One of my most vivid food memories from childhood is of eating a perfectly ripe peach, the juice running down my chin and the taste of dizzying sweetness. It was early summer and the peach would have been Italian. You can imagine my disappointment when later in the year I bit into one, with much anticipation, to be greeted with a dry and tasteless mouthful. Now is the time to enjoy their sweet lusciousness as the season is limited.
The iconic American chef Alice Waters who runs Chez Panisse in California once famously served a peach as a dessert. It was totally unadorned as she felt it couldn’t be made better with the addition of any other ingredients. That’s a handy way of enjoying them but adding slices to salty Parma ham and some ripped fresh mozzarella is also a delicious way of serving them.
To preserve them you could make them into a simple jam. Score the skin of your peaches and plunge into boiling water. Remove after a few seconds and place in cold water. Peel, half, remove the stone and chop the fruit. For every 3 parts of peach add 2 parts of sugar and a tablespoon of lemon juice. Simmer for 20 minutes and then place in sterilized jam jars. The essence of summer captured in a jar to savour later in the year. Your breakfast toast will never taste better.
For the recipe here I’ve used white peaches that are available at the moment. A classic Bellini cocktail is Prosecco mixed with the puree of white peaches. Here the peaches are tossed in honey and served with frangipane cakes and some homemade lemon ice-cream. Don’t worry if you don’t have an ice-cream maker it’s a simple recipe combining whipped cream, condensed milk and a lemon syrup. Soft, nutty cake, zingy peaches and lemon ice – what could be better. Serve the cakes slightly warm as a foil for the cool peaches and ice-cream.
Caponata is a Sicilian sweet and sour aubergine dish and is the perfect side at this time of year. Aubergines tend to get a bad press. I’ve had vegetarian friends bravely crunch their way throw undercooked ones in restaurants and been served some myself that have been in the pan too long.
The best way to cook them is brush them with oil and place on a smoking hot ridged pan or barbecue. They cook quickly and retain their shape. Caponata has the addition of tomatoes, onion, garlic, celery, olives, capers and red wine vinegar. You can serve it at room temperature on a bruschetta or as a side for grilled meat, fish or cheese. Here it’s tossed into a salad and scattered with parmesan for a deliciously light summer supper. Glass of chilled Sicilian white is totally obligatory...
What you’ll need
500g pasta of your choice – penne used here
1 large aubergine
1 red onion, chopped
1 stick celery, finely chopped
4 large ripe tomatoes
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon capers
1 teaspoon brown sugar
Few green olives, chopped
Oil for cooking
Salt and pepper to season
Slice the aubergine, brush with oil and cook on a hot griddle pan until golden. Chop into dice. Cook the onion and celery in 2 tablespoons of oil until soft. Chop the tomatoes and add to the pan with the vinegar and sugar. Simmer for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile cook the pasta in boiling salted water. Add the chopped aubergines, capers and olives to the tomato mixture and stir well.
Drain the pasta and toss into the caponata with a little of the cooking water to loosen it up. Check seasoning. Spoon into bowls and grate over the parmesan before serving.
What you’ll need
For the white peaches in honey
2 tablespoons honey
Score the top of the peaches. Bring a pan of water to the boil.
Place peaches in water for 10 seconds then remove and place in a bowl of iced water. Peel the peaches and cut in half. Remove the stone. Cut into slices. Warm the honey and toss into the peaches.
For the fragipane
90g castor sugar
115g soft butter
1 tablespoon plain flour
115g ground almonds
Set oven to 180oc and butter 6 ramekins or tartlet moulds.
Beat the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy and fold in the eggs. Mix in the flour and almonds. Spoon into the moulds and bake for about 15 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Cool in the moulds and remove after about 5 minutes.
For the lemon ice-cream
350ml double cream
25g castor sugar
100g condensed milk
Zest and juice the lemons. Place in a pan with the sugar and simmer until syrupy. Whisk the cream and fold in the condensed milk and lemon syrup. Place in a plastic tub and freeze.