Apricot stones, when bashed with a pestle and mortar or cracked with nutcrackers, contain a small, slender, almond-like kernel. This kernel has an intense, exaggerated almond flavour. When used sparingly they add a wonderful fragrance to puddings and sweets. They do, however, contain a small amount of a mild poison - amygdalin - so just make sure you don't overdo it. Perhaps you think anything containing any amount of poison should not be used in the kitchen, but there are numerous everyday foodstuffs which contain small amounts, ranging from parsley to nutmeg to almonds. Apart from the wonderful flavour the apricot kernels add to this dish, there is something infinitely satisfying about using the whole fruit.
The apricot and almond are close relations and old friends in the kitchen. Our apricot tree flowers just after the almond. The fruit is one of the early summer stone fruits, appearing at the beginning of June just as the nespole finish. This early summer fruiting is the reason for their name which, like ‘precocious’, derives from the Latin word ‘praecox’.
Apricots have somewhat of a bad reputation in England, and I would never have thought of buying them when I lived there. They were almost always dry, mushy and tasteless, with no scent and a dull, uniformly orange colour.
Here in Sardinia the apricots in our garden are totally new and wondrous beasts. They are painted a myriad of burnished gold and sunset orange, freckled and blushed with rosy specks, and each with a perfect, long cleft down its middle.
The very best way to enjoy an apricot is to pluck it warm and glowing from the tree, breathe in its scent and then tear it in half and eat it. The other best way is this recipe.
Almond & Apricot Kernel Panna Cotta with Poached Apricots
I love a ratio recipe, and there is nothing easier than this.
Easy panna cotta ratio: 1g leaf gelatine sets 100ml liquid
Serves 4 (small espresso-cup-size panna cottas)
200ml good quality double cream
200ml whole milk
100g whole blanched almonds
3 bashed apricot kernels
First lightly toast your almonds. Place on a baking tray in the oven at 180. After 8-10 minutes or so they should be starting to smell a little toasty and changing colour very slightly. Remove them and bash them up a bit, either in a pestle and mortar or with a rolling pin. Take your apricot stones and break them open. Remove the inner kernel and discard the hard shell pieces. Bash the kernels a little to release their flavour then place them in a saucepan with the milk. Warm the milk, cream, sugar & kernels and bring to the boil. Add the toasted almonds and continue at a low simmer on a low heat, stirring all the time. Continue for ten minutes or so until the almond flavour has truly steeped into the liquid. Soak the gelatine in a bowl of cold water for half a minute until completely soft. Shake off the excess water and add to the milk mixture. Stir well to dissolve then strain through a fine sieve.
Decant into espresso cups and put in the fridge to chill for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.
4 apricots, halved and de-stoned
Make a simple syrup with 100ml water, 100g sugar, a strip or two of lemon zest and a glass of Vermentino. Bring to the boil, simmer for a few minutes, then place in the halved apricots and cover. Cook at a simmer for 20 minutes or so until the apricots are completely soft. If you wish you can remove the apricots and reduce the sauce. Check the sauce for sweetness, it should be a little tart to balance the panna cotta.