There’s nothing more beguiling than food that speaks of place. At Truss & Twine in Palm Springs, chef Michael Beckman gets hyper-local with dishes made from California desert ingredients, some of which can be found in our own backyards. Using paddles of prickly pear cacti, otherwise known as nopales, he prepares a confit to pair with Drake Farms goat cheese dusted in pink powder made from dehydrated bougainvillea petals.
Nopales can be foraged throughout the Southland, but Beckman suggests buying them from your local farmers market, Latino or specialty markets. The cultivated ones you find in-store have thinner skins, which makes for easier peeling. Plus, you’ll save yourself the risk and trouble of de-thorning the prickly paddles. Served with a blanco or a reposado tequila, this California desert-inspired cheese platter is a stunning conversation starter that is sure to impress your guests.
Beckman says this airs well with a blanco or reposado tequila. Citrus desert bounty.
2 nopales paddles
1 cup Sugar in the Raw
1 cup water
3 whole star anise
3 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
Prepare the nopales: Slice the nopales paddles lengthwise into 3 or 4 long strips; each strip should be about the width of a matchstick. Then slice the strips crosswise into rajas, or thin segments. Transfer the rajas to a colander and rinse well.
Blanch the nopales: In a pot of lightly salted boiling water, add the rajas and blanch for about a minute. Strain and immediately shock the rajas in an ice bath. This step is crucial in reducing the slimy texture of the nopales.
Prepare the spice sachet: Using a peeler, remove two sizable strips of zest from the lemon, the orange and the grapefruit. Create your own spice sachet by using some cheesecloth to wrap the star anise, cloves and cinnamon stick.
Confit the nopales: Fill a heavy-bottomed sauce pot with 1 liter of water and add all 6 strips of citrus zest, the spice sachet and raw sugar. Stir to fully dissolve the sugar. When the syrup is hot, add the blanched rajas to the pot and reduce heat to medium-low; simmer for 30 to 40 minutes. The rajas should be thoroughly cooked without too much syrup left in the pot, but enough to generously coat the nopales. Once it’s ready, remove from heat and steep for at least another 30 minutes.
Optional: At this point, you may can this to store in your pantry. Or, you can transfer it to a container with a lid and store it in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. The flavors will continue to develop, bringing out the Cactus Confit‘s earthy spice notes.
Truss & Twine’s Drake Farms goat cheese platter image (top) by Audrey Ma