Got ‘Cots? It’s Pickin’ Time

Cooking, Recipes By May 09, 2012

A rosy blush adorns one cheek. It graces the downy orange-gold skin, promising apricot lovers that, inside, the fruit is fragrant and flavorful.

At its tree-ripened best, the juicy flesh has the look of deep-pile velvet; the taste, enhanced by flowery perfume, is a perfect balance of sweet and tart.

Robert Schueller, the produce guru at Melissa’s, says that Monstercots (apricots that are twice the size of traditional ‘cots), are being harvested in California as of 2 days ago.  Most Monstercots go to the restaurant industry.

Not to worry. Glorious apricots will be in the marketplace any day. I say, bring ’em on!

Apricot Custard Tart, oh my: Here’s my simplified version of pastry chef Emily Luchetti’s classic dessert. Fresh apricot wedges cook their way to paradise in an almond-topped mixture of sugar, cream and egg yolks (see recipe).

I substituted refrigerated store-bought crust, but purists are welcome to make it from scratch. Either way, the apricots are the star.

‘Cots ‘n’ fowl: By themselves, boned and skinned chicken breasts can taste rather bland. Add some quickly sauteed apricots and things can get interesting, especially if you include an easy wine reduction sauce with lime zest, chili and ginger (see recipe).

Think-twice rice pairs beautifully with the chicken: Prepare pilaf by heating 2-3 tablespoons butter (or a combination of butter and canola oil) in large saucepan on medium- high heat; add 1 cup raw long-grain rice and 1/4 cup diced red onion. Lightly brown, stirring frequently. Add 2 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth; bring to boil. Cover and reduce heat to low; cook 17 minutes. Remove lid and toss in 1/2 cup diced fresh pitted apricots, 1 tablespoon minced fresh basil and 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts. Taste; add salt, pepper as needed.

Chicken Breasts With Apricots, Ginger and Lime Zest
Yield: 4 servings
2 teaspoons butter
4 ripe apricots, pitted, cut in half if small, quartered if large
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 (about 6 ounces each) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon finely minced fresh ginger
3 green onions, thinly sliced, white part only (reserve dark green part for garnish, if desired)
1 teaspoon very finely minced lime zest (colored part of peel only)
1 medium jalapeno chili, seeded, minced; see cook’s notes
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 to 2 tablespoons maple syrup or sugar-free maple syrup
Garnish: 1/3 cup toasted slivered almonds; see cook’s notes
Optional garnish: Finely sliced fresh chives
Cook’s notes: Use caution when working with fresh chilies. Upon completion wash hands and work surface thoroughly; do NOT touch face or eyes.
To toast almonds, place in single layer on baking sheet. Roast in 350-degree oven 2-3 minutes. Watch carefully because nuts burn easily.

1. In large nonstick skillet, melt butter on medium-high heat. Add apricots, cut-side down. Cook until lightly browned, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat; set aside.
2. In another large nonstick skillet, heat oil on medium-high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper; add to skillet in single layer. Cook until nicely browned, about 4 minutes. Turn with tongs. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until chicken is cooked throughout and no pink color remains, about 9 minutes. Transfer chicken to plate.
3. To skillet used for chicken, add ginger, green onion, zest and chili; cook on medium heat about 30 seconds. Add wine and bring to boil, scraping up brown bits at bottom of pan. When wine has reduced to about 1/4 cup, add syrup and stir. Taste and add more salt and/or pepper as needed. Add chicken to reheat about 1 minute; add apricots and reheat just long enough to barely get them hot.
4. Place chicken on serving plate. Spoon sauce on top. Garnish with apricots, toasted almonds, and either sliced green portion of green onion or chives. Serve.
Nutritional information (per serving): Calories 440 (35 percent from fat); fat 17 g; protein

Apricot Custard Tart
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
1 baked 10 1/2-inch tart shell; see cook’s notes
About 5 ripe apricots (13 ounces), pitted
1 cup sugar
2 large egg yolks
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup slice almonds
Cook’s notes: To save time, use store-bought refrigerated pie crust, such as Pillsbury Pie Crusts (15-ounce package) or the equivalent at Trader Joe’s. There are 2 round sheets of dough in package. Press 1 into 10 1/2-inch tart pan with removable bottom (the one I use is a little deeper than the most common sized pan), folding over edge to reinforce sides with a double layer of dough. If it seems scrimpy, cut wedge from second sheet of dough in package and patch it in place where needed, pushing to seal. Or prepare pie crust from scratch. To bake, cover dough with sheet of waxed paper or parchment paper; add pie weights or uncooked beans or rice. Bake in 350-degree oven 15 minutes. Remove paper and weights. Bake additional 8 minutes, or until golden brown.

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place baked tart shell on baking sheet; set aside.
2. Cut apricots into wedges about 3/4-inch thick; arrange in tart shell.
3. In medium bowl, combine sugar, yolks and cream. Whisk until combined. Stir in flour and salt. Carefully pour mixture over apricots. Sprinkle almonds over top.
4. Bake until custard is almost completely set, about 35 to 40 minutes. Best served slightly warm or at room temperature the same day it’s baked.
Nutritional information (per serving, assuming 8 servings): Calories 221(49.6 percent from fat); fat 12.2 g; protein 5.8 g; carbohydrates 21.8 g; fiber 1.7 g; sodium 252 mg; calcium 84 mg.
Source: adapted from “Four-Star Desserts” by Emily Luchetti (Harper Collins, $32.50)

Apricot and Mixed Berry Cobbler
Yield: 8 servings
Butter for greasing pan
For fruit:
2 1/2 pounds ripe apricots, pitted, halved if small, quartered if large
2 cups mixed berries, such as blueberries, blackberries and raspberries
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
3 to 4 tablespoons cornstarch depending on juiciness of fruit
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Biscuit topping:
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar for sprinkling
For serving: Ice cream
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease shallow 2-quart baking dish with butter; set aside.
2. Prepare filling: Place apricots in large bowl. Add berries, sugar, cornstarch and lemon juice. Use rubber spatula to gently toss until sugar and cornstarch are evenly distributed. Don’t be overly aggressive at this point or you will bruise fruit. Set aside.
3. Prepare biscuit topping: In separate large bowl, sift flour, sugar, salt and baking powder; stir with fork to blend. Use pastry cutter or 2 knives to cut in butter until largest lumps are about pea-sized (or combine dry ingredients in food processor and pulse once or twice, then add butter and pulse until largest lumps are pea-sized and transfer to bowl). 4. Give fruit one more gentle stir. Spoon into prepared dish, scraping juices, sugar and starch from bottom of bowl over fruit. Spread fruit to fill pan evenly.
5. Combine milk, cream and vanilla; pour over flour mixture. Use fork to stir for first few strokes, then use clean hands to gently rub liquid into flour mixture. Dough should be wet and sticky. Pinch off egg-sized lumps of gooey dough and drop onto fruit, eventually covering most of surface. A few little cracks between biscuits is fine (juices will bubble up in cracks and look beautiful). Sprinkle with 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar.
6. Bake in preheated oven 50 to 60 minutes or until juices from fruit are bubbling vigorously through cracks between biscuit topping and topping is puffed and golden. Cool on wire rack for at least 25 minutes before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature, alone or with scoop of vanilla ice cream. Nutritional information (per serving without ice cream): Calories 469 (60 percent from fat); fat 31.2 g; protein 25 g; carbohydrates 29.1 g; fiber 1.2 g; sodium 368 mg; calcium 20 mg.
Source: Adapted from “In The Sweet Kitchen” by Reagan Daley (Artisan, $35)

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