By Jill L. Reed
The Orange County Register
Walking by a stall at the farmers market, I smell the peaches before I see them. There is no mistaking what they are. And, for me, no mistaking what it means.
Fresh peaches that smell this good can only mean the arrival of summer.
Sure, I love nothing more than digging right into a fresh peach and eating it as nature made it. And that is exactly what I did that day, after I grabbed a big bag of the beauties.
I took my son Ben, 3, over to the washing station and rinsed a couple of the nice ripe specimens. We found a bench to share where we could do some people watching. And we unabashedly ate those peaches.
Well, he was more unabashed than I was, with juice dripping down his chin. I tried to keep up with a napkin, swiping at his face between bites of my own peach.
But mostly, I let him enjoy his snack, and worried about cleanup once he was finished.
Which did not take long. The kid can devour a peach in no time.
After our little break, we finished at the farmers market and headed home, weighed down with lovely stone fruit. I had plans for just what I wanted to do with it all.
The first thing that comes to mind when I think of peaches is a Bellini. Similar to a Mimosa, the Bellini is a mix of sweet peach purée and sparkling wine.
I also like to add in some berries for a little color if I can find some berries that look nice.
Light and refreshing, the Bellini works well with brunch or a light appetizer on a summer day.
It pairs really nicely with a little salad I make that also uses peaches as a key ingredient, along with avocado and a light crab salad that is studded with tart Granny Smith apple chunks.
It is a version of something I had years ago while on vacation in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The salad there was made with mango slices instead of peaches, but the sweet tartness of peaches seems more appealing in this dish. The peaches also look pretty and colorful on the plate with the bright green slices of avocado.
The salad I had in St. Thomas included a lightly dressed and lightly spicy crab mixture. And while the flavor was nice, for my taste, it was lacking crunch, which I fixed by adding diced bits of Granny Smith apple.
I get the spice from a dash of cayenne pepper and a dollop of Dijon mustard. Lime juice and zest brighten the creamy crab mixture while a bit of arugula on the plate adds a peppery herb note.
A peach purée with a little honey ties all the components together when drizzled on top.
It can be a fun dish to compose. Sometimes I lay the peaches and avocados out into a star-like pattern on the plate, then add the arugula and top it with the crab and peach purée.
Sometimes I cube the peaches and avocado and combine them on the plate as a base for the arugula, crab salad and peach purée. This method seems to work best when making a larger amount to serve a group. I like seeing people dig down past the crab and arugula. When they reach the layer of peach and avocado on the bottom, their eyes light up.
The salad can serve as an appetizer or as a light meal paired with some warm bread.
For a heartier meal, I like to make grilled pork with jerk spices that I serve with a cool peach salsa. The spice mix I make myself so I can temper the heat. But a pre-made jerk spice mix would work, too, and streamline the process.
When it is grilled, the jerk rub makes a nice crust on the pork tenderloin. There is sweetness from brown sugar and a touch of heat from black and cayenne peppers.
That heat is balanced by a peach salsa that includes red pepper, cilantro, red onion and pasilla that provides chili flavor without the punch of heat that would come with a jalapeño. Lime juice and grapeseed oil bind it all together.
On the side, I serve simple black beans and avocado slices. Somehow that fresh salsa migrates from the pork to all the other parts of the plate. Any leftovers are scooped up with tortilla chips.
As for leftover peaches from my farmers market foray, with the last few I decided to do a dessert that was a play on a favorite childhood snack.
When I was a kid, my grandmother used to give me cottage cheese with canned peaches. Of course the canned peaches were sweet and syrupy, what was not to love? These days, it’s the sweet and syrupy part that I no longer love. But I still love almost any form of fruit and cheese for dessert.
With that in mind, I wanted a warm dish. I considered grilling the peaches, but opted instead to cook them quickly under the broiler. Just the slightest amount of sugar on top caramelizes, creating a beautiful brûlée on the cut surface of the peach.
For the cheese part of this, creamy mascarpone sounded like a nice alternative to the cottage cheese of my youthful snack.
But it needed something to bump it from good to great. Brightness and herb from lime juice and fresh basil was perfect. A little honey in the mix completed the creamy element of my dessert.
When the broiled, brûléed peaches were ready, a lovely dollop of the cheese mixture was placed on top of the hot fruit. As it started to melt down into the peach, I gave each portion a sprinkle of toasted almond slices for a nice flavor and textural touch. And since I had a few basil leaves left, I cut them into thin ribbons and sprinkled those on, too.
Sweet, creamy and herby. It was so delicious. Some color from the skins infused into the drippings, making a natural syrup that was a lovely color on the bottom of the plate.
I savored each bite, thinking about the rest of the mascarpone in the fridge. I thought about making this simple and beautiful dessert again the next night. And then I realized that was the last of the peaches.
RECIPES: FOUR WAYS WITH PEACHES
FRESH PEACH BELLINI
Start to finish: 15 minutes
Servings : 6 - 8
2 ripe peaches, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
2 teaspoons simple syrup*
1 bottle chilled prosecco (Italian sparkling wine)
Optional: Raspberries or blackberries for garnish
*You can find recipes for simple syrup in most comprehensive cookbooks or online. Or, do what I did and just buy a bottle of it at your local beverage specialty store.
In a food processor or blender, put peaches, lime juice and simple syrup process until it is a smooth purée.
Through a sieve, press the mixture and discard solids.
Put 2 tablespoons purée into the bottom of champagne flute and top with prosecco.
If using, drop 2 raspberries or 1 blackberry into each glass. Serve immediately.
PEACH, AVOCADO AND CRAB SALAD
Start to finish: 20 minutes
1/2 pound lump crabmeat, picked to remove any shells
1 tablespoon lime zest
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon low-fat mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 cup Granny Smith apple, diced — slice the rest to use as garnish
2 green onions, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons honey
1 cup arugula
Optional garnish: Smoked paprika
Put crabmeat in a medium bowl and mix in lime zest, lime juice, mayonnaise, mustard, cayenne, diced apple and green onion. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Put honey in a small food processor or blender. Roughly chop 1 peach and purée it with the honey until smooth. Season lightly with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
Cut remaining 2 peaches into 8 equal slices, discarding pits. Cut avocados into 8 equal slices, discarding pits.
Divide peach and avocado slices evenly among four plates. Divide arugula among four plates, placing on top of peaches and avocado.
Divide crab salad evenly among four plates, mounding it on top of arugula. Drizzle peach purée over the composed salad.
Garnish with extra apple slice and a sprinkle of smoked paprika, if using.
GRILLED PORK TENDERLOIN WITH JERK SPICES AND PEACH SALSA
Start to finish: 45 minutes
For pork tenderloin:
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
1 1-pound pork tenderloin
For peach salsa:
1 cup fresh peaches, diced
1/2 of a red bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1/2 of a fresh pasilla (or poblano) pepper, seeded and finely chopped*
2 tablespoons red onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
Salt and pepper to taste
* The salsa is good on its own with some chips. It also pairs nicely with grilled chicken or grilled fish, such as mahi-mahi. I use pasilla peppers — also known as poblanos — to keep a nice chili flavor without too much heat. If you like things spicier, use a seeded and minced jalapeño.
Combine all ingredients but pork tenderloin to form a paste. Rub paste over tenderloin, coating evenly. Let sit for 15 minutes, covered.
Heat grill on medium heat, then cook pork 8-10 minutes on each side or until a nice crust forms and meat registers 145 degrees with a meat thermometer.
Let stand 5 minutes, then cut into half-inch slices.
1. Gently combine all ingredients in a medium bowl.
2. Serve over grilled pork tenderloin.
BROILED PEACHES WITH BASIL-LIME MASCARPONE
Start to finish: 15 minutes
2 large, ripe peaches, halved and pits removed
4 teaspoons white sugar
4 tablespoons mascarpone cheese
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons toasted almond slices, unsalted
Optional garnish: 4 large basil leaves cut into thin ribbons
Sprinkle 1 teaspoon sugar over the cut side of each peach half. In a broiler-proof baking dish or pan, place peach halves, cut side up.
Mix mascarpone, honey, basil and lime juice until blended. Set aside.
Broil peaches for about 5 minutes, or until sugar begins to caramelize.
Divide mascarpone mixture among the broiled peach halves. Top with toasted almond slices and, if using, basil ribbons and serve immediately.