Say Pesach, say prunes. And everyone laughs. Or winces. It is not as if we don't eat them any other time but, come Pesach, we all end up decking the halls with industrial quantities of dried prunes, apricots, figs and apples. Not to mention bottles of unspeakable, imported prune juice simply because they are there and they are kosher for Pesach and because you have gone into hysterical panic mode in case the entire family dies of thirst all for the want of a sip of prune juice. It is not so much a festival as a state of emergency.
The ritual consumption of matzah may bind us together as a people, but it is also a cross we have to bear (you should forgive the reference). If I have to spell it out, then you have not eaten enough matzah. It is not just to Pharaoh that the prayer to be released from bondage refers. But enough of that, you want the answer to the fifth question. How do you make prunes a pleasure, not a penance of the Passover table?
This spicy prune compote is sophisticated enough to turn a Pesach staple into a boozy, grown-up dessert. You can also use brandy instead of wine to make it really luxurious and potent. It has all the qualities you want of a Pesach dish: it is easy, quick and you can make it well in advance. It impresses company and you can claim it is just what the doctor ordered.
● 400ml red wine
● 225g brown sugar
● 150ml water
● 2 in of fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
● 2 tsp ground cinnamon
● 1 packet vanilla sugar
● 500g prunes
(Note: if you are happy using unopened spices bought before Pesach, use 2 sticks of whole cinnamon, 1 split vanilla pod plus 1 star anise, instead of the ground cinnamon and vanilla sugar.)
● Place the wine, sugar, water, ginger, cinnamon and vanilla sugar in a saucepan.
● Heat gently and stir until the sugar dissolves.
● Add the prunes. Bring to boiling point, lower the heat and simmer until the prunes are soft.
● Cool slightly and strain the liquid into another pan. Place the prunes in a serving dish. l Remove the whole spices, if using them.
● Boil the liquid until it reduces by half and becomes syrupy.
● Pour over the prunes and leave to cool.
● Cover and refrigerate for several hours, overnight or even 2-3 days ahead.
● Serve as it is, with yoghurt, cream or sorbet.