The markets are bursting with fresh fruits including luscious strawberries, stunning looking cherries, thirst quenching melons, the season’s first figs, awesome apricots, plums, nectarines and succulent peaches are all jostling for position on the local market stalls.
Although I absolutely adore all these fruits, for my money, nothing beats the succulence of sweet, aromatic Mediterranean peaches, bursting with flavour.
They provide delicious eating but can also be used in so many different and interesting ways in the kitchen. They can be poached in sugar syrup with cinnamon, vanilla and cloves, roasted with cardamom or pan-fried and caramelised with brown sugar and almonds. Peaches also make perfect partners for champagne, cassis and calvados and they combine perfectly with ginger, lemons, oranges, strawberries and hazelnuts. Pan-fried foie gras or roast duck are amazingly good with glazed peaches and sweet and sour peach chutney can really liven up cold meats, pâté and salads.
The peach originated in china and was transported along the silk route to Persia then into Europe some 2000 years ago. Peaches grow on deciduous trees belonging to the rose family and related to the almond. Alexander the great introduced them to Greece and Rome where it was known as the queen of fruits.
Peaches stop ripening when picked, so it is important to select firm, ripe fruit with a good fragrance. Make sure that they are unblemished, not too hard and don't buy more than you plan to use, as fresh peaches are highly perishable and spoil easily. Reject fruits that are mushy or have shrivelled skins, both signs of decay.
High in energy with no fat, peaches are a good source of vitamin C and contain an important vitamin A called beta-carotene. Before eating peaches whole, wash the fruit under cold running water; if refrigerated, let them warm to room temperature for optimum flavour. Peaches do not need to be peeled before eating. However, if you want to peel them, blanch them first by dropping them into boiling water for a minute, then cooling them in ice water; the skins will slip off easily. Rub the peeled fruits with lemon juice to keep them from darkening. Cooking softens peaches and enhances their sweetness. It can also salvage slightly under ripe fruit.
The popularity of a lighter style of eating coupled with the growing interest in healthy food has contributed to the increasing use of fresh fruit in our daily diet, but few can beat the big taste, aroma and succulence of the mighty peach, Queen of Fruits.
Roasted peaches with lavender & mascarpone
Ingredients serves 4
4 large, ripe organic peaches, halved and pitted
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
50ml local honey
2 sprigs fresh lavender
½ tsp grated lemon zest
4 spoonfuls of mascarpone cheese
Preheat oven to 200c°/gas 6
Coat an ovenproof baking dish with a little butter. Arrange the peaches, cut side up, in the baking dish. Drizzle the honey over the peaches, and add the lavender and lemon zest. Bake for 15 minutes, remove from oven, and spoon the honey from baking dish over the peaches. Bake an additional 5 minutes or until the peaches are softened and golden. Top the warm peach halves with a spoonful of mascarpone cheese, and drizzle with some of the honey in the baking pan. Serve immediately.
PEACH & SAFFRON CHUTNEY
Make the most of the short peach season by making this delicious chutney to enjoy all year long.
1kl ripe peaches
200g tomatoes (de-seeded and chopped)
60g onion (finely chopped)
250g light brown sugar
250ml sherry vinegar
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ginger
½ tsp cayenne pepper
½tsp powdered saffron
Place all the ingredients, except the peaches, in a heavy-bottomed pan and cook over a gentle flame, stirring frequently, for about 30-40 minutes until thick and syrupy.
Blanch the peaches in boiling water for 15 seconds and refresh them in ice cold water. Peel them and cut them into large chunks.
Add the peaches to the saucepan and cook for a further 10-15 minutes until the peaches start to break down. Pour into sterilised glass jars and store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.