My mother’s new house in the green flecked paddocks of Berry has an orchard. At my sister’s place, down a thin rough road baby chickens have just hatched. It’s spring in their fields. On the other side of the world the leaves on my stoop have turned. It’s amber and gold underfoot and the air is cold enough to fog the windows in my kitchen.
I’ve been looking for things which take the sting of cold in the air away. Nesting is part of it. Bunking down and making other people come to you for a warm, lazy Sunday afternoon. And then there are the apples.
October is the start of apple season here in the UK. I’m sure for many there are no greater pleasures than munching into a crisp Cox or Discovery. But I’m still recovering from an overdose. Back in the days when all I liked to eat was white apples were chief among my heroes. Crisp, clean, lightly floral and sweet. I’d pack five or six little Braeburn’s into my satchel for school with some bread and eat them constantly throughout the day. If you added some pickles and cheddar you could potentially call it a degustation of ploughman’s. Without, it’s just the hallmarks of a once picky eater.
With the abundance of apples at the moment I can afford to get a little creative . Since I’m looking for any excuse to turn the oven on and banish the chill from the kitchen, baking is one option. When doing this to an eating apple (as opposed to the varieties best suited for cooking) it softens their texture, so they’re easily plundered with a spoon or fork.
Baked apples, stuffed with butter, cinnamon, walnuts, currants and almonds were a favourite pudding of my late Grandmother. She would serve them warm with cold custard, the outsides of the apples as wrinkled as the backs of her hands.
It was 2pm on Sunday afternoon when I fleshed out what I wanted as a starter for friends who were coming for an early dinner. Baked apples taken a savoury route, swaddled in Parma ham and stuffed with goat curd, toasted almonds, hazelnuts and what I could pluck from my balcony. I may not have my sister’s baby chickens or my mother’s orchard outside my window, but I do have a flourishing pot of rosemary and another of lavender. Both of which pair nicely with the fresh clean taste of goat curd and Royal Gala’s.
Six sweet Royal Gala’s were then lopped and hollowed and given a plug of Parma ham to stop the filling falling out. We stuffed them and roasted them in a shallow moat of cider. The reduced liquid made a fine dressing when slaked with a little olive oil.
It was a ray of light on a grey and gloomy Sunday afternoon. Long may the nesting continue.
Baked Savoury Apples
Serves 6 as a starter, with green leaves
Nb, you could use most red apples which have a good crunch and bite for these. Green may prove a little too tart. You could also substitute the goat curd mix for skinned sausage meat for a heartier twist, or swap the goat cheese for blue cheese if you want something richer. The lavender, while not essential at all does add a subtle floral note to the goat cheese, which in turn picks up some of the country-lane-sweetness in a Royal Gala apple.
1 apple corer or melon baller. 1 lasagne dish/baking tray. Aluminium foil.
6 small red eating apples (I used Royal Gala)
8 slices (80 grams) of Parma ham, six cut in half lengthways, the remaining two cut into thirds to create large postage stamp squares.
30 grams of toasted hazelnuts
30 grams of toasted almonds
170 grams of goat curd
1 tbsp finely diced rosemary leaves
Pinch of fennel seeds
Pinch of unsprayed lavender (optional)
200 ml of apple cider or apple juice
Drizzle of olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Handful of salad leaves per person
Here’s how we roll
1) Preheat the oven to 150 C/300 F.
2) Cut the tops off the apples, about a centre below the stem. Set aside (don’t throw out). Use an apple corer or a melon baller to remove the core of the apple and fashion a tunnel about as thick as a wine cork through the centre. You want the walls of the remaining apple to be 1 – 1.5 cm thick. Discard the cores. Then cut a shallow slit around the perimeter of each apple, about 1 cm below the top (this will help the apples not to burst when baking)
3) Take one of the squares of ham, from the two slices that have been cut into thirds. Shimmy the ham down into the bottom of the tunnel and let the corners snake up the sides. You want to create a ‘plug’ for the filling, so it doesn’t fall out the bottom while the apples bake.
4) Combine the chopped nuts with the goat curd, rosemary, fennel seeds and lavender, if you fancy. Add a drizzle of olive oil and mash with a fork to combine.
5) Divide the filling into six and press into the hollows in the apple- being careful not to push out the ham plug at the bottom.
6) Wrap the apples in two sheets of parma ham. Use the fattiest parts as ‘glue’ to help it stick to the fruit. If it really won’t stick you can always use a toothpick.
7) Drizzle the top of each apple with a little olive oil. Pour the cider or apple juice into the base of the baking dish and place the tops of the apples in there too.
8 ) Cover the apples with foil (try not to let the foil touch the filling) and bake for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and turn the oven up to 180 C/350 F and bake for another 20 minutes until the apples are soft and the ham crisp.
9) Serve the apples warm with dressed salad greens and a drizzling of the reduced cider/apple juice at the bottom of the dish.