If you like fruit cobblers or brown betty, you'll love this recipe. I did, however, start to run into trouble with Jamie Oliver's loosey-goosey style here.
The end results were delicious, but the road getting there wasn't always smooth. Oliver seems to write as though he's got every confidence in the world that the reader can fill in the blanks or figure things out for themselves. If you're a novice in the kitchen, Oliver's recipes may at times make you feel as though you're rowing without a paddle. If you're an experienced cook, you'll probably be able to make the necessary mental adjustments, but it can be annoying to have to figure out exactly what size baking dish you'll need, or how much a "knob" of butter might be.
I ran into some problems with technique in this stewed fruit recipe. Oliver has the cook make a compote on the stovetop, and he instructs you to add the peaches and plums with their skins still on and pits intact. You're supposed to cook it until the fruit is tender, and then "when done, remember to remove the skins and pits from the peaches and plums." So what I have is a saucepan full of hot fruit and really hot sugar syrup, and I'm supposed to, what? Reach in with a spoon? Tongs? And then what? Pull the skins off and somehow grab the pits? Or am I supposed to drain the fruit from the syrup and then peel and pit it? While it's all still really, really hot? And then put it back into the syrup?
None of these questions are answered. I ended up draining the syrup off, peeling and pitting the fruit (burning my fingers and cursing like a sailor), then adding the two back together. This is not the best way. I realize that Oliver is trying to minimize labor by having the cook make the compote this way, but it doesn't work. I recommend that you blanch the stone fruit first, then peel it, pit it, and slice it up. Then you can cook it in the sugar syrup. The other method is just too messy and frustrating.
The crumble recipe doesn't bother to instruct the cook that the butter needs to be at room temperature before it can be rubbed together with flour to make a sort of streusel. Again, an experienced cook will be able to figure this out, but for the novice, a frustrating attempt at rubbing together cold butter and flour could be in the offing, since Oliver assumes you already know how to make a crumb topping. The recipe says to bake the crumble in the oven in 4 ovenproof bowls, or to make 1 large crumble if you prefer. But there's no indication of what size bowls or baking dish you might need, so I had to eyeball it. I made the crumble in an approximately 8-by-12-inch oval dish, but it was quite full and nearly bubbled over in the oven. I recommend you use at least a 9-by-13-inch dish, or even a 10-by-15-inch dish. If you opt to divide it into 4 servings, as Oliver recommends, you will have enormous portions. I'd say the yield is closer to 8 servings, so if individual servings are the way you want to go, use 8 bowls. If the topping isn't brown by the time the filling is bubbling, put it under the broiler for a minute or two to get it nice and golden. Watch carefully, since it will burn in a heartbeat.
The stewed fruit didn't thicken up quite as much as I wanted it to, so I added some cornstarch before baking it in the oven. Depending on what kind of fruit you use, and how thick you want it, you may need to add more or less cornstarch. Start with a little; you can always add more if necessary.
The spices that are used to flavor the sugar syrup can be varied. You can use any or all of the spices listed below. Or try lemon zest and ginger, or almond extract, or allspice berries, or a little fruit liqueur or wine. The recipe is infinitely flexible. And it's an excellent way to use fruit that's not quite ripe, since the stewing process will render it nice and tender, and the sugar syrup will sweeten it right up. Fruit suggestions are made below, but you can use whatever's in season and available.
The stewed fruit is one of the "Family Tree" recipes in Jamie's Dinners: master recipes that lend themselves to several different preparations. I used the stewed fruit to make a crumble, one of 5 preparations that Oliver gives. The other 4 recipes that the fruit can used for are listed below.
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: about 40 minutes
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
2 pears, peeled, cored, and sliced into eighths
1 pound rhubarb, OR 2 nectarines, OR 1 pound strawberries, OR 2 apples (peeled, seeded, cored, and sliced), OR whatever fruit is in season/looks good
1 pint raspberries
1 pint blackberries
1 vanilla bean
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
zest of 1/4 of an orange
For the stone fruit (peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines): Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Add the fruit and blanch, about 2 minutes. Drain and plunge the fruit into a large bowl of ice water. Peel, then halve the fruit and remove the pits. Slice into eighths (peaches, nectarines) or quarters (plums, apricots).
For the sugar syrup: In a large, high-sided pot, combine 1 cup plus 1 Tbsp water with the sugar. Score down the length of the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds with a knife. Put the vanilla pod and seeds into the pot. Add other spices and orange zest. Bring to a boil and cook until the liquid is clear, then remove cinnamon, cloves, and star anise. Turn heat down to a simmer and add the firmest fruits (pears, apples, peaches, plums). Cook for about 3 minutes, then add strawberries or rhubarb. Cook until the fruit is tender, about 10 minutes. Add blackberries and raspberries and cook for about 2 minutes. If fruit mixture looks too watery, add cornstarch slurry (mix 1 tsp cornstarch with 1 tsp cold water and dissolve completely). Add more cornstarch mixture if necessary. The fruit should be slightly thickened before you put it in the oven. Turn heat off and let fruit sit in the syrup while preparing the crumble topping.
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
8 Tbsp butter (1 stick), cut into 1-inch cubes and softened at room temperature for about 30 minutes
6 Tbsp sugar
Rub the flour, butter, sugar, and salt together in a medium bowl, using your fingertips. You want a texture similar to coarse cornmeal. Put the stewed fruit in a large (9-by-13-inch, or larger) baking dish. Pour the topping over the fruit and bake at 350 degrees until the filling is bubbling and the topping is golden, about 20 minutes. Serve with vanilla ice cream, sweetened whipped cream, or crème fraîche.
Other "Family Tree" recipe ideas for Stewed Fruit (not tested by me):
Syllabub: Whip 2 1/2 cups heavy cream to form soft peaks. Combine with the stewed fruit and serve in individual glasses or bowls with a little grated orange zest sprinkled on top. Oliver says this serves 4 people, but I think it would yield more like 6 or 8 servings.
On Toast: Toast some thick slices of bread (challah or egg bread would be good choices), then butter and top with some stewed fruit. Crumble some goat cheese or ricotta over the top, and drizzle with a little honey. You can make as many servings as you wish. This sounds like a lovely idea for breakfast or brunch.
Phyllo Pastry Parcels: Defrost a package of frozen phyllo sheets. Keep a damp cloth over them while you're not working with them. Take 2 sheets and brush with melted butter, then stick them together. Cut them into a square 8-by-8 inches and spoon 2 Tbsp of stewed fruit into the middle of the square. Crumble over a little ricotta cheese or cottage cheese and sprinkle on some brown sugar, then bring the sides of the pastry up and squeeze them together to make a little parcel. Repeat with the rest of the phyllo sheets and stewed fruit. Brush the tops with melted butter and bake on a sheet lined with parchment paper at 325 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden and crisp.
With Yogurt: Combine some plain yogurt with stewed fruit, honey, and a scattering of rolled oats or granola.