mad about maggie

verjuice poached peach

There’s something about Maggie. Ever since I first came across this dynamo of Australian food, via her Pheasant Farm pate and quince paste, I’ve been big Maggie Beer fan. Her love of the seasons and simple, produce-focused cooking style together with her big country smile have always been a winner. For those of you Northern Hemisphere types, not familiar with this pioneer of Australian food I guess you could say she’s almost Australia’s answer to Alice Waters of Chez Panisse fame.

I still remember receiving a copy of her first book, Maggie’s Farm as a Christmas gift years ago and being enthralled in Maggie’s world from the first paragraph. Her enthusiasm and energy seemed to leap off the page as she described her life and her kitchen in South Australia’s beautiful Barossa Valley.

As a young food science graduate, just entering the workforce and just starting to embrace the first flushes of what has become a great romance with the kitchen, I was hungry to experience all the new foods that Maggie was opening my eyes to. Pommegranates, quandongs, cumquats, preserved lemons, celeriac, figs, quinces and of course verjuice so many new possibilities.

Years later, I’m happy to say that Maggie is still influencing my cooking. It didn’t take much arm-twisting to convince me to shout myself an early Christmas gift in the form a copy of Maggie’s latest offering, Maggie’s Harvest. And I’m really glad I did. In old Maggie style the layout is divided by the seasons, with a focus on the produce that is at its peak at each part of the year.

Intertwined with rustic food shots, Maggie’s recipes and anecdotes both inspire and charm in much the same way that she captures TV audiences with her delightful program the cook and the chef. And on a more personal note, the stunning Barossa Valley landscape shots, take me back to my year living and working among some of the oldest vines in the world. 

As Maggie says ‘good food can be very simple and at the same time give great pleasure’….. all good things.
verjuice poached peaches with olive oil icecream
serves 8
Adapted from Maggie Beers beautiful, embroidery covered latest; Maggie’s Harvest.

Peaches and icecream are a classic partnership that I was recently reminded of when my lovely flatmate Kate cooked some for a Sunday night dinner on the best balcony in Sydney. If you don’t have the time or inclination to risk the olive oil icecream feel free to use your favourite vanilla icecream.

The poaching liquid is very sweet with a lovely acid kick to balance things out thanks to the verjuice but a little goes a long way. Don’t make my mistake and get carried away and serve to much of this beautifully tinted nectar.

These days you can find verjuice in most large supermarkets but if you can’t get hold of any, a dry white wine or sparkling would also do the trick.

660g (3C) sugar
2C verjuice
1C water
8 peaches
olive oil icecream, to serve.

Combine sugar, verjuice and water in a saucepan large enough to hold the peaches in a single layer. Bring to a simmer, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Add peaches and return to a simmer. Cook covered stirring occasionally until peaches are tender and their skins are starting to wrinkle.

Cool and serve at room temp with a little of the poaching liquid and a scoop of icecream.
olive oil icecream
serves 8
Adapted from Maggie’s Harvest.

This has to easily be the smoothest icecream ever. It has an amazing richness that is so inherently creamy that only modest serves are required.  Although I did use my icecream machine, I’d be willing to give it a go without to see how the texture performs.

I was a little skeptical as to how it would taste. Olive oil as a dessert? So rather than let my guests be all caught up in weirdness of the concept, I served it as ‘mystery’ icecream and got them to try and guess the flavour. No one picked it, surprise, surprise but after all was revealed almost everyone could identify the oliveness.

Apart from the novelty factor, this is a really lovely combo which reminds me of a recipe in Jamie’s Italy where he serves vanilla icecream with a grassy floral olive oil and sea salt. Something that is now well & truly on my list of things to try.

500g sugar
200mL water
pinch salt
9 egg yolks
400mL extra virgin olive oil
400mL whole milk

Place water and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a simmer, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Add salt and remove from the heat and allow to cool. Whizz yolks in a food processor until creamy then gradually pour in oil as you would if you were making mayonnaise. Whisk in milk and refrigerate mixture.

Freeze in an icecream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

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