I grew up in a rather eclectic household in England, cooking and eating a kaleidoscope of foods from around the world. The combination of fruit with savory foods was not all that unusual: prosciutto and melon from Italy, roasted pork with apples and prunes from Denmark, game with berries, and all manner of sweet condiments and wine accompanying cheese from England and France.
Eating savory dishes with fruit was not restricted to our kitchen as the vibrant ethnic food scene in London provided a multitude of opportunities to delve into the foods of North Africa and the Mediterranean basin such as Moroccan lamb tajines strewn with the sweet tang of apricots; Indian curries scented with mangoes and spices; myriad Thai dishes of meat, poultry and fish in coconut milk; and countless Turkish, Armenian, Greek, Lebanese and Syrian dishes that were festooned with pomegranates, dates and preserved lemons. It was a riot of flavors, and I thought I had discovered something new. Of course I did nothing of the sort as this type of sweet and savory cooking has been cultivated for millennia in all parts of the globe.
Centuries ago, cooking fruit in savory dishes was also common practice in Northern Europe. Elizabethan cookery books are full of recipes that pair heavily spiced poultry, game and even fish dishes with fresh and dried fruit. Some of those dishes and pairings have survived the passage of time to become part of a country’s culinary lexicon, such as English mince pies, Italian mostarda di frutta, and French canard Ã l’orange. The latter, the crisp roasted duck with a silky buttery sauce, became an iconic dish epitomizing the essence of gastronomic French cooking. The famed chef Marie-Antoine CarÃ¨me prepared it for illustrious heads of state such as the Czar in Russia and the Prince Regent in England. It was a fixture on most traditional French restaurant menu’s and home cooks slaved over this dish as the showpiece of many a dinner party. My family was no exception.
That dish - canard a l’orange - featured prominently throughout my childhood. My brother and I loved it. On one memorable occasion my mother and a visiting friend (a passionate foodie) from Massachusetts toiled for 72 hours to create a duck a l’orange to end all duck a l’orange. Little did we know that it would be the last roasted duck with oranges that my mother would ever make! Perhaps it was the three types of liqueurs the recipe called for, or the liters of Sauce Espagnole made from reduced brown poultry stock, the required duck trimmings, the special liaisons, the caramel or the zested-juiced-sectioned-julienned-blanched oranges that put the kybosh on her ever wanting to make it again. The elaborate dish was served with much pomp, ceremony and applause the night of the dinner party. People talked about it for months.
The memory of that dish lingered. Unfortunately (or fortunately for my mother) dishes that become culinary fads fall out of favor – this one was no exception, tumbling so far down the cooks need-to-know repertoire as to be considered old fashioned or as Gordon Ramsey put it on Kitchen Nightmares, ‘it’s the culinary equivalent of flared trousers’. Ouch.
Here’s the thing though – I LIKE canard a l’orange. For my brother and I, this dish holds the sweet kind of food memory that people have for a favorite pie at Thanksgiving.
When I started working on my new book, which delves into cooking with fruit in both sweet and savory recipes, it occurred to me that I could resurrect this old family favorite. Oddly, as I started tinkering with the dish, I realized just how much my cooking and tastes had changed over the intervening years living in California. It’s much leaner, lighter fare, reflective of our Mediterranean climate and draws from the bounty of the farmers market, with simple preparations and no heavy sauces – so would it work? The result is an homage to the past with freshly roasted citrus and crispy duck. Same flavors – different technique and you won’t need to spend three days in the kitchen!
My mother came over for dinner and tasted the new dish and smiled. We reminisced about cooking in the old kitchen in London and that whenever she sees our friend from Massachusetts somebody will say ‘Remember the day we made that incredible duck!’
Grilled Pear and Roasted Kale Salad (Recipe from my new book Les Fruits: Savory and Sweet Recipes from the Market Table)
This dish combines one of my favorite dark green leafy vegetables with scrumptious pears. The kale cooks in just a few minutes and whilst it’s in the oven, you can grill the pears. It’s easy, hearty and filled with all those vitamins, nutrients and fiber that everyone says you should eat. But, the best reason to eat this salad is because it’s good and the grilled pears are a treat!
Makes 8 servings
2 large bunches curly leaf kale, rinsed and sliced into 1/2-inch wide strips, very thick
1 bunch green onions, ends trimmed and then thinly sliced
Salt and black pepper
3 firm ripe pears (Anjou work well), peeled and sliced vertically into eighths
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Crumbled blue cheese or feta (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 350°.
2. Place the kale and green onions onto a large sheet pan or into a large shallow baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle a little salt and 5–6 grinds of pepper on top. Place in the center of the oven and roast for 8 minutes.
3. While the kale is cooking, toss the pear slices with just enough olive oil to coat them. Add a large pinch of salt and 3–4 grinds of pepper. Toss gently.
4. Heat a grill pan or cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, grill the pear slices for 2 minutes on each side, taking care to keep them intact.
5. As soon as the kale is cooked, place it in a large salad bowl and pour the lemon juice on top. Add the pear slices and sprinkle the entire dish with the lemon zest. Serve while still warm.
Herbed Lemon Rice with Romanesco Broccoli
his dish came about because of a photographic assignment given by my son’s sixth grade teacher, Cyd, my passion for mathematics, and our mutual interest in Leonardo Fibonacci, whose mathematical number sequence is reflected in nature, particularly in plants, flowers and vegetables. My son set about looking for patterns in nature and found all sorts—from pine cones to tree rings and in Romanesco broccoli. I was thrilled with the broccoli as it is stunning to look at. My son was less thrilled. He photographed the tree rings. I got the broccoli and was delighted to make a salad that kept its shape and the integrity of Fibonacci’s sequence intact.
Makes 8 servings as an accompaniment
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 shallots, peeled and chopped
6 green onions, sliced
1 preserved lemon, finely chopped
1 small head Romanesco broccoli, broken into very small florets
Salt and black pepper
2 cups basmati rice, cooked
3 tablespoons chives, finely chopped
2 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped
2 tablespoons dill, finely chopped
1/2 cup pistachios
1. Combine the lemon zest and juice with 2 tablespoons olive oil in a small bowl. Set aside.
2. Pour 1 tablespoon olive oil into a large skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and green onions and cook until the shallots are lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Stir frequently. Add the preserved lemon and cook for 1 more minute.
3. Add the broccoli florets and the lemon-olive oil mixture. Cook for 5–6 minutes. Stir frequently. The florets should be just slightly golden. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Combine the cooked rice, chives, cilantro and dill in a medium-sized serving bowl. Add the cooked broccoli mixture and stir. Top with pistachios just before serving.
Duck Ã l’Orange with Watercress (Recipe from my new book Les Fruits: Savory and Sweet Recipes from the Market Table)
This is a more rustic version of the classic duck a l’orange.
Makes 8 servings
8 duck legs, trimmed of any excess fat
16 sprigs thyme
Coarse sea salt and black pepper
4 oranges, peeled and sliced into disks
4 blood oranges, peeled and sliced into disks
2 bunches baby watercress
1. Preheat the oven to 400°.
2. Place the orange slices on a baking pan, overlapping them slightly. Drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Set aside.
3. Place the duck legs on a sheet pan and carefully score the skin, cutting slightly into the meat. Insert a sprig of thyme into each incision. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt and some black pepper. Roast on the middle rack of the oven for 30 minutes.
4. Reduce oven temperature to 350°. Place the pan with the oranges in the oven on a rack below the duck. Continue roasting the duck and oranges for 30 minutes.
5. To serve, place the orange slices on a serving platter. Place the roasted duck on top of the oranges. Tuck the watercress between the duck legs.
Citrus Salad with Lemon-Lavender Syrup (Recipe from my new book Les Fruits: Savory and Sweet Recipes from the Market Table)
This is a delightfully refreshing salad to serve at the end of a warm winter meal.
Makes 8 servings
6 oranges, different varieties if possible, peeled and sliced into disks
6 blood oranges, peeled and sliced into disks (if blood oranges are not available, you can substitute other varieties)
Juice of 1 Meyer lemon
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon fresh lavender flowers
1 tablespoon sugar
1. Arrange the orange slices on a large platter, alternating the different varieties.
2. Combine the lemon juices, water, lavender flowers and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until syrupy, about 3–4 minutes.
3. Pour the syrup through a strainer over the fruit.