Marmellata di Albiocche
by gina depalma
It is August, and New York State-grown apricots are in season, finally. In tandem, the apricots, or albiocche, of the Val Venosta of Alto Adige are also ripening in the orchards surrounding Bolzano. Knowing this simultaneously excites and comforts me; the apricots I have on my own menu now are probably also popping up on menus in the bustling, cosmopolitan city, the glittering gateway to the Dolomites with a decidedly European feel. This part of Italy nurtures its connection with neighboring Austria with a harmonious blend of Tirolean and Italian culture and cuisine.
The apples and stone fruits grown in the Val Venosta are a particular source of Tirolean pride. Five different varieties are produced here, in colors that range from pale yellow to blushing coral; all are rich in Vitamins A and C, iron and folic acid. In the Sudtirol, cooks like to encase their local apricots in strudels, strew them across sweet crepes, bake them into rich, egg-y breads, and turn them into pots of fragrant jams and jellies.
I’ve always believed that apricots are the perfect fruit – perhaps above all others – for cooking, which allows the floral notes and natural sugars to develop and intensify to their full potential. I love to poach apricot halves gently with honey, vanilla bean, or lavender, the juices melding with the flavors and forming the perfect sauce for custard or gelato. But my favorite way of cooking apricots is to make a simple pot of apricot jam; as soon as our local apricots appear on the scene, I rush to preserve their deep golden-pink color for a winter’s morning cheer. Apricot jam is the easiest flavor to make; even a beginner cook can turn a few pounds of raw fruit into something quite special.
My apricot jam only contains four ingredients: fresh apricots, sugar, pectin and lemon juice. There is no need for a candy thermometer or any special equipment. Just simmer the fruit; skim off any foam that rises to the top, and when the color and fragrance reach their zenith, pour into sterilized jars. I always transfer a bit of jam immediately to a small bowl; as soon as it cools, I reach for some bread and soft butter or triple-cream cheese for instant apricot satisfaction.
Here’s a quick and small recipe that will make a few jars of jam, depending on the size. You can easily double or triple the quantities if you are lucky to be in an area where fresh apricots are abundant.
Place the quartered apricots in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. In a medium bowl, combine the sugar and pectin and add it to the pot with the lemon juice. Place the pan over medium heat and stir with a wooden spoon to moisten the sugar.
As the sugar melts and the apricots begin to break down, stir to prevent any scorching. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Cook the jam, stirring often. Skim off any foam that forms on the top.
The jam is done when it is fragrant and thickened somewhat, after about ten minutes of a low, steady simmering and stirring. It should mound slightly when spooned onto a cool plate.
Spoon the jam into sterilized jars and process in a boiling water bath if necessary, for long-term storage.