Triumphs Of Gluttony And A Melody In Major: Plum Creams With Almonds And Amaretti

Scorn­ing the table of drinks, glit­ter­ing with crys­tal and sil­ver on the right, he moved left towards that of the sweet­meats. Huge sor­rel babas, Mont Blancs snowy with whipped cream, cakes speckled with white almonds and green pista­chio nuts, hil­locks of chocolate-covered pastry… a melody in major of crys­tal­lised cher­ries, acid notes of yel­low pine­apple, and green pista­chio paste of those cakes called ‘Tri­umphs of Gluttony’.

The Leo­pard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa.

How could any­one res­ist a cake named ‘tri­umph of glut­tony’ or a heap of cher­ries described as a ‘melody in major’? It was with thoughts of both tri­umph and melody that I whipped up my Plum Cream with Almonds and Amar­etti. I’m still har­vest­ing plums from the broken branches of my cracked and decim­ated plum tree and this tri­umphant melody uses up a whole 600g of them.

Grilling the plums first intens­i­fies their fla­vour as if by magic. The amar­etti bis­cuits add a per­fect bitter-sweetness to the whole con­fec­tion, while being a fit­ting trib­ute to Lampedusa’s Italian her­it­age. Plum Creams deserve a place on Lampedusa’s table, along with the hil­locks of chocol­ate pastry, even if it’s only in the back row.

Plum creams with almonds and amar­etti biscuits

Serves 4–6 depend­ing on your level of gluttony

    • 600g plums
    • 100g vanilla sugar
    • 250g mas­car­pone
    • 100g creme fraiche
    • Hand­ful split almonds, toasted in a dry fry­ing pan until golden
    • 1 amar­etti bis­cuit per serving

Split the plums in half, remov­ing the stones. Place cut side up in a grill pan and sprinkle with the sugar. Toast for five minutes under a mod­er­ate grill until bub­bling. Turn off the heat and leave in the oven for a fur­ther five minutes until slightly golden brown around the edges. Cool a little and then puree in a blender. Drip through a sieve into a bowl to remove any skin. Allow the puree to cool.

Once cool, mix the puree into the mas­car­pone. Use an elec­tric mixer if you’re in a hurry. Stir in the creme fraiche. At this stage you may think it’s not quite sweet enough, but the amar­etti bis­cuits bring more than enough extra sweet­ness to the party. Crumble an amar­etti over each serving, along with a sprink­ling of toasted almonds. Chill in the fridge for an hour or so.

Plums in Sloe Gin — Where Summer Meets Autumn

My favour­ite place to walk is on the Dor­set coast, from the ruined vil­lage of Tyne­ham, through woods car­peted with wild gar­lic in the spring, down to the pebbly beach. The aban­doned cot­tages, empty since the gov­ern­ment com­mand­eered them in 1943, are still stand­ing, but only just. 

Walk­ing there yes­ter­day with the sun shin­ing and the sea a pier­cing blue, it felt like the height of sum­mer. But then I passed bushes clustered with huge, ripe, purple sloes, the fruit of autumn. It’s the time of year when sum­mer seeps away almost imper­cept­ibly. Plums may still be ripen­ing in the sun, but the nour­ish­ing recipes of autumn are start­ing to entice. 

The plum tree I planted last year and which pro­duced pre­cisely eight plums, has been show­ing off like a pre­co­cious baller­ina this year. But as all show-offs dis­cover, they get their come-uppance in the end. Sev­eral of the wildly over­laden branches have snapped beneath the weight of the fruit, leav­ing behind a tree trunk and not much else.

Inspired by the beau­ti­ful purple sloes by the sea, I cooked my sum­mer plums in the autum­nal sloe gin that I made last year. It’s two sea­sons on a plate at once.

Plums Baked in Sloe Gin

Serves 4

800g plums, stones removed

100g vanilla sugar

100ml sloe gin — if you can’t find wild sloes in the hedgerow to make your own gin, it’s pos­sible to buy sloe gin online

Com­bine the fruit, sugar and sloe gin in an oven­proof dish. Cover with foil and bake at 180 degrees C for about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. 

I ate baked plums for break­fast with nat­ural yoghurt and more for lunch on their own. I’ll prob­ably eat them for sup­per too. 

Plums al cartoccio .…and the great vegetable debt

I’m out of veget­able debt at last. For the first time in my life I’ve grown enough of some­thing to give it away. It may sound like noth­ing to those of you who only have to wink at a seed packet for veget­ables to hop out and do their thing. But I’m not one of those people. Remem­ber my miser­able straw­berry har­vest? And my total cour­gette out­put is still stuck at one and a half. But finally, finally I have tomatoes.

The first thing I did was give the toma­toes to my neigh­bours who’ve been more than gen­er­ous with radishes, red spring onions, rhu­barb and cob­nuts this year. Ima­gine how stunned they were to finally get some­thing back from me when they dropped off a bag of apples this morning.

Flushed with suc­cess at finally being veget­able solvent, I also donated two plums from my total crop of eight.

The tree was given to me by friends and quite hon­estly I’m relieved to have coaxed any­thing out of it at all. I cooked the six fruit I had left in a suit­ably grand man­ner, as befits their very rare, vir­tu­ally mythic status. Plums in a designer hand-bag.

Plums Al Cartoccio

Enough for 6

For the Hazel­nut Bis­cuit Base:

50g toasted chopped hazelnuts

200g plain flour

1 table­spoon cocoa powder

I egg yolk

130 g slightly salted but­ter, cut into pieces

60g caster sugar

For the Plums:

9 sweet plums, halved and pitted

1 tea­spoon caster sugar — use 2 if you like your pud­dings on the sweet side

Half tea­spoon five spice powder

100ml sweet pud­ding wine

1 vanilla pod, halved and split

Vanilla ice-cream

Al cartoc­cio’ means ‘in a bag’ but sounds so much bet­ter. Cook­ing plums this way retains their shape and makes the juice extra delicious.

Com­bine all the ingredi­ents for the hazel­nut bis­cuits in an elec­tric mixer. Once they make a dry­ish dough, form the mix­ture into a dumpy roll about 6 cm across, wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for half an hour.

Put the plums in a double layer of sil­ver foil, and bend the edges up all around to make a water-tight boat. Mix the sugar, sweet wine and five spice powder together and pour all over the plums. Add the vanilla pods to the par­cel and pinch the edges together to make a leak-proof bag. Bake in the oven at 175 C for around ten minutes. Open up the bag and put back in the oven for another 5 or 6 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow the plums to sit in the foil, with the liquid. Leave the oven on.

Slice the cold bis­cuit dough into 6 rounds. Don’t worry if it falls to pieces a little. Just press the bis­cuits back into shape with your fin­gers. Place the rounds on bak­ing parch­ment in a tin. Cook in the oven for ten minutes so that they’re still soft to the touch. Remove the bis­cuits from the oven and once cool, place on indi­vidual plates with 3 plums each, a sloosh of the juice all around and a spoon­ful of vanilla ice cream on top. In the spirit of the designer hand­bag, I decided to be a little bit pre­cious and plonk a piece of vanilla pod on top of the whole edi­fice. ‘Neither use nor orna­ment’ my Great Aunt would have said, very briskly. But I like the way it looks, so I’m pre­pared to take the flak.