You bite into a ripe peach. A drop of delicious juice spills over your lips and traces a wet, sticky trail down your chin.
Now that’s summer.
Few experiences in this world are more mind-blowingly sensual than eating a ripe peach bursting with flavor.
But that’s a fresh peach, consumed au naturel. What about cooking with peaches? What about using them in savory dishes? Are they still as amazing then?
Of course they are. Peaches are still peaches.
So I put peaches on top of a pizza, where they more than held their own. The secret was my grill.
Using a recipe by Martha Stewart, I grilled the sliced peaches before using them as a flatbread topping. I knew that would caramelize the fruit, making it sweeter, but what I did not anticipate was how just a couple of minutes on the grill would give the peach a smoky flavor.
That extra blast of smoke (more prominent, actually, than the added sweetness) was the perfect accompaniment to a thin layer of salty, smoky prosciutto. A sprinkling of fresh basil added a heady bite, which nicely cut a rich and creamy layer of mozzarella.
And all of this goodness was perched on top of a grilled pizza crust, or at least it would have been if I’d followed Stewart’s recommendation. I wanted something slimmer so the other flavors would stand out more. I wanted to use a grilled flatbread, but just at the critical moment I couldn’t find a suitable version at the store.
So I settled on a naan, a thicker flatbread that is popular in India. I grilled them and topped them with the peaches, prosciutto, basil and cheese.
They were great. The distinct taste of the naan added one more complementary taste to the toppings, but to be perfectly honest a pizza crust would be just as good, or a flatbread or even a pita.
I wasn’t through yet. If peaches are one of the ultimate expressions of summer, then tomatoes are another. Put them together, and you’ve got a peach-and-tomato gazpacho.
Ordinarily, peaches and tomatoes do not play well together. Peaches are sweet, tomatoes are acidic, and the flavors do not meld with ease. But a simple ingredient brings them together in culinary harmony: salt.
It brings out the sweetness and tempers the acid in many foods including tomatoes (and even peaches). Just a bit or two of salt turns these two competing fruits into the best of friends.
It’s even better when you add a dollop of Greek yogurt mixed with diced cucumber, chives and a minced clove of garlic. It all tastes as great as it sounds.
Naturally, I wanted to use peaches in a dessert, too; dessert is the natural medium for a peach. But I didn’t want to make a pie (too ordinary) or a tart (too commonplace) or even a galette (too much like a pie or a tart).
And that is when I saw a recipe by Ina Garten for a fresh peach cake.
This recipe is more of a coffee cake than a cake cake. The batter has sour cream in it – I could just eat the batter all day – along with all the other ingredients that make cake so delectable: butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla and flour. Then it is topped off by a combination of cinnamon, sugar and pecans.
But it is the peaches that raise the cake from ordinary to extraordinary. In the middle, adding their sweet moistness, lies a layer of thin-sliced peaches topped with more of the cinnamon and sugar. And on the top is the same.
Try it with a cup of coffee. Try it with a glass of milk. But try not to eat the whole thing at once by yourself.
Finally, I decided to take advantage of one of those classic flavor combinations that are not too well known. Peaches go with bourbon. Bourbon goes with peaches. A slice of peach muddled in a glass of bourbon brings out a new and wonderful set of flavors.
If one slice of peach and one shot of bourbon is good, how much better would it be to slice up three or four entire peaches and let them steep in a bottle of bourbon for a week or so?
A not overwhelming amount of sugar, 2 tablespoons, helped to mellow out the bourbon, and a couple of cloves and allspice berries added their own festive notes.
While it is superb on its own or with a few cubes of ice, this lighter, friendlier version of bourbon also makes exceptional mixed drinks.
There is nothing like a drop of peach-infused bourbon spilling over your lips and down your chin.
Fresh Peach Cake
From Ina Garten, via Food Network.
1 stick (1/4 pound) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar, divided
2 extra-large eggs, room temperature
1 cup sour cream, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 large, ripe peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch square baking pan. If you use a smaller pan the batter will overflow while it cooks, so place it on a baking sheet with a rim or a larger pan.
Using an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and 1 cup sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. With the mixer on low, add the eggs, one at a time. Add the sour cream and vanilla, and mix until the batter is smooth.
In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the batter and mix until just combined. In a small bowl, combine the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar and cinnamon.
Spread half of the batter evenly in the pan. Top with half of the peaches, then sprinkle with 2/3 of the sugar mixture. Spread the remaining batter on top, arrange the remaining peaches on top, and sprinkle with the remaining sugar mixture and the pecans.
Bake the cake for 45 to 55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Yield: 12 servings.
Per serving: 335 calories; 15 g fat; 7 g saturated fat; 63 mg cholesterol; 5 g protein; 47 g carbohydrate; 30 g sugar; 2 g fiber; 253 mg sodium; 59 mg calcium.
Fresh Peach Bourbon
3 to 4 fresh peaches
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 whole cloves
3 whole allspice berries
1 (750 ml) bottle good-quality bourbon
Wash the peaches and cut in half to remove the pit. Slice each half into two equal wedges and place in the bottom of a large glass jar. Add sugar, cloves and allspice before adding the bourbon. Seal tightly.
Place out of direct sunlight and let steep for 7 to 10 days. Once infused, strain the bourbon and discard the peaches and spices. Finished bourbon will keep indefinitely in an airtight decanter or jar.
Yield: 17 (1 1/2-ounce) servings
Per serving: 103 calories; no fat; no saturated fat; no cholesterol; no protein; 2 g carbohydrate; 2 g sugar; no fiber; no sodium; no calcium.
Grilled Peach Pizzas with Prosciutto
From Martha Stewart.
3 pizza dough crusts, or flatbreads, pita or naan
2 peaches, cut into 1/2-inch wedges
1 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
12 thin slices prosciutto, cut in half
1/3 cup fresh basil
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
Heat a grill or grill pan on high heat and grill pizza crusts, flatbreads, pita or naan until grill marks are dark. Set aside and grill peach wedges until caramelized, about 2 minutes per side.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees, or lower grill temperature to medium. Spread cheese on grilled pizza crusts. Bake or grill (covered with a lid) directly on grates until cheese melts and is bubbling, about 8 minutes (time may vary slightly if grilling). Remove from oven or grill. Top with peaches, prosciutto and basil. Drizzle with oil.
Yield: 3 (9-inch pizza) servings
Per serving: 841 calories; 49 g fat; 24 g saturated fat; 167 mg cholesterol; 45 g protein; 58 g carbohydrate; 15 g sugar; 4 g fiber; 1,828 mg sodium; 15 mg calcium.
Peach-and-Tomato Gazpacho with Cucumber Yogurt
From Southern Living magazine.
5 large peaches, peeled, divided
3 large tomatoes, cored, divided
1/2 cup coarsely chopped sweet onion
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Salt and white pepper, to taste
3/4 cup finely diced English cucumbers
1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives, plus more for garnish
1 garlic clove, minced
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Cut 4 peaches and 2 tomatoes into quarters and put in a food processor or blender. Add the sweet onion and vinegar and process until smooth.
Chop remaining peach and tomato. Stir into pureed mixture. Season with salt (if it tastes bitter, the salt will add sweetness) and white pepper to taste. Chill 1 hour.
Meanwhile, combine cucumber, yogurt and the 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives in a medium bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and chill 1 to 24 hours (chilling can dull the seasoning, so you may need to add more salt and pepper before serving).
Ladle gazpacho into bowls. Spoon cucumber mixture over gazpacho. Drizzle each serving with about 1 teaspoon olive oil and serve immediately.
Yield: About 8 (1-cup) servings
Per serving: 112 calories; 6 g fat; 1 g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 3 g protein; 15 g carbohydrate; 11 g sugar; 3 g fiber; 7 mg sodium; 25 mg calcium.