A terrible thing happened regarding quince last year. Because I love quince, but have no way to fit a tree into my garden, I planted one in my parents’ garden in 2010. Last year, the tree bore the first fruits and quite a few of them. My parents dutifully picked them in the autumn and put them on the window sill in the kitchen to ripen. However, because the quince remained stubbornly hard as stone, after some weeks, they threw the fruits away. The sad thing is, there was nothing wrong with the quince: in our climate they never ripen into a soft, juicy fruit and will always require cooking to be enjoyable.
In this recipe, quinces are poached in red wine with orange zest and spices for almost two hours wich results in pink, perfumed and soft flesh. The poaching is done in the oven which means that even though it takes long, you do not need to hover over a pan on the stove. The recipe recommended baking the quince for two hours, but mine where completely soft after 1,5 hours – I guess it has to do with the quince you start with.
Prepared in this way, the quince can be enjoyed in a number of ways – for dessert, with yogurt, as a side dish (especially nice with winter squash based main dishes) or in a salad. And don’t forget the fragrant poaching liquid – reduced a little, it can be poured over anything from your morning porridge to ice cream.
In this salad the quince is paired with an assortment of winter greens (more on how we grow them here), blue veined cheese and toasted walnuts. Some of the poaching liquid is whisked into the dressing to tie the whole thing together. And “the whole thing” is perhaps the most luxurious winter salad possible, a little sprinkling of Ottolenghi magic to brighten a January day. I had the salad for lunch today and felt so content and at peace with the world afterwards that it was difficult to get back to work.
Note: I had 3 quinces so used them all, even though the recipe calls for just 2. There is enough liquid for poaching more than the stipulated two so that you can have some left for other dishes as well- just saying…
Winter greens and poached quince salad
Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi: Plenty
400 ml (1 ¾ cup) water
300 g (1 ½ cup) sugar
15 black pepper corns
4 strips of orange zest (from an untreated orange, preferably)
2 bay leaves
juice of ½ lemon
200 ml (¾ cup + 2 tablespoons) red wine
2 medium quinces
1 tsp grain mustard
2 tsp cider vinegar
4 tbsp olive oil
¼ tsp salt
80 g mixed leaves (preferably a mix of bitter leaves, such as radicchio or dandelion, and some peppery leaves such as mustard (mizuna, rocket) and watrcress)
120 g mild blue veined cheese, such as Dolcelatte
60 g (2 ounces) walnuts, lightly toasted
Preheat the oven to 140 degrees Celsius (280 F). Take a heavy pan with a tight-fitting lid, that you can put in the oven (I used my large cast iron Le Creuset pan). Put water, sugar, pepper, orange zest, bay leaves, lemon juice and wine in the pan and bring to the boil on the stove. Stir until the sugar dissolves.
Meanwhile prepare the quinces. Peel the fruits (reserving the skins) and cut them into quarters. Remove the core and keep that, too. Cut each quarter into half lengthways. Place the quince segments plus peels and cores in the pan, cover and put the pan in the preehated oven. After 1,5 hours, try piercing the quince with a knife to see whether it is completely tender. If not, return to the oven for another half an hour. Remove from the oven and let cool completely, uncovered.
To make the dressing, whisk together all the ingredients plus 4 tablespoons of the poaching liquid. Season to taste.
To serve the salad, arrange the leaves on a large bowl. Place the quince segments on top and add the cheese, broken into pieces. Spoon over the dressing and scatter the roasted wlanuts on top.