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A thoughtful blend of original ‪‎photography‬, ‪haiku‬ and ‪calligraphy‬; a cathartic journey upon fluid images and simple words.

15 Jul 2011

Apricots and tuna, the sun and the sea

Apricots Red-tuna salad in benzaldehyde vinaigrette

The past days have been again pretty devoided of any creativeness of sparkle.
Don't get me wrong, give me some nice ingredients, challenge me with a "I will never ever eat XX with YY" and I will be more than happy to try and change your mind creating a nice recipe for your palate. The hardest part I found these days to be writing the forewords to the recipe itself.

I have been made you used to have often almost a novel preceding the recipe itself. Being it a story telling or more often educational in nature, I like to have a deeper drive to my posts than simply "XX and YY go quite well together, try this recipe". This actually could be another nice series of pithy posts but I am not sure how you would receive them; leave me a comment and let me know please.

Call it the crazy weather, the lack of sun or of farmers’ market strolls, the result is that I haven't had any summer fruits till this week. Summer is the best fruit seasons for me. Peaches are above all my most beloved fruits of the whole year but they somehow need a warm weather, sun and breeze to be enjoyed at best.
This post is actually about apricots since I haven't find nice peaches out there yet.

I bought a nice basket of them at the local grocery store last day, and I was expecting them to be mostly sour and crunchy; instead I was surprised by their delicate sweetness and silky texture with a just a little bite to them.
Their bright orange color kissed on one side by a deep ruby blush just screamed summer, seaside, open air. It reminded me of Sicily and of those family lunches at our favorite fish restaurant by the sea in Acitrezza.

Aci Trezza's Port

Incidentally I have had the luck to receive a series of products that a new and valuable little company based in Siracusa is producing.
Ominously called Mr. Corleone this company has focused their attention on traditional products either as ingredients or gastronomical preparations as in pasta sauces or preserves. When I opened the box they have sent me, I was pleasantly surprised by finding in it a jar of Sicilian red-tuna packed in olive oil.
I have already written about this delicacy of our seas as my mother is used to prepare it, smothered in a fresh sweet tomatoes and onion gravy. It is a very firm flesh fish, that flakes in big meaty chunks that are a pleasure to bite into.
The preserved tuna wasn't any different. Cut into planks, it offered a certain resistance when I tried to flake it. Lovely!

Once again the inspiration of coupling it with apricots stems from this association with sunny summer sweetness, even more traditional (in flavor not in pairing) is the use of the apricots kernels in the recipe.

Apricots of the sun

Yes, apricots kernels, as peaches and bitter almonds contain cyanide glycoside compounds but the chemical molecule responsible of the almond-flavor (the benzaldehyde) is actually derived from a breakdown of amygdalin (from "amigdala" Latin for almond), one of these cyanide compounds especially abundant in apricot kernels. The bitterness instead comes from the other molecule resulting from this hydrolysis (break down in presence of water), the chunk actually containing the cyanide atoms.

I can already see the exclamation marks lighting over your head signaling Danger!

As in everything, all is in the quantities. If you drink too much water or eat too much salt, they can also kill you.
The lowest reported lethal oral dose of cyanide in humans has been of 0.56 mg per kg of body weight (Gettler and Baine, 1938). This means that and average adult of 75kg would have to ingest a total of 42mg of cyanide to die from it.
If we assume that the concentration of cyanide in apricots kernels is 3 mg per g of kernels, that same guy would have to eat 14g of kernels and that is an average of 28-30 kernels in one go (for kids this threshold goes down to roughly 6-7 kernels).
Considering how powerful apricots kernels are in terms of flavor (and bitterness), you would rarely use more than 1-2 per serving so we are all safe. Just be careful when you buy them in bag as snack.

The origins of apricots can be traced back to Turkey (that is also one of the biggest producers nowadays). The botanical name for the apricot tree Prunus Armenica acknowledge the first of these traditions, though there are stories dating back to the 4th century BC that place this fruit in ancient China as a very highly regarded tree for traditional medicine. Still nowadays physicians are referred to in Chinese as the "Expert of the Apricot Grove" as a reference to Dong Feng, a physicians who lived during the Three Kingdoms period who was used to ask as compensation from his patients just that they planted an apricot tree in their garden once healed; hence the grove.

But where does the common name for this fruit come from? It is believed that all started with Pliny. He called this variety of "peaches" as praecocia because they ripened earlier than other varieties (the word praecocia comes from the Latin of "cooked/ripened earlier" and it still lives in the Italian precoce). Furthermore, the Sicilian dialect word for apricots is Pericoca that seems to support this theory. The French abricot and the Italian albicocca most probably comes from the Arabic al-barquq through the Spanish albaricoque.

I hope you are now hungry for a nice break al-fresco with my:

Apricots Red-tuna salad in benzaldehyde vinaigrette

Apricots-red tuna salad with celeriac greens, red-currant coulis, fresh oregano and a benzaldehyde-moscato wine vinaigrette
Ingredients (serve 2)
  • 4 apricots
  • 100g red-tuna packed in oil
  • 1tbsp sliced celeriac or celery stalk

  • 1tsp Extra-virgin olive roil
  • 1/2-1tsp dry moscato wine
  • 3 apricot seeds
  • Lemon juice, to taste

  • Cracked black pepper
  • Fresh oregano leaves
  • red-currant coulis (recipe follows)

This is a rather straightforward salad. The only ingredients that actually needs to be prepared is the vinaigrette. To do so crack open 3 apricots kernels and extract the seeds. Peel the apricot seeds from their dark skin and pound them to paste with a mortar and pestle. Continuing pounding, mix in the olive oil and the moscato wine. Season with a little bit of salt and lemon juice if needed.
To assemble the salad, cut each apricot in 12 segments and divide them between the serving plates, leaving a little recess in its center. Crumble the tuna on the center of the plate. Scatter the sliced celeriac stalk across the plate.
Drizzle 1-2 tsp of the vinaigrette on top of the apricots and dab a little of the red-currants coulis here and there for a total of again 2tsp ca.
Sprinkle the cracked black pepper all over and decorate with the fresh oregano leaves.

Red-Currant coulis with Moscato wine
  • 120g red currants
  • 1.5tbsp fructose
  • 1tbsp dry moscato wine
  • 1/2tsp Chinese rice wine

Place the red-currants in a pot with the fructose and a little water. Heat them on medium fire stirring every now and then, until all the fruits will have popped open and the sauce will start to thicken.
Pass the currants through a fine sieve pressing them down toward the end so to extract all the pulp. Place the pulp and seeds left in the sieve in a little bowl and dilute them with the moscato wine.
Place the currants back into the sieve and extract as much as possible.

Clean the pot from possible seeds and transfer the currants juice in it. Place back over medium fire, add the Chinese rice wine and bring to a simmer to evaporate the harshness of the wine.

Taste and season with extra fructose if needed.


  1. Reading you is always such a lesson: in history, in ingredients, in food. Loved this post, an the photography as always impeccable. My favorite part of the dish, although the simplest, is the fresh oregano. Hope you find peaches soon dear!

  2. Love this post and those apricots are just stunning!

  3. Oh, Ale! My mouth quite literally began watering at the sight of your first photo, and the back of my teeth tingled at your description of those apricots! Yum, yum! What a beautiful combination, in taste and sight :)

  4. Beautiful stuffs. These are sure to be rocking in sea party with fire in the beach and party music with wine. I will be impressed if I can get a chance to enjoy such a party.