You know summer has arrived when mountains of peaches start appearing at the market. My parents have various fruit trees in their backyard and it is pretty clever how nature worked it all out perfectly – the peaches would mature a few weeks after the apricots and a few weeks before the plums. So summer was filled with a sequence for jam making in mamma’s kitchen -apricot jam first, then peach jam and at end the season, plum jam.
Apparently peaches originate in China and made their way along the Silk Road to the Mediterranean area in pre-Christian times. There are two varieties that are defined by how the flesh and the stone are related. Freestone peaches (both white and yellow types) are easier to eat as the central stone separates easily from the fruit – I always use these. Clingstone peaches are a bit trickier to separate (hence the name “clingstone”). One of my first memories of eating peaches is having slices that had been soaked in a glass of chilled dry white wine. I was probably ten or so at the time and papa’ would let me have a slice or two from his wine glass. He would get to eat the rest and drink the lovely peach-infused wine. It is still the simplest and my favourite way of eating peaches (after 5pm). All you have to do it find a ripe peach (I like white ones) cut it into about 12 slices and put these in a wine glass. Top with your favorite white wine and put in the fridge for an hour.
There are several ways that I take advantage of luscious summer peaches – in wine (drunken); baked and stuffed; or in a simple short-crust tart. One of the important things to know about cooking with peaches is how to cut them in half easily – they generally leave this handy tip out of recipe books. I find the best way is to cut them horizontally (with the stalk part pointing up to the sky). Make an incision all the way around then give the top half a good twist and it will lift away completely (unless you have clingstone peaches and then it will take a bit longer to separate the top and you will have to twist harder).
If you want something fancier and it’s not too hot to turn on the oven, then baked peaches make a lovely summer dessert for a dinner party. Almonds go beautifully with peaches. Amaretti (Italian almond biscuits) make a great stuffing for baked peaches and can be purchased from most supermarkets. The stuffing is made from crushed amaretti and diced peach flesh and placed in the peach cavity where the stone used to be. The stuffed peach halves are baked in the oven for about an hour. I drizzle a bit of orange juice or some marsala around the peaches while they are cooking so this caramelises and there is a bit of sauce in the dish.
The peaches are then served with vanilla ice-cream, mascarpone or whipped cream, some crumbled amaretti and a bit of sauce. Baked and stuffed peaches are best eaten warm. Click here for the recipe.
There is nothing quite like a good fruit tart. In Veneto, which is where my mother comes from, finely grated lemon rind is added to the pastry, making it lighter and allowing the flavor of the fruit to not only complement the pastry but to really shine through. The pastry is made in an electric mixer and quite foolproof. It needs about 20 minutes resting time and only the base is blind baked. I find that blind baking the sides of the tart results in it having hard and almost burnt sides – I like mine to be soft and flaky.
I put a thin layer of jam (peach jam is preferable but I use my home made apricot jam which is quite runny and great for this purpose) under the peaches, which adds a bit of extra fruit sweetness and runs from the tart when it is cut. Click here for the recipe.
The tart can be eaten at room temperature or cold, with or without mascarpone/whipped cream. It lasts for around five days in the fridge however we usually finish it by the second day. I had amazing fruit tarts in both Roma and Venezia when I was last there – eating fruit tarts like this peach tart always gives me the most amazing memories of Italy!
5 yellow peaches
1 heaped tablespoon brown sugar
4 crushed amaretti
2 tablespoons roughly chopped almonds
4 teaspoons butter
1/3 cup orange juice or Marsala
Preheat the oven to 160 degrees. Halve the peaches, remove the stone and approximately one teaspoon of peach flesh from each peach. Remove the skin from the 5th peach, dice the flesh and add this to the peach flesh you have removed from the other 4 peaches. Add the diced peach flesh to the crushed amaretti and mix with the sugar and almonds. Spoon the mixture back into the peach halves and place them in a baking dish. Put half a teaspoon of butter on each of the halves and place the dish in the oven for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle the orange juice (or Marsala) around the peaches. Bake for another 15 minutes. Serve warm with ice-cream, whipped cream or mascarpone and sprinkle each serve with a crushed amaretto and a bit of the caramelised sauce from the baking dish.
125g unsalted butter, at room temperature
30g icing sugar
grated rind of 1/2 lemon (use a microplane)
240g plain flour
2 peaches, cut into 12 segments each
4 tablespoons peach or apricot jam (runny is best)
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Line a 23cm diameter tart tin with a removable base with aluminium foil. Place the butter, lemon rind and icing sugar in a mixer (I have a Kitchenaid with a paddle attachment) and beat until it is creamy. Add the flour and salt beat for less than a minute until the mixture resembles crumbs. Add the egg and beat for around half a minute or less until the mixture forms a ball. Remove the pastry from the mixer and flatten into a disc. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 20 minutes. Using a rolling pin, roll the pastry between sheets of plastic wrap until it is the right size to fit in the base and cover the sides of the tart tin. Using the removable base of the tin as a guide, trim a circle of pastry. Place the pastry into the lined tin, put a piece of baking paper on the pastry and weigh the paper down with pie weights (I use rice). Wrap the remaining pastry in plastic wrap (keeping it in the strips left from when you cut the pastry base) and place it in the fridge. Place the tart in the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, remove the weights and paper and place the remnants of pastry around the sides, pushing them down gently onto the base where they join (be quick as the base is hot!). Return to the oven and bake for a further 5 minutes.
Remove from the oven and spread most of the jam on the base of the tart so that all of it has a layer of jam. Arrange the peach slices on the tart and brush the slices with the remaining jam (use a bit extra if you like; if it is not runny enough, heat it in the microwave oven for 10 seconds). Place the tart in the oven and cook for 30 minutes until the peaches have softened and the tart is golden. Allow to cool on a wire rack around 30 minutes before removing from the tin.
*adapted from recipe by Annabel Lanbein