Now that’s summer.
Few experiences in this world are more mind-blowingly sensual than eating a ripe peach bursting with flavor.
But that’s a fresh peach, consumed au naturel. What about cooking with peaches? What about using them in savory dishes? Are they still as amazing then?
So I put peaches on top of a pizza, where they more than held their own. The secret was my grill.
Using a recipe by Martha Stewart (and I’m not embarrassed to admit that), I grilled the sliced peaches before using them as a flatbread topping. I knew that would caramelize the fruit, making it sweeter, but what I did not anticipate was how just a couple of minutes on the grill would give the peach a smoky flavor.
That extra blast of smoke (more prominent, actually, than the added sweetness) was the perfect accompaniment to a thin layer of salty, smoky prosciutto. A sprinkling of fresh basil added a heady bite, which nicely cut a rich and creamy layer of mozzarella.
So I settled on a naan, a thicker-than-flatbread flatbread that is popular in India. I bought three (they come in a three-pack), grilled them and topped them with the peaches, prosciutto, basil and cheese.
They were great. The distinct taste of the naan added one more complementary taste to the toppings, but to be perfectly honest a pizza crust would be just as good, or a flatbread, or even a pita.
I wasn’t through with savory uses for peaches. If peaches are one of the ultimate expressions of summer, then tomatoes are another. Put them together, and you’ve got a peach-and-tomato gazpacho.
Salt brings out the sweetness and tempers the acid in many foods including tomatoes (and even peaches). Just a pinch or two of salt turns these two competing fruits into the best of friends.
It’s even better when you add a dollop of Greek yogurt that has been mixed with diced cucumber, chives and a minced clove of garlic. It all tastes as great as it sounds.
Naturally, I wanted to use peaches in a dessert, too; dessert is the natural medium for a peach. But I didn’t want to make a pie (too ordinary) or a tart (too commonplace) or even a galette (too much like a pie or a tart).
And that is when I saw a recipe for a fresh peach cake. The recipe is by Ina Garten, and no, I’m not embarrassed about that, either.
This recipe is more of a coffee cake than a cake cake. The batter has sour cream in it — I could just eat the batter all day — along with all the other ingredients that make cake so delectable: butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla and flour. Then it is topped off by a combination of cinnamon, sugar and pecans.
But it is the peaches that raise the cake from ordinary to extraordinary. In the middle, adding their sweet moistness, lies a layer of thin-sliced peaches topped with more of the cinnamon and sugar. And on the top is the same.
Try it with a cup of coffee. Try it with a glass of milk. But try not to eat the whole thing at once by yourself.
Finally, I decided to take advantage of one of those classic flavor combinations that are not too well known. Peaches go with bourbon. Bourbon goes with peaches. A slice of peach muddled in a glass of bourbon brings out a new and wonderful set of flavors.
If one slice of peach and one shot of bourbon is good, how much better would it be to slice up three or four entire peaches and let them steep in a bottle of bourbon for a week or so?
A not overwhelming amount of sugar, two tablespoons, helped to mellow out the bourbon, and a couple of cloves and allspice berries added their own festive notes.
While it is superb on its own or with a few cubes of ice, this lighter, friendlier version of bourbon also makes exceptional mixed drinks.
There is nothing like a drop of peach-infused bourbon spilling over your lips and down your chin.
Fresh Peach Cake
1 stick (1/4 pound) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar, divided
2 extra-large eggs, room temperature
1 cup sour cream, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 large, ripe peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch square baking pan. If you use a smaller pan the batter will overflow it while it cooks, so place it on top of a baking sheet with a rim or a larger pan.
Using an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and 1 cup of the sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. With the mixer on low, add the eggs, one at a time. Add the sour cream and vanilla, and mix until the batter is smooth.
In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the batter and mix until just combined. In a small bowl, combine the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar and cinnamon.
Spread half of the batter evenly in the pan. Top with half of the peaches, then sprinkle with 2/3 of the sugar mixture. Spread the remaining batter on top, arrange the remaining peaches on top, and sprinkle with the remaining sugar mixture and the pecans.
Bake the cake for 45 to 55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Peach-and-Tomato Gazpacho with Cucumber Yogurt
5 large peaches, peeled and divided
3 large tomatoes, cored and divided
1/2 cup coarsely chopped sweet onion
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Salt and white pepper, to taste
3/4 cup finely diced English cucumbers
1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives, plus more for garnish
1 garlic clove, minced
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Makes about 8 (1-cup) servings.
Cut 4 of the peaches and 2 of the tomatoes into quarters and put in a food processor or blender. Add the sweet onion and vinegar and process until smooth.
Chop remaining peach and tomato. Stir into pureed mixture. Season with salt (if it tastes bitter, the salt will add sweetness) and white pepper to taste. Chill 1 hour.
Meanwhile, combine cucumber, yogurt and the 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives in a medium bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and chill 1 to 24 hours (chilling can dull the seasoning, so you may need to add more salt and pepper before serving).
Ladle gazpacho into bowls. Spoon cucumber mixture over gazpacho. Drizzle each serving with about 1 teaspoon olive oil and serve immediately.
Grilled Peach Pizzas with Prosciutto
3 pizza dough crusts, or flatbreads, pita or naan
2 peaches, cut into 1/2-inch wedges
1 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
12 thin slices prosciutto, cut in half
1/3 cup fresh basil
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
Makes three (9-inch pizza) servings.
Heat a grill or grill pan on high heat and grill pizza crusts, flatbreads, pita or naan until grill marks are dark. Set aside and grill peach wedges until caramelized, about 2 minutes per side.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees, or lower grill temperature to medium. Spread cheese on grilled pizza crusts. Bake or grill (covered with a lid) directly on grates until cheese melts and is bubbling, about 8 minutes (time may vary slightly if grilling). Remove from oven or grill. Top with peaches, prosciutto and basil. Drizzle with oil.
Fresh Georgia Peach Bourbon
3 to 4 fresh peaches
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 whole cloves
3 whole allspice berries
1 (750-militer) bottle good-quality bourbon
Wash the peaches and cut in half to remove the pit. Slice each half into two equal wedges and place in the bottom of a large glass jar. Add sugar, cloves and allspice before adding the bourbon. Seal tightly.
Place out of direct sunlight and let steep for 7 to 10 days. Once infused, strain the bourbon and discard the peaches and spices. Finished bourbon will keep indefinitely in an airtight decanter or jar.