Well, that’s just peachy! Making the most of peaches at their very best

At this time of year peaches are at their very best.

They can be so impressive that the iconic American chef, Alice Waters, once famously served a solitary, unadulterated peach as a dessert on her set menu at her Californian restaurant.

This was in the 1980’s, a time of nouvelle cuisine which meant many ingredients on the plate.

It was a controversial thing to do and generated a lot of publicity.

Her argument was that this perfectly ripe peach couldn’t be bettered by anything she, or any other chef, could add.

Similarly, in her book “How to Eat a Peach” Portrush native and globally renowned food writer, Diana Henry, describes eating peaches in Italy.

Slices of peaches were added to sparkling, sweet Moscato wine and allowed to infuse for a few moments.

She ate the peaches “now flavoured with the wine and drank the wine, now imbued with the peaches”.

According to Diana “You don’t have to make food that is complicated for it to be wonderful.”

An Italian chef friend once told me that 90% of good Italian cooking is shopping for the right ingredients.

When sourcing peaches they should smell vividly of the fruit.

In these times of face masked shopping, it’s not possible to pick up fruit and give it a sniff so you’re going to have to trust that the fruit is ripe and ready.

Peaches at their best should be firm, with a little “give” but never rock hard. When you bite into them, the juice should run down your chin.

When I was young my mum would buy a tray of perfect peaches and freeze them for the winter. She defrosted the peaches by poaching them with honey and a splash of wine.

Another idea is to bottle them. Make a cross on top of six peaches and plunge into boiling water for ten seconds.

Place in ice cold water and peel, halve and remove the stone.

Cut the halves into quarters and pack into a sterilise kilner jar.

Pour over a simple syrup – 300ml water boiled with 150g sugar and infused with some lemon rind and vanilla. Seal and leave in a cool place until you need a taste of Italian sunshine.

Peaches are also synonymous with the deep southern states of America, especially Georgia.

My first recipe takes inspiration from there and the peaches are cooked in a buttery sauce with whiskey and smoked sea salt.

You can source smoked seasalt from North Coast Smoke house in Ballycastle or it’s available in good delis. The smoky, saltiness works beautifully with the sweet peaches and spicy whiskey.

They’re served with a fluffy coconut cake. Add a dollop of ice cream for a heavenly dessert.

Because they’re sweet, peaches can be paired with both salty and tangy ingredients.

My other recipe is for a salad with peaches, pickled walnut dressing, goat cheese and crispy parma ham.

Pickled walnuts are readily available and an ingredient I’ve recently rediscovered. They used to be popular with pork and beef dishes but fell out of fashion.

They have a distinct, nutty umami flavour that cuts through the sweet fruit.

The creamy goat cheese adds tang to the dish and the whole thing is cut through with the crisp, salty ham.

An ideal dish for whatever the weather throws at us.

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