'I am a little prone to romantic illusions and imagine our pheasants wandering around a quince orchard, but Colin advised me that the pheasants would peck at the fruit as it ripened, so there had to be a little adjustment to my dream' writes Maggie Beer in her book, Maggie's Farm. 'They inspire me so! Their look as a fruit, the beauty of the blossom and the diversity of uses of this often ignored fruit seem to me to be the essence of the country.'
Oh Maggie, I am so with you on this. Quinces are one of my favourite autumn fruits and not only are they a pretty sight on a kitchen table, they smell and taste divine, and are versatile too. Indeed, quinces can be used in a range of sweet or savoury dishes, or made into paste, jelly or jam. They can also be pickled, and make a lovely accompaniment to lamb.
In their bestselling cookbook, Jerusalem, Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi share a recipe for 'lamb-stuffed quince with pomegranate and coriander'. In that recipe, the quinces are halved and hollowed out with a melon baller. The flesh is cooked with lamb mince and spices, then stuffed back into the quince shell and slow-cooked. Or, they suggest that the mince is made into meatballs and cooked in the sauce alongside the diced quince. Yum.
My version of the recipe calls for diced lamb, which is cooked with the segmented fruit. Over time, it has become a favourite on my repertoire and, to my surprise, Peter loves it too. I like to use Buderim baby stem ginger in the dish, in place of fresh ginger, as it adds another depth of sweetness.
SLOW-COOKED LAMB WITH QUINCE AND POMEGRANATE
2-3 good sized quinces
juice of a lemon
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 small onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
6 cardamom pods, slightly crushed
600g diced lamb
2 tablespoons Buderim baby stem ginger*, chopped
1 teaspoon allspice
2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses
2 teaspoons sugar
500mls vegetable stock
1 bird's eye chilli, chopped (optional)
sea salt and cracked black pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon fresh coriander leaves, chopped, to garnish
seeds from half a pomegranate, to garnish
Peel and core the quinces, and cut the fruit into large chunks, then pop them into a Pyrex bowl filled with acidulated water from the lemon. This will stop the flesh turning brown.
Heat the olive oil in a heavy-based pan (I use my enamelled cast iron oval roaster). Saute the onion and garlic over a medium-low heat until softened, then add the diced lamb and cook, stirring until nicely browned (turn up the heat a little if need be). Next, add the cardamom pods, ginger, allspice, pomegranate molasses, sugar, stock and chilli if using. Stir well. Now add the quince pieces. Lower the heat, pop on the lid and simmer gently for 40-50 minutes, until the lamb is tender, the quince is soft and the sauce reduced. Season to taste with the salt and pepper. Serve with steamed basmati rice and garnish with the coriander and pomegranate seeds. Serves 4.
*Use two teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger if baby stem ginger is not available.
Tell me dear readers, which fruits or vegetables take centre stage in your kitchen with the change of the seasons? And do you adore quinces as much as I do?
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.