Ken Morris, Cooking for Comfort: Peaches: the official fruit of summer (no, not really, but they should be) | Food Columnists

KEN MORRIS

Sometimes the most obvious solution is right in front of us. I’d been leafing through several cookbooks, looking for something that most readers would like to read about. Nothing seemed worth a whole column until I was cooking in my kitchen, and I realized I had the answer in a bowl that I had loaded up from the farmers’ market: peaches.

And, when I say peaches, this includes nectarines, which share with peaches a common ancestor from China; the biggest difference is simply a recessive gene in nectarines that affects their ability to make the plant “fuzz” for which peaches are famous.

Sure, we did an award-winning article on peaches last year, but that was 11 months ago. If you’re not filling the shopping bag with peaches right now, then we will have to part company. Any fruit where you take one bite, and the sweet juice starts running down your arm because the skin can’t hold it back anymore, is truly Cooking for Comfort.

No, you probably don’t want to be eating ripe peaches in your Sunday best coat and tie, but this is not fruit designed for the French Laundry. This is made for picnics on a warm summer day.

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I love peaches so much I planted a semi-dwarf white peach “Babcock” in my backyard several years ago and enjoy its short harvest each summer (I eat most of them as they turn ripe and rely on the farmers’ market to provide enough peaches to cook with).

While I love peaches just for the taste, it is nice to know that peaches are high in fiber, vitamins and minerals. They also contain beneficial plant compounds like antioxidants, which are believed to help protect your body from aging and disease.

For cooking with peaches, the most important thing to know is freestone or clingstone? This refers to the hard seed inside the fruit.

Clingstone peaches are smaller, juicy and sweet, making them great for canning and jellies, but the pit clings to the flesh. Most commercially sold canned peaches are clingstones.

A freestone has a pit that is easily removed when ripe; just cutting the peach open usually allows it to fall out.

The other important point when buying: Peaches and nectarines continue to ripen off the tree. Of course, peaches ripened on the tree will taste better than unripe ones at the grocery store, but if your peaches aren’t quite ripe, place them in a brown paper bag on the counter at room temperature (and not in direct sunlight) for a day or two. Be sure to check often since they can go from perfectly ripe to overripe quickly.

Here is an entire menu using peaches, stretching from appetizer to dessert, assuming, like me, you’ve bought way too many to eat out of hand.

Serves 2, but easy to multiply as an appetizer for a party

6 slices Prosciutto di Parma

I know, this barely counts as a recipe, but if you’ve never wrapped the prosciutto around sliced ​​peaches or figs, stuffed with a knob of goat cheese, you should lay down the paper or computer screen you’re reading this on and do it now. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Prosciutto di Parma is a natural cured ham with the only additions of salt, air, and time in the Emilia-Romagna region surrounding Parma, Italy. It’s worth buying the real stuff from Parma; if not, you may end up with some fake-tasting flavors in your mouth.

Cut each peach into 6 wedges; set aside. Cut each slice of Prosciutto di Parma in half, crosswise, to create 12 smaller slices. Place a peach slice on top of a prosciutto slice. Add about half a teaspoon of goat cheese in the center of the peach, then top with a basil leaf. Wrap peach, goat cheese and basil with prosciutto. The pieces should stick together so a toothpick is not necessary, but for a party a toothpick in the center of each piece makes it easier for people to pick up. Repeat the process.

Pork Tenderloin with Peaches

Adapted from “The Cook and the Gardener” by Amanda Hesser

I searched through a lot of books, looking for a main course that uses peaches, but it was harder than I thought, until I remembered “The Cook and the Gardener.” Before Amanda Hesser became famous as a food writer for The New York Times and assembled the “The Essential New York Times Cookbook,” she spent a year as a cook at Château du Feÿ in France’s Burgundy region, using the produce of a French kitchen garden and getting to know the quirky habits and how to work with the gardener , Monsieur Milbert. In those days, the château was home to the cooking school l’École de Cuisine La Varenne, led by Anne Willan. This was Ms. Hesser’s first book and she describes the shifting seasons in the château’s walled garden, matching them with recipes Pork and fruit are favorite combinations in France.

2 pork tenderloins (about 1 1/2 pounds)

Freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons peach vodka

4 peaches, cut in half and pitted

1 tablespoon chopped mint leaves (about 2 sprigs) or 1 tablespoon chopped basil leaves (about 1 branch)

Heat the oven to 450° F.

Brush the pork with the olive oil. Season it with salt and pepper and place it on a roasting pan. For 1 tablespoon of the peach vodka over the pork. Place in the heated oven.

Brown the tenderloins for 15 minutes, turning them every 5 minutes. Then reduce the heat to 375 degrees F.

Brush the peach halves with olive oil, season them with salt and add them to the roasting pan, cut sides down. The peaches should soften and color around the edges. The pork is done when a metal skewer inserted in the center of the meat for 30 seconds is hot to the touch or an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center of the meat registers 150 degrees F, for slightly pink meat. It is well done at 160 degrees F and will continue cooking once it is removed from the oven and remains for 5 minutes.

Remove the pork to a cutting board. Cover with aluminum foil and let rest for 5 minutes. Turn off the oven. Arrange the peach halves on a heatproof serving plate and place in the oven to keep warm.

Meanwhile, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of peach vodka to the roasting pan and place over medium-high heat. Stir with a wooden spatula to scrape up any drippings. The sauce should darken to a chestnut-brown color and thicken to a syrup. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then turn off the heat.

Carve the pork into 1/4-inch-thick slices and arrange the slices overlapping each other on the serving plate with the peaches. Pour the sauce over the pork, sprinkle the mint over the peaches, and serve.

Peach, Raspberry, and Blackberry Crisp

Adapted from “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone” by Deborah Madison

I like to let slip to people in the kitchen that I’ve cooked with Deborah Madison, not that I knew who she was at the time or that she would remember me. I had signed up for a two-day cooking class with the famous Mexican chef Patricia Quintana at a bed and breakfast called Rancho Manzana in Chimayo, New Mexico, just outside of Santa Fe. Chef Quintana was the draw, but it was clear the local students, some from local restaurants, knew and respected Ms. Madison, asking her advice on something in the recipe if Chef Quintana was busy with other students.

I’m not a huge dessert fan, but I know lots of my guests are, so I like to offer a fruit galette (a rustic free-form pie) or a simple crisp, which is fruit topped with a pastry, for a satisfying way to end a meal. A touch of sweetness, but not excessive, and easy to make.

6 tablespoons butter cut into ½-inch chunks

¾ cup brown sugar, packed

⅔ cup all-purpose flour

½ cup rolled oats or chopped nuts

½ teaspoon grated nutmeg

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, optional

Preheat the oven to 375° F. Butter a 2-2.5 quart baking dish. Using your fingers or the paddle attachment of a mixer, work the butter with the rest of the crisp topping ingredients above so that each piece is coated and you have a coarse, crumbly mixture. Make the topping and set aside. This will be used to cover a shallow gratin dish of sliced ​​fruit.

To peel the peaches, drop them into a pan of boiling water for 10 seconds, then remove them to a bowl of cold water. The skins should slip right off. Slice the peaches into a large bowl, in wedges ½ inch thick; discard the stones.

Add the berries, sugar, and flour and toss gently. Transfer the fruit to the baking dish and cover with the topping. Set it on a baking sheet to catch the juices and bake until the top is well browned, and the peaches are tender when pierced with a knife, about 45 minutes.

This is a summer salad that you can put your own signature on. To drink? How about a chilled glass of California rose or chardonnay?

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Ken Morris has been cooking for comfort for more than 30 years and learning in kitchens from Alaska to Thailand to Italy. He now cooks and writes from his kitchen in Napa. Email macmor@sbcglobal.net.

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