In a wretched year, brief moments of joy are to be cherished all the more. Today, cold, damp and dealing with a blanket of sodden leaves in the garden, I catch the smell of baking apples coming through the open kitchen door. A hint of fruit slowly building to a froth and the scent of browning butter and sugar which, albeit briefly, puts my world to rights. A dish of small, rosy dessert apples whose sweetness intensifies in the oven, which we will eat with homemade blackberry and apple ice-cream. The ice-cream will melt slowly over the fruit, forming a blissful, apple-scented puddle lying in wait at the bottom of our dishes.
The recipe is simple. Stewed apples, stirred through homemade custard, then frozen. I have an ice-cream machine, which hums away insistently, like a trapped bee, while I prepare dinner, but the ice-cream can be made easily enough without a machine. Even before I set foot in the kitchen, I’m thinking of the moment the cold ice-cream will meet the blisteringly hot apple.
Pudding will come as something of a balm after a punchy little fish dish. Halibut steaks, cut through the bone, have spent an hour or two in a marinade of yogurt, green chillies, garlic and ginger, ready to be grilled until their edges blacken in the heat. The fish will be finished with a dressing of chopped spring onions, mint, more green chilli and lemon juice. A moment of joy indeed.
Halibut with yogurt and spring onions
A thick fish steak – hake, halibut or salmon – cut through the bone is good here, but you could use a thick cut from the fillet, too. I plan on pieces about 200g in weight. Marinade for a couple of hours. I wouldn’t leave it much longer, though, as the flesh can become woolly. On the side, perhaps some lightly sautéed cabbage or green beans. Serves 4
halibut or hake steaks 4, thick
For the marinade:
natural yogurt 200ml
ginger 1 x 45g piece
garlic 2 cloves
green chillies 2, medium-sized
cornflour 1 tbsp
coriander leaves 20g
spring onions 6
olive oil 6 tbsp
mint leaves 15
parsley leaves a handful
green chilli 1, mild
Put the yogurt in a large mixing bowl then stir in 50ml of cold water. Grate the ginger to a purée, finely slice the garlic, then stir both into the yogurt.
Finely chop the green chilli, then stir into the yogurt with the cornflour and finely chopped coriander. Grind in a little black pepper then submerge the fish into the marinade and set aside for an hour.
Line a grill pan with foil. Get an overhead (oven) grill hot. Place the fish on the foil without removing too much of the marinade and leaving plenty of space between the pieces. Place under the grill and cook for approximately 10 minutes, watching carefully. (The exact time will depend on the thickness of your fish.) You want a little colour on the yogurt, but without overcooking the fish underneath.
Finely chop the spring onions and put them in a pan with half the olive oil. Cook over a moderate heat until soft. Remove from the heat. Finely chop the mint, parsley and the green chilli, then add to the onions. Squeeze the lemon and add the juice to the mixture, then stir in the rest of the olive oil and a little salt.
As the fish becomes ready, lift on to warm plates then spoon over the spring onion dressing.
Baked apples, blackberry and apple ice-cream
I suggest baking dessert apples for their contrast with the sharpness of the ice-cream. If you have a farmers’ market you may get Howgate Wonder or even Peasgood’s Nonsuch – surely worth buying for the name alone. Serves 4
For the ice-cream:
sharp cooking apples 1 kg
golden caster sugar 200g
single or whipping cream 400ml
egg yolks 4
blackberries a handful
For the baked apples:
dessert apples 8, medium-sized
caster sugar 2 tbsp
butter a little
To make the ice-cream, peel, core and slice the apples. Put them in a saucepan with half the sugar and stew over a low heat (they need no water, but keep an eye on them so they don’t burn.) Once a little juice has formed, cover and simmer gently for 15-20 minutes, stirring from time to time. Mash with a fork and cool.
Bring the cream to the boil and remove from the heat. Beat the egg yolks and remaining sugar, then stir in the hot cream. Rinse the saucepan – really important – and return the custard to it, stirring over a low heat until it thickens slightly. Cool quickly by plunging the pan into ice-cold water, stirring constantly.
Mix the custard with the mashed apples and churn in an ice-cream maker until almost frozen. Drop in the blackberries and churn briefly until the berries start to break up. Scrape into a freezer box and place in the deep freeze.
If you don’t have an ice-cream machine, pour into a plastic freezer box, cover and freeze for 1 hour. Remove and beat, then return to the freezer. Repeat three or four times.
Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Score each apple around the horizon with a small knife – to stop them exploding – then place in a baking dish. Bake for 30-50 minutes depending on their size. Dot with butter and sprinkle with sugar, then return for a further 10 minutes until glossy.
Serve the apples hot, with blackberry and apple ice-cream on the side.
Follow Nigel on Twitter @NigelSlater