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We were driving through Majorca a few years ago on a lovely, sunny summer’s day (as if there is any other kind of summer's day in Majorca). We found ourselves driving past rows upon rows of trees laden with brilliant-white blossoms. These were almond orchards, and the gorgeous flowers would soon give way to the green fruits with their delicious, sweet kernels; nuts that have been treasured for millennia.
The almonds we ate in Majorca were so impressive: colossal, crisp and full of flavour. They have long been cultivated in the area and around the Mediterranean. Over the years, they have found their way in various guises into all sorts of different dishes in Mediterranean cuisine.
I love to eat a few toasted, salted almonds on their own, to really savour the flavour, though I wouldn't say no to a chilled glass of fino sherry, too! The whole nuts are good in salads, stir-fries or even chopped into soups.
When ground to a fine powder, almonds make an incredibly useful ingredient. They can replace the flour in cakes for a more moist and delicate sponge. The Spanish make a simple almond cake that is a wonderful expression of the almond’s flavour, but my recipe on the opposite page adds chocolate for a richer take on the dish. It's also especially divine with the sweet, boozy brandy cream.
Pear and almond is a classic combination beloved of both Italian and French cooks. This tart is an especially handy recipe, as you don't need to make pastry. Instead of pears, I also like to make this tart with two peaches — perfect for a warm summer's day. This no-pastry tart uses ground almonds as well as flaked almonds, which are lightly browned in the oven to really enhance their flavour.
Of course, almonds make for a fabulous addition to savoury dishes, often combined with a little spice. This chicken dish is so easy to make and is handy if you're cooking for lots of people. The paste can be made a few days in advance and kept in the fridge, or even in the freezer, where it will keep for up to three months. It makes for a refreshingly easy supper — just heat up the paste again, then add the chicken, lemon juice and coriander. Serve simply with boiled rice.