With skin as soft as a horse’s muzzle, the bins of peaches beg to be caressed. Their heady perfume is as fragrant as a warm July afternoon and their presence indicates we are deep in summer. Varieties with names such as Gold Dust and Honey Babe conjure visions of romance, even though referring to a mere fruit. But I guess that’s the beauty of a good peach — consumers wax poetic on what makes one perfect and get downright opinionated about their favorites.
The season for juicy, sweet peaches is upon us, but it won’t last long. How to get more of these fuzzy, addictive orbs into your life was a question I pondered recently. When you get tired of eating them out of hand as your daily fruit, consider trying some of the following ideas.
By now, everyone has had their fill of Caprese salad, so mix it up by using peaches and strawberries in place of tomatoes. Halve and pit 4 barely soft peaches then cut each half into ¼-inch thick slices. Thickly slice 1 pint of strawberries. Arrange the peach slices on a large platter and scatter the strawberries over them. Put 2 burrata balls in the center, and shower the salad with chopped Thai basil and mint. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. As you plate each serving, pull the burrata balls apart and distribute pieces evenly among the plates. Serves 6 to 8.
Another peach salad idea would be to halve and pit 3 peaches and stuff the cavities with a chunk of goat cheese. Wrap each peach half with a thin slice of prosciutto and secure with a toothpick. Dab with a little honey. Grill over a medium-hot flame until the prosciutto is crisp and the cheese is melty. Serve each half on a bed of dressed salad greens or eat alongside a grilled pork chop, sausage or barbecued chicken thigh.
To serve with main courses
Make a salsa using 1 cup firm peeled, pitted and diced peaches; 1 teaspoon jalapeno; 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro; juice of ½ lime; kernels from one ear of corn; and a pinch of salt. Mix and set aside. Serve a big scoop with grilled or roasted halibut or swordfish.
Cook up a chutney by combining 1½ cups peeled, pitted and chopped peaches; 1 cup peeled, pitted and chopped plums; ¼ cup raisins; a 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced; 2 minced garlic cloves; ½ cup chopped sweet onion; ½ teaspoon allspice; ½ teaspoon cloves; 1/8 teaspoon cayenne; ½ cup brown sugar; and ½ cup cider vinegar in a non-reactive saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat then reduce to a simmer and cook until thickened, about 45 minutes. Serve alongside grilled tandoori chicken or pork tenderloin. Leftover chutney will last in the fridge for one week.
The Bellini is a marvelous invention of the Venetians. Traditionally using white peaches and Prosecco, it is the perfect summertime refresher. It’s easy to make — first peel and pit 3 to 4 white peaches. Puree them in the blender — you need ½ cup puree — with juice from ½ a lemon, then strain (or not if you like your cocktails with texture). Divide between 2 champagne flutes then stir 1 ounce of peach brandy into each glass and fill with Prosecco. Garnish with a fresh raspberry and mint sprig.
At this point in the summer, we’ve all had peach pie and cobbler and maybe even shortcake. Here are a couple of easier takes on peach desserts:
Slice a ripe, juicy peach into a long-stemmed wine or compote glass. Splash some Chambord over the peach, top with a dollop of mascarpone and sprinkle on some chopped, toasted pistachios.
Preheat oven to 400 F. Halve and pit 2 peaches and set in a baking dish. Crush 10 amaretti cookies into coarse crumbs. Combine with 1 tablespoon softened butter; ½ teaspoon almond extract; 1 tablespoon toasted, slivered almonds; ¼ teaspoon cinnamon; and a pinch of salt. Mound the crumb mixture into each peach cavity and roast in the oven for 20 minutes until peaches are tender and juicy and crumb mixture is golden brown. Put each half in a bowl and top with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
How to peel peaches
My mother would always dip peaches in boiling water for 10 seconds to loosen their skins. These days I use a sharp serrated or paring knife to do the job, which is easier and keeps the peach fresh and firm.
How to buy peaches
Choose peaches with no blemishes or soft spots and buy them on the firm side. Leave on your counter for a day or two for soft ripeness or use when they are still a little hard for the salsa and grilled recipes.
At this time in the season, the sugars are high and the fruit doesn’t last long, so keep an eye on your supply and use or refrigerate ones with soft spots to deter mold growth and fruit flies.
While peaches will be around another month or so (with any luck), they are at the height of their sweet juiciness right now. Savor the rest of their season with a few of these delicious recipe ideas.
Main photo: A peach salad with strawberries, burrata, Thai basil and mint. Credit: Brooke Jackson