Perfect peaches make summer menus bright

July 26, 2019

Although we may not be enjoying the extreme heat of the past weeks, one of our favorite fruits is quite happy – the peach. Well past their winter dormancy and the risk of a spring frost harming their tender blossoms, peaches of all varieties are swiftly ripening. And, in North America alone, there are over 300 different varieties of peaches cultivated.

Last year, the United States grew close to a million tons of peaches, ranging from yellow freestones (the pit detaches easily from the flesh) to clingstones (the flesh holds tightly to the pit) to white peaches, and even whimsically shaped donut peaches. Regardless of variety, peaches are hand-picked, ideally when the fruit easily separates from the stem or twig holding them to the branch.

Peaches are considered a climacteric fruit, meaning they will ripen after being picked due to their production of ethylene gas. Along with bananas, tomatoes, avocados and apples, peaches will continue to ripen and soften after harvest. Many commercial growers subject their harvest to a chilled water bath to try and slow this process before shipping their crop to distant destinations.

Local growers who offer their just-picked gems at famers markets avoid this practice and sell their fruit based on whether you want to eat it immediately or have it ready in a day or so. For truly ripe yellow peaches, their background color should be a golden shade, and white peaches should be a creamy white. For a true reading of color, check near the stem.

To choose the ideal degree of ripeness, consider these guidelines: if it has the same amount of give as a tennis ball, it will need a few days; if it’s slightly soft, it will be good tomorrow; tender to the touch, eat it now; super soft, make a smoothie. To ripen your peaches, set them on the kitchen counter, not touching, stem side down. Once they’ve reached ideal ripeness, store them in the refrigerator in a single layer.

Now that you’ve learned all the tricks about perfectly ripened peaches, you’re ready to decide how to eat them. I always enjoy my first peach of the season eaten straight out of hand, over the sink to catch the juice running down my elbows. Once I’ve satisfied that craving, I’m ready to add peaches to the menu.

For an interesting appetizer, the peaches in the photo were sliced and arranged atop thin slices of toasted baguette spread with goat cheese. I considered a drizzle of Balsamic reduction, but didn’t want anything to interfere with the bright peach flavor. To keep the goat cheese from crumbling, whip it with some cream or lemon juice into a spreadable consistency. Although I didn’t peel the peaches, this snack is easier to eat if you do.

When you look for recipes for peach pizza, you’ll find all sorts of variations. Some use ricotta; others include mozzarella or goat cheese. Many feature basil chiffonade and Balsamic for a caprese salad effect, or add prosciutto for a savory contrast to the sweet peaches. I’ve included a recipe that combines both fontina and blue cheese, along with caramelized shallots.

Recently for dinner, I skillet-sautéed chicken breasts and sliced peaches with fresh ginger and nutmeg for a simple, speedy meal. You could serve this with jasmine or basmati rice to complement the ginger notes. Be sure to visit your favorite famers markets and support our local growers who work so hard in the hottest weather to bring us delicious produce – especially peaches!

Peach Crostini

1 baguette
2 T olive oil
salt & pepper
6 oz goat cheese
2 t lemon juice
1 t fresh thyme leaves
2 sliced peaches
Balsamic reduction, optional

Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Slice the baguette and brush both side of each piece with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper; bake until golden, about 8 to 10 minutes. In a mixing bowl, combine goat cheese, lemon juice and thyme; set aside. When bread is toasted, spread each slice with goat cheese mixture and top with peach slices. Drizzle with Balsamic, if using.

Peach Pizza

1 prepared pizza crust
1 t cornmeal
2 thinly sliced shallots
1 T butter
1/2 C shredded fontina cheese
2 sliced peaches
1/4 C crumbled blue cheese

Preheat oven to 500 F. Lightly dust a rimless baking sheet with cornmeal. Shape the pizza dough into a 12-inch round and place on the baking pan; set aside. Melt the butter in a small skillet and add sliced shallots. Cook over medium-low until golden, stirring often; remove from heat. Sprinkle the pizza crust with fontina, arrange peach slices in a single layer. Scatter blue cheese over peaches and top with shallots. Bake until lightly browned, about 10 minutes.

Chicken Peach Skillet

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
salt & pepper
2 T butter
2 peeled, sliced peaches
1 t freshly grated ginger
1/2 t freshly grated nutmeg
juice and zest of 1 lemon

Cut each chicken breast in half lengthwise. Place the chicken between layers of plastic wrap and pound to a uniform thickness of 1/2 inch. Sprinkle both sides of each chicken piece with salt and pepper. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Place chicken in skillet in a single layer and cook until lightly browned. Turn over chicken and scatter peaches over top. Sprinkle with ginger, nutmeg, lemon zest and juice. Cover and reduce heat to low. Cook until no pink remains, about 7 minutes. Serve with jasmine or basmati rice.

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