Driving around western Maryland last week, I happened to pass a number of orchards, and they're nestled among the branches and leaves were little splashes of yellow and pale orange... our beloved Maryland peaches. And as Chef Jerry Pellegrino reminds us, we are in the middle of peach season, so folks need to take advantage.
One salient feature of the peach season is the two main types of peaches: the clingstone and the free stone. The name says it all. With the clingstone, the pit hangs onto the flesh with maddening persistence. Although they are the sweeter of the two, they are hard to use in cooking. The pit of the free stone peach pops right out, which is ideal if you want to cook with it. Either is fine for eating out of hand.
In Maryland we have the classic late spring peaches, the clingstone first, then the freestone a few weeks later. Also available are white peaches with a milder flavor, and the charming little donut peaches, which are often very sweet.
To remove the skin, you can use a plain old vegetable peeler if the peach is firm enough. For riper peaches try this: score the top and bottom slightly with a sharp knife, then bathe them in simmering water for a minute or so. Plunge into icy water, then peel the skin right off. Do not leave the peaches to boil for longer than two minutes, or the flesh will become soft and soggy and unpleasant to work with.
Peaches are one of those fruits that can work both the sweet and savory sides of the street. You can have peach pies and cobblers as easily as peach salsa or barbecue sauce. Here are some ideas from Jerry.
Peaches, Arugula, Pecans, Ricotta & Honey Mustard Vinaigrette
4 peaches, peeled and chopped
1 cup fresh baby arugula
¼ cup pecans, roughly chopped
½ cup fresh ricotta
Honey Mustard Vinaigrette
Toss the peaches, baby arugula and pecans together in a bowl. Add ¼ cup of honey vinaigrette, season with salt and pepper and toss until coated. You can add more dressing if you’d like. Place the salad on a platter and dollop the fresh ricotta over the salad.
Honey Mustard Vinaigrette
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup grapeseed oil (or other mild tasting oil such as coconut oil)
2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
2 tablespoons honey
Salt, pepper and sugar to taste
Add the apple cider vinegar, honey and the mustard to the bowl of a food processor fitted with chopping blade. Season with salt & pepper and pulse a few times to combine. Turn on the processor and slowly add the oil in a steady stream through the lid. When all the oil has been added turn off the machine. Transfer the vinaigrette to a bowl and chill in the refrigerator.
Spicy Peach Salsa
6 cups finely chopped pitted peeled peaches (about 3 lb or 9 medium)
1 cup finely chopped seeded roasted red bell pepper (about 1 large)
1 cup finely chopped red onion (about 1 large)
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
3 tablespoons finely chopped garlic (about 14 cloves)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 ¼ cups honey
¾ cup malt vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons hot pepper flakes
2 teaspoons dry mustard
2 teaspoons salt
In a sauce pan set over medium high heat, cook the onion and garlic in the olive oil until soft and translucent. Add the remaining ingredients and cook just until the peaches are warm. Serve immediately.
Peach BBQ Sauce
2 medium sweet onions, (Preferably Vidalia onions.)
4 cloves garlic
3 tbsp olive oil
8 large peaches pitted and diced, no need to peel
1 1/2 tbsp smoked paprika
1 1/2 tsp ground dry thyme
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tbsp salt
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tbsp chili powder
2 finely diced red Thai chilies (optional, or chili flakes to taste; your favorite hot sauce to taste can also be used)
1 1/2 tbsp powdered ginger
3/4 cup honey
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
In a medium sized saucepan over medium heat, sauté the onions and garlic in the olive oil until softened but not but not browned.
Transfer to a food processor along with the peaches and puree until very smooth.
Return the mixture to the saucepan and add all of the remaining ingredients.
Simmer slowly for about 30 minutes until the sauce begins to thicken to a brushable consistency. The sauce will thicken a little more when cooled down.
Store in a covered container in the fridge for up to a week or keep for up to 3 months when bottled properly in mason jars according to the manufacturer’s instructions.