We have a little bay tree that stands outside of our front door. It was a housewarming present and I love it: its bright, glossy leaves need almost no tending, which for a distinctly non-green-fingered woman, is heaven sent. In an attempt at half-hearted pruning, I find myself throwing bay into almost every dish that passes through my kitchen.
But bay gets a bad rap sometimes, with bay-deniers claiming that there is no discernible flavour from bay in a final dish. I will own up to being a bay-evangelist, so perhaps lack the objectivity to make a nuanced argument in its favour, but it’s a little like adding salt to your food: if a stew or a sauce doesn’t use bay, it may taste fine, if a little bland, instantly forgettable. Add bay to the dish, and everything is slightly elevated, a little rounder and brighter, better.
We tend to think of bay as a savoury herb: chucking it into nutmeg-heavy béchamel sauces and dark, sticky stews. But the leaf works brilliantly in puddings: the initial eucalyptus-y flavour gives way to a quieter, rounder floral scent, sweet and herbal without being astringent. I particularly love bay paired with honey, and it’s fantastic with stone fruit.
Peaches are just coming into season in the UK now: they’re at their best at the end of summer, when full, fat and so soft that at the slightest touch they bruise, well, like a peach. But catch the fruit now, at the beginning of the season, and try roasting them: they’re best roasted when underripe so that as they cook and caramelise and soften they don’t lose their shape or structure. An injection of booze, and a scattering of crumbled, nubbly amaretti biscuits filling the peach’s cavities lifts this pudding into something handsome and impressive.
Serve with a spoonful of fridge-cold crème fraîche if you’re refined, or an enormous blob of tinned custard if, like me, you’re not.
It goes like this…
Roasted peaches with bay, honey and amaretti
Makes: Pudding for 4
Takes: 40 minutes
Bakes: 5 minutes
4 large, underripe peaches
50g salted butter
4 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons marsala wine
4 bay leaves
4 amaretti biscuits, crumbled
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Cut the peaches in half and remove the stones. Place snugly in a baking tin. Cut the butter into 10 even chunks: place one in the hollow of each peach half, and two in the base of the tin.
2. Drizzle the peaches with the honey, and splash the marsala wine into the tin. Tuck the bay leaves in between the peaches. Cover with foil and place in the oven for 20 minutes.
3. Remove the tin foil and baste the peaches generously with the sweet, boozy butter that will have pooled at the bottom of the roasting tin. Return to the oven for another twenty minutes until the fruit is burnished and the flesh is tender, yielding easily under a sharp knife.
4. Serve the fruit in bowls or on plates and drizzle with the sauce at the bottom of the pan. Crush amaretti biscuits and sprinkle with the crumbs.