quinces and cover tightly with foil. Place in the oven for 3-4 hours or until the quinces have turned a ruby-red colour and are deliciously aromatic.
Let them cool a little then tip into a food processor, syrup and all, and blitz until really smooth. Pour the pureed quince back into your baking tray, and return (uncovered) to the oven for a further hour. This will really thicken things up nicely and, I think, intensify the flavour too. Stir every 20 minutes to make sure the bottom doesn’t burn at all. Transfer to jars and seal, then keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks.
8 large cooking apples
2 cups water
2 tsp vanilla paste
1/2 cup golden caster sugar
*You don’t really need to bother with this step if rushing, it just makes for a slightly smoother, less ‘green’ coloured sauce in the end but I often leave the peel on and the end result is just as delicious.
So, once you have all the elements in place, just make up some nice strong tea, set a table outside if possible and have a beautiful Autumn brunch. I can’t think of a yummier way to ring in the new season. x