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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.

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