The Prunus persica, a deciduous tree native to Northwest China, was first domesticated and cultivated in the 10th century. These trees bear one of the incredible lush fruits of summer, the peach.

Peaches arrived in the Americas in the 16th century by Spanish explorers. By the 17th century, peaches were a pricey treasure in France and England.

Thomas Jefferson had peach orchards at Monticello, but farmers in the U.S. didn’t initiate large-scale production until the 19th century, when they begann commercial production in Maryland, Delaware, Georgia and Virginia.

In most states, peak peach season is in July. Nonetheless, peaches can be ready as soon as May or as late as September. In Napa Valley, fresh peaches typically begin to show up in July, but recent hot weather has brought us an early arrival. My favorite place to find the perfect peach is at the corner of Silverado Trail and Deer Park Road, where they are usually available every other day.

Italians adore fresh peaches. Italy is the largest peach produce in the European Union. They keep it simple. Sliced with cream in the North, drizzled with balsamic in Reggio Emilia, while Sicilians fill them with fresh sweetened ricotta and dark chocolate bits.

It’s true that I adore a classic fresh peach pie, but for the most part I like to enjoy them simply for maximum appreciation of their delicate flavor.

When the meat on the grill is done, cut some peaches in half, remove the stone and place each peach half flat side down for just a couple of minutes until the peach has those signature grill marks and serve as a side dish. Especially good with chicken, sausage or chops.

Prosciutto and melon, of course, but give prosciutto and fresh peach slices a try as an antipasti.

The most famous Italian peach recipe is the Bellini. Notice I did not say “Peach Bellini.” It’s redundant. If you order a “Peach Bellini” when you are in Italy, you will get a polite smile and consideration for the fact you are a tourist. If it’s a “Bellini,” it’s made with peaches. If the classic recipe from Harry’s Bar in Venice is altered to use a different fruit, it is no longer a Bellini.

The Bellini is an IBA Official Cocktail. If you create the drink using mandarin juice, you’ve created a Puccini. With strawberry purée, it’s a Rossini and if you opt for pomegranate, you’ve now made a Tintoretto. A Kir Royal requires raspberries.

It’s the same principal as the term “rice pilaf.” You need to say only “pilaf,” which is made only with rice. Make sense?

The Bellini was invented between 1934 and 1948 by Giuseppe Cipriani, founder of Harry’s Bar in Venice. The unique pinkish color of the drink reminded Cipriani of the toga of a saint in a 15th-century painting by Venetian artist Giovanni Bellini.

Begun as a seasonal specialty at Harry’s Bar, the drink became incredibly popular in New York after being discovered by some famous folks who were known to hang out at Harry’s. Ernest Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis and Orson Welles were regulars at Harry’s.

Preparing and serving is wonderfully simple. Only two ingredients required: Prosecco, and sparkling Italian wine and peach puree.

Other sparkling wines are often used in place of Prosecco. It’s no longer a Bellini. I’ve experimented and want to share that I believe in this case the originally recipe is the best. In fact, using a beautiful and luxuriously flavored French Champagne does not enhance the drink. Classic French Champagne does not pair well with the light, fruity flavor of the Bellini.

Bellini

2 oz. fresh peach purée

4 oz. Prosecco

Pour puree into chilled flute, add Prosecco. Stir gently.

Serve straight up and without ice.

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If you’d like the kids to be able to enjoy a fresh peach drink with the grown ups, you can substitute sparkling juice, sparkling water or seltzer in place of the Prosecco.

Italians love their peaches with wine. The following recipe is simply called:

Peaches in Red Wine

6 peaches

6 Tbs. granulated sugar

1/2 lemon

Red wine (Your choice. I like to use sangiovesse, merlot or pinot.)

Wash peaches in cold water. Peel and slice into wedges. Discard pits. Place wedges in large bowl. Sprinkle peaches with sugar and the juice of half a lemon. Mix gently with a wooden spoon or by hand to avoid bruising the fruit. Peaches are delicate. Allow peaches to sit with sugar for 20 minutes, or until sugar has thoroughly dissolved. The fruit will soften slightly in the process.

Place peach wedges into individual serving bowls. Add enough red wine to each serving to just cover the peaches. Allow them to sit another 30-45 minutes. The longer they sit, to more intense the wine flavor. I don’t recommend allowing them to sit any longer than 45 minutes or the wine flavor will dominate the peach flavor.

Can be served room temperature or slightly chilled. Serves 6

Mangia Bene e’ Bere Bene.

Diane De Filipi lives in the Napa Valley and leads cooking tours to Italy and Burgundy, France. Visit letsgocookitalian.com or ila-chateau.com/cook-italian for more information.

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