A ripe peach is pure poetry. The color, the texture, the taste of summer inspires a writer's lyrical thoughts for sure, but also flights of fancy for cooks. • Ah, what to use the luscious fruit for? The fuzzy starburst skin barely contains the possibilities. Gobble a peach out of hand on a hot day, sweet juice running down forearms and chin. Pair chunks with onion and peppers to serve alongside pork or fish. Grill to intensify what makes them so good. Peaches in salad. Peaches in rustic pies. Peaches in ice cream. • It's high time for peaches when July slips into August; by mid September they are a memory. Resist the urge to think too far ahead, because for now, peaches are at their juiciest and cheapest. So, too, are nectarines, plums and apricots, plus hybrids with names like dinosaur eggs and donuts. • Stone fruits — mango among them — are nearly interchangeable in their culinary uses. For this story, I tested recipes using peaches and plums, mostly because they called to me at the grocery store. The peaches, especially at the bargain price of $1.19 a pound, were piled high in country baskets. I could smell them from an aisle away. To ripen peaches, leave on the counter for a couple of days but be prepared to eat them as soon as they are soft. Do not refrigerate.
A recipe for Roasted Peach Ice Cream came along at just the right time. Roasted peaches? Such a clever idea to soften the fruit and concentrate the sweetness. (See the ice cream recipe for instructions. I tossed in some deep purple plums.)
Roasted stone fruit can be draped over store-bought vanilla ice cream if you don't have the inclination or equipment to make your own. It'll be as good as Day 1 for about a week if stored in an airtight container in the fridge. Savory dishes can also benefit from warm roasted fruit. Serve the sweet fruit alongside pork or fish or cradled in a green salad with feta cheese and vinaigrette.
Making ice cream these days isn't the chore of old. Electric makers use a frozen cylinder that's stored in the freezer. No salt, no hand-crank. After you've made and chilled the ice cream base, it takes only about 30 minutes to transform liquid to solid. Another hour unattended in the freezer and the ice cream is ready for scooping.
This recipe, adapted by an Internet blogger from Alton Brown's Burned Peach Ice cream (www.foodnetwork.com), doesn't use customary egg yolks for the base. The finished product tastes more of cream than custard.
The ingredients, save for the roasted peaches, are brought to 170 degrees, which is barely simmering, and then chilled. Simple.
I like the idea of something crunchy to go with the ice cream, so Slice-and-Bake Pecan Cookies continued the Georgia theme. Because the recipe calls for shortening (I used butter-flavored, 0 trans fat Crisco), the dough doesn't get as hard as other refrigerator cookie dough I've made or bought. The rolls are soft when sliced and get a bit smooshed, but somehow come out of the oven beautifully, uniformly round. A lovely foil to the peach ice cream.
Peach Crostata came together in minutes, though the final product looks much more professional than slap-dash. A crostata is an Italian free-form fruit pie. A mixture of fresh fruit, flour, sugar and bit of salt is placed in the middle of pie dough on a cookie sheet with a rim. The dough is folded over the edge of the fruit and crimped to keep it together.
During baking, the pastry browns and the fruit goes soft and bubbly. Two things to know: (1) The juices sometimes escape into the pan, so make sure the pan has a rim to hold them from running into the oven (I used a ceramic pie plate the second time around), and (2) crostata isn't good left over. The fruit makes the crust soggy. Serve it within an hour or two of making, and plan to eat it all (this won't be a problem). Delicious with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream or even plain yogurt.
Tangy feta and earthy baby lettuces play off the sweetness of fruit in Stone Fruit Salad. This recipe initially called for champagne vinegar, and if you have it, use it. However, white wine vinegar — it's just a tablespoon — works as well. Bring a big portion for a take-along work lunch, or serve it as an accompaniment for grilled pork or chicken (or store-bought rotisserie bird).
As I said: Peaches are pure poetry.
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8586.