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   Sunshine in the Kitchen
   and Summer on the Tongue

   by Nigella Lawson

  Fruit is so wonderful in its natural state that you really need a good reason to cook it. When fruit is less than perfect, for instance, it may require culinary improvement to be made palatable. When fruit is perfect, however, this round of recipes can amplify its essential fruitiness to sensational levels.

  A peach picked at the peak of its luscious freshness is a great joy in itself, but all too often the peaches I find in stores are disappointingly sour and less than gloriously peachy. In this instance, though, there is a remedy: cut the peaches in two, poach them in sugared water with a vanilla bean and some lemon juice, and serve with good vanilla ice cream. Drizzle an easily made processor-purée of raspberries over the top and you will see why God (in the form of Escoffier) invented peach melba.

  There is something truly transformational about this fragrant poaching process. What's more, the peaches leach their summery fruitiness into the syrup itself, so make sure you do not throw away the liquid once the peaches are cooked. Either wait until the syrup has cooled and freeze it for poaching another batch of fruit later, or reduce it by half, allowing it to bubble away until it is a rich, thick coral-tinted syrup. You can cool this sauce, stick it in a jar in the fridge and pour it over vanilla ice cream whenever you like. Similarly, you can purée the raspberries, sieve them and serve them as a simple, vibrantly tinted sauce for ice cream without the poached fruit.

  But come on! At least once, you must try this great, classic original. The mellow floweriness of the fruit, the cool, soothing sweet vanilla of the ice cream and the acid-edged intensity of the berry purée add up, on the plate, to something truly spectacular and reassuringly unfussy. It is an ice cream sundae of an entirely superior kind.

  Now, I love cheesecake and I love mangoes, the mangoes best eaten in their natural state, and preferably in the bath. But the two together make a dessert that manages to be both comforting and elegant. The scented flesh of the fruit does more than add to the taste of the cheesecake: it transforms the texture, too. This mango cheesecake reminds me of those light French fruit-mousse tarts, with their glassy, mirrored tops. And the color! The radiant, golden yellow is instant sunshine in the kitchen, just as the taste is summer on the tongue.

  Dealing with a mango in the kitchen is always messy, but the best way to turn the flesh into purée is to hold each mango over the bowl of the food processor and cut into it so that one of the cheeks falls away and into the bowl. This way, you can catch the juices in the food processor. Do the same on the other side — that is to say, turn the other cheek — and then retrieve both from the processor and cut or scrap the flesh with a knife, letting it fall back into the bowl, and discarding the skin. (You may find this easier to do by using your knife to score right through the fruit, then across it, at intervals, so that you have lots of little dice; then cut along against the skin so the orange cubes fall off. Then, holding the still fruity pit, hack at the wedges that cling to it with a knife so that they too fall into the processor.) In any event, the scent that wafts up even before you have turned on the motor is heavenly in its intensity.

  I come from the country of strawberries and cream, England, and am addressing readers who live in a nation devoted to strawberry shortcake. It takes some nerve to suggest a deviation from either dish. But trust me: deep red, perfectly ripe berries, given a shiny slick from being left to macerate for five minutes with a teaspoon of sugar, sing a persuasive song when placed on top of a thick yellow oozing layer of crème pâtissière, itself spread on top of what is, in effect, a jellyroll sponge that has been left unrolled.

  And crème pâtissière is not hard to make. With an ordinary custard, the prospect of its splitting is ever-present, but the flour in the confectioners' custard makes it thicken easily and without danger.

  What's more, you can make it in advance, cover it (as explained in the recipe) and stash it in the fridge until needed. The sponge, however, needs to be eaten on the day it is made, and the berries spooned on top at the very last minute. This is not an instant dessert, I know, but it is an unforgettable one, the perfect marriage between texture and taste.

  • Recipe: Peach Melba
  • Recipe: Mango Cheesecake
  • Recipe: Strawberry Cream Slice

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