If there is one fruit that signals summer has arrived, its fresh, ripe peaches. Yes, I know Hollywood movies like to use watermelon as an unspoken indicator of a hot, lazy summer, but peaches are part of my summer fantasy, so we’re sticking to peaches, okay?
Everyone has their favorite variety, and some people like to debate about white versus yellow peaches, but as a cook, the first thing you want to know: is it a clingstone or freestone?
We’re talking about how easy is it to remove the pit (or stone) from the flesh. If you’re eating them out of hand, it doesn’t matter but if you’re planning on slicing up several for a meal or hundreds for canning, you want freestone where you can cut around the perimeter of the peach, turn the halves in opposite direction and they neatly separate and you can use your fingernail to easily pop out the stone.
The second thing to ask, where did it grow? To taste great, a peach has to ripen on a tree, not in a truck. If a peach was shipped from a long distance from a refrigerated warehouse, it may look like it is ripe but it will be tasteless and not have that wonderful juice running down your hand. But, if you’re talking to the same farmer who just picked it and brought it to his or her stall at the farmers market, you know it didn’t ripen in cold storage.
Let’s look at a few ways to enjoy your wonderful fruit. Grilling caramelizes the sugars in the peach and adds a nice, smoky note; you can toss together a fresh salsa or cook it down to form a wonderful glaze. Oh, you can even serve it as dessert.
Grilled Peach, Onion and Bacon Salad with Buttermilk Dressing
Adapted from Food & Wine magazine July 2012, by Linton Hopkins
Grilling fruit is a great way to make an easy dessert but surprise your guests with charred peaches for a wonderful summer lunch.
¼ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup sour cream
¼ cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons chopped mint
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons snipped chives
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
Freshly ground pepper
1 pound thick-sliced bacon
¼ cup brown sugar
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 pounds Vidalia or other sweet onions (but honestly, yellow onions are great grilled, too), cut into 1-inch-thick slabs
Extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing
4 large ripe peaches, cut into 1/2-inch wedges
Preheat the oven to 325°. In a small bowl, whisk the mayonnaise with sour cream, buttermilk, mint, parsley, chives, and vinegar, and season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate.
Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Arrange the bacon slices on the sheet in a single layer and sprinkle with brown sugar and cayenne. Bake for about 25 minutes, until caramelized (the bacon will crisp as it cools). Let cool, then cut the bacon into bite-size pieces.
Meanwhile, light a grill or preheat a grill pan. Brush the onions with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill over moderate heat, turning occasionally, until softened and browned 10 minutes. Separate the onions into rings, then brush the peaches with olive oil and grill over moderately high heat until tender, 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
In a large bowl, toss the onions with the peaches and bacon. Add the buttermilk dressing and toss to coat. Serve right away.
Pork Tenderloin with Peach Salsa
Sure, you can pair this salsa with anything bland, such as boneless chicken breast or cod fillet, but pork tenderloin is crying out for help. In France, the classic combination is pork with apples or prunes. This is in the same ballpark but the peaches make it sing summer, instead of the autumnal apples or prunes.
2 pork tenderloins, silver skin removed (This is the thin membrane of white connective tissue found on one side of tenderloin. Starting in the middle, run a sharp boning knife under this tough membrane in one direction until you slice it off, then hold onto the loose end and run the knife the other way along the membrane to remove it completely).
¼ cup Smoked Spanish Paprika (look for Pimenton de la Vera at spice shops or on some supermarket shelves.)
2 cups water
¼ cup kosher salt
¼ cup brown sugar
1 cup apple cider vinegar
Boil the water, then add the salt and sugar and stir until dissolved. Let cool to room temperature and add cider vinegar and chill for at least an hour so the mixture is cold. Pour brine into a sealable freezer bag. Slide in the two tenderloins and return to the refrigerator. Brine between 2 to 4 hours (I know more is often thought of as better, but overnight is too long, and yes I did try that. Once.)
1 cup your favorite peaches, diced (I leave the skin on but it bothers some folks so your call)
1 quarter of a red onion, diced
3 scallions, finely diced
1 red pepper, core, seeds and veins removed and cut into a dice
½ bunch of cilantro leaves, finely diced
½ teaspoon Kosher salt
Juice from half of a fresh lime
Mix everything together except for the salt and lime. First, add most of the salt and lime, then taste. Add the remainder if needed. If too salty at the end, you can add another diced peach to adjust the taste.
When you’re ready to cook, set your grill with a really hot side and a medium side (or simply turn it down to medium if on a gas grill).
Remove the tenderloins from the brine, drying them and rubbing them with sunflower or other neutral oil and salting both sides of each tenderloin, and dust with smoked paprika.
Lay the tenderloins on the hot side at a 45-degree angle across the grill grates. Time it for 4 minutes (darn right I do have a kitchen timer by the grill). Flip and time it again for 4 minutes.
Move to a less hot area or turn down a burner on your grill and repeat for another 4 minutes, making sure all parts of the tenderloin are browned on the grill. This can take 15 minutes total, depending on the size of the tenderloin and the heat of the grill. You’re looking for an internal temperature of 135°F.
Remove from the grill and place on a warm plate and cover with aluminum foil and let rest 5 to 10 minutes. The final temperature should read between 145°F to 150°F. Slice the tenderloin and serve the pieces overlapping, topped by a large spoonful of peach salsa. Goes great with white rice, mashed potatoes or roasted sweet potatoes from the grill.
Jalapeño Peach Chicken
Adapted from “Deep Run Roots: Stories & Recipes from My Corner of the South,” by Vivian Howard
I had never heard of Vivian Howard until her first book was selected for a dinner as part of a Cooks & Books group that I belong to where the host selects a cookbook and everyone picks a recipe to make and brings it to the meeting. Yes, it’s the best-eating series of meetings I’ve ever attended. I bought the book and enjoyed it enough that I started watching her PBS series “A Chef’s Life” that follows her and her family in Deep Run, North Carolina, through five seasons, usually focusing on one ingredient at a time. You end up feeling like she’s your friend and you’re hearing the ups and downs of running a restaurant, meeting colorful locals from the area, and did I mention she and her husband, Ben, are also raising twins?
Sweet and spicy is a classic food combination. This glaze makes about 5 cups or way more than you need for this easy weeknight meal. Leftover glaze can be used to spice up any chicken or pork, following the same directions as below or just serve as a warm sauce under the protein on the plate.
For the glaze:
3 cups chopped peaches (about 4 to 5 medium peaches)
1 pound jalapeños, stemmed and seeded
½ onion, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
1 ¼ cups cider vinegar
2 ¼ cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
12 to 14 chicken wings or 10 drumsticks
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon salt
⅔ cup jalapeño peach glaze
Make the glaze: Combine peaches, jalapeños, onion, and ginger in the bowl of the food processor (It helps to combine everything in one large bowl and run just a portion through the processor at one time). Pulse until everything is shredded and juicy, but not fully pureed.
Transfer the chunky mess to a 4- to 6-quart Dutch oven and add the vinegar, sugar, and salt. Over medium heat, bring it up to a boil, skimming the foam that finds its way to the top as often as you can. Less foam boiled down into the sauce means a more pristine clear glaze. Cook the sauce at a medium simmer for about 30 minutes. It should thicken slightly but not appear to be darkening in color. After 30 minutes, test the viscosity by pouring a little on a chilled plate and sliding that plate into the fridge for 5 minutes. If it runs like heavy cream when you tilt the plate, cook it longer. If it pools in a drip like loose honey, it’s ready.
Cook the chicken: Preheat your oven to 400°F (you can also use your grill but the glaze will also glaze your grill grate) and let the chicken come to room temperature. Toss it with oil and salt and spread the chicken in a single layer onto a baking sheet covered with parchment paper for easy cleaning. Make sure the pieces are not touching one another so they will brown evenly.
Slide the tray onto the middle rack of your oven and roast undisturbed for 10 minutes. Take the chicken out of the oven. Stir the pieces around in the pan and cook an additional 10 minutes. Take them out again, pour off any fat that has accumulated, and toss them with the sauce. Put the tray back in the oven and let them roast an additional 15 minutes. They should be caramelized in places and shiny in others.
Let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that you want to enjoy peaches for dessert but you really don’t want all the work of making a pie crust, chilling it, and then baking it blind, and so on. Let me introduce you to the wonderful world of compote. This is a great technique for just about any fruit.
3-4 fresh peaches, pitted and diced (again, purists will remove the skin, others leave it on)
½ cup brown sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup water
Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 12-14 minutes, being sure to stir occasionally. Sauce will gradually thicken and become syrup-like. Remove from heat and allow it to cool, then chill the compote in the refrigerator to make it a refreshing dessert all by itself. Or serve room temperature with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.