I struggle to know which variety is best. The familiar orange-fleshed peaches are the juiciest and the elegant white variety offer the most fragrance, while flat peaches, seemingly squashed like a ring doughnut, add quirkiness to an already irresistible treat.
Like the nectarine and apricot, peaches marry well with other soft fruits. Raspberries are their most celebrated partner (see today's dessert, inspired by my favourite cocktail, a Bellini), but blueberries and even blackberries are wonderful too.
The perfumed sweetness of a ripe peach also has an affinity with dairy products, hence cream or ice cream are never far behind, but equally alluring is the savoury taste of cheese.
Slivers of melting peach in a salad with salty feta, tangy blue cheese or shaved Parmesan is a must, but savouriness and saltiness generally complement the sugars and juice of a peach: paper-thin folds of cured ham, such as Parma or Serrano, were made for peach, just as much as the ubiquitous melon.
My ideal August plateful is a new season grouse, fresh after the glorious 12th, roasted pink and served with chunks of pickled peach.
Duck makes a tasty, possibly more accessible replacement, meaning failure to indulge is inexcusable.
Salad of maple-glazed duck, pickled peach, blue cheese and almonds
2 ripe peaches
Two duck breasts, trimmed and cleaned with the fat scored with the tip of a knife
150-200g mixed salad leaves
150g blue cheese
4dsstsp blanched, peeled almonds
2-3 stems of tarragon and chervil, leaves picked off and reserved
Olive oil, to dress the salad
Juice of 1 lime, to dress the salad
8 pieces of very fine spring onions
For the pickling liquid for the peaches:
100g caster sugar
100g white wine vinegar
1. Start by pickling the peaches. Place the sugar, vinegar and water in a small pan and warm until the sugar dissolves, then remove from the heat, chill completely and store in the fridge. Slice the peaches or cut them into chunks and drop them into the pickling liquor for 1-3 hours. The larger the pieces, the longer they can be left in the liquid. Once marinated, drain the peaches and store them for up to 2 hours in a tub until needed. Alternatively, time the pickling so you remove the peaches
2. Select a wide frying pan large enough to hold the duck breasts. Season the fat side of the breasts then place them in the cold pan. Place the pan over a moderate heat and begin to cook. As the pan heats, the fat will warm up and begin to melt and render, coming out of the breasts into the pan. Continue cooking gently so the fat gradually turns golden and renders slowly all the time, which will allow the meat to be cooked pink by the time the fat is cooked thin and crisp – which is how you want it cooked. Cook the breasts like this on the fat side for 7-9 minutes depending on the thickness of the meat then flip them over, turn off the heat and leave to stand while you complete the rest of the salad.
3. Place the salad leaves in a large mixing bowl and add most but not all the blue cheese, almonds, peaches and tarragon leaves. Add olive oil and a small squeeze of lime juice – remember the peaches are already providing acidity – then toss gently. Divide the salad evenly between four serving bowls. Slice the duck into thin slivers and tuck them in among the leaves. 4. Now take the rest of the blue cheese, peaches, almonds and spring onions and scatter them over the top. Add the remaining tarragon leaves plus the chervil and serve at once.
Peach and champagne jellies with peaches marinaded in raspberries
For the jelly:
150g caster sugar
570ml (1 pint) water
3 x 11g sachets of powdered gelatin
75cl bottle of champagne or sparkling wine
For the peach puree:
4 very ripe peaches
A squeeze of lime juice
Caster sugar to taste, depending on the sweetness of the peaches
For the decoration:
1 punnet of raspberries, very ripe or even a little over-ripe
A pinch of icing sugar, to taste
1 ripe peach
1. You will require four martini glasses or similar in which to set each dessert. Start by preparing the jelly. Using a microplane fine grater, zest the limes, taking as little of the white pith as possible. Place the zest in a saucepan with the water and sugar and bring to the boil very slowly to allow the lime to infuse, then remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the gelatine. Leave to stand, whisking occasionally, until the gelatine has dissolved – about 10 minutes.
2. Squeeze the juice from the limes into the gelatine water then pass the mix through a sieve into a suitable bowl to remove the zest. Leave the mixture for up to an hour until it becomes syrupy, after which time you can add the champagne or sparkling wine. Do this slowly, stirring all the time to incorporate the champagne or wine evenly. Pour the mixture into the glasses, cover each one with clingfilm and chill for several hours until set.
3. For the peach puree, start by making a cut around the circumference of each peach, then twist the halves to separate them. Discard the stones then bring a saucepan of water to the boil and pop the peach halves in for half a minute or so to remove the skins. Lift the peaches out with a slotted spoon into iced water then remove as soon as they are cold. Slip the skins off then place the peach flesh in a blender with the lime juice and a touch of sugar. Add sugar gradually and taste as you go, then process the peaches to a puree and pass them through a sieve if you wish or leave them as they are. Refrigerate until needed, although I recommend making the puree as near to the point of eating as you can.
4. For the decoration, place the raspberries in a small saucepan, add a dash of water and cook until the fruits collapse. Press them through a sieve with the back of a spoon to extract all the juice. Taste and add a little icing sugar if you wish (this can be done in advance). Cut the peach into cubes, toss them in the raspberry juice then leave to stand for at least 1 hour.
5. To serve, spoon the peach puree over the jelly, filling the glasses almost to the top, then place a mound of the peach cubes in raspberry juice in the middle of each one. Add some finely shredded mint or small picked leaves and serve on saucers with long, slim spoons. For a touch of luxury, sip a Bellini between mouthfuls.
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