The local peach season has come and gone -- sorry to say -- but peaches from cooler climes will meander their way into the produce aisle for the next couple of months. Peaches don't really ripen after they're picked, so choosing ripe peaches is key. It's not hard to distinguish a ripe peach from one that was picked a bit young on the twig. Peach-colored peaches are ripe, and green tinted peaches are not. I like to see a range of color on a peach from rosy pink to reddish orange. I also like a peach that's tender when pressed. Last, a ripe peach announces its presence with a pheromonally enticing aroma.
Sweet, juicy, fragrant and beautiful to behold, peaches offer culinary possibilities well beyond pies and cobbler. Peach Salsa on grilled chicken or salmon is a whole picnic on a plate. Peach Compote turns blintzes or pancakes into a brunch-time feast. Butter-Roasted Peaches alone or with ice cream are my go-to summer dessert.
Most peach recipes call for peeled peaches. If you have a really sharp knife you can pare the skin away, the way you'd skin an apple. That's not practical with a particularly juicy peach or with the dull knives in too many kitchens. I generally remove the skin by immersing a peach in boiling water for five to ten seconds followed by 30-seconds in a bowl of ice water. Now the skin will slide right off, occasionally with the help of a butter knife.
Butter-Roasted Peaches are a stupidly simple summer dessert. If you want more than a bowl of caramelized melt-in-your-mouth peaches the addition of vanilla ice cream wouldn't hurt. Any of the other creamy-white dairy-based dollop-worthy foods that come to mind (like whipped cream, sour cream, or yogurt) will also have you and your guests scraping spoons across bowls to get every drop.
Peach Salsa is as easy as dicing all the ingredients and tossing to combine. Peaches bring out the sweetness of red bell pepper, while the heat of a pasilla (or hotter chili if you prefer) is a near-opposite and well balanced contrast. Lime juice adds some zip, but it's really all about the peaches. The salsa in the photo is a little wetter than I'd like (we made it in class). The simple fix is to drain away a little of the extra juice - which is a great marinade for fish or chicken.
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As Peach Compote simmers all the ingredients, peaches included, caramelize. I add dried cranberries for both texture and tartness. There's butter, balsamic vinegar, and a generous splash of brandy. Nothing will make your cheese blintzes or pancakes more over-the-top.
Cooking with peaches has one pretty common drawback. If the peaches are particularly ripe they tend to disappear, which leaves a smile on your face and your recipe a few peaches short.
Andy Broder is the chef/owner of AndyFood, A Culinary Studio.