Is there anything that says summer more than a ripe peach? During the warmest months of the year, the branches of peach trees bend with heavy fruit, and we just can’t get enough.
“If you start with a great peach,” wrote Ruth Reichl, food critic and former editor of Gourmet magazine, “there’s nothing you’re ever going to do that’s going to make it any better than when it comes off the tree.”
True, indeed. But who doesn’t need a little variety sometimes? If there are only so many peaches you can eat out-of-hand (and only so many slices of peach pie), here are five herbs that honor the fruit T.S. Eliot’s J. Alfred Prufrock wondered if he should dare to eat.
“In the summertime, peaches have a super-sweet, honey succulence,” said Michael Graham, owner of C’est Cheese cafe and fromagerie in Santa Barbara, CA. “In contrast, basil has an astringent, very aromatic essence. Those two extremes complement each other really well.” Graham serves a seasonal “Peachy Keen” salad, which features peaches, basil, chevre and almonds, but try the combination as a flatbread, or add peaches to a traditional Caprese salad.
Black licorice is an incredibly divisive taste; people either love it or hate it. The haters tend to glean their dislike from experience with black jelly beans or Twizzlers black licorice, and thus tend to eschew anything that bears similarity, including anise and fennel. This is unfortunate. Feathery fennel fronds are aromatic and slightly sweet, with just a whisper of a hint of spice, but no heat.
Try grilling peaches on a bed of fennel fresh fronds. This is a technique often used for grilling fish, to keep it from sticking to the grill, but the intensified sweetness and added smokiness of a grilled peach pairs beautifully with fennel’s aroma. The raw bulb, thinly sliced, makes a lovely salad with fresh peaches, topped with a drizzle of good balsamic.
Marguerita Smith practically has fresh produce in her blood. She was raised on her family’s 60-acre, Santa Paula, Ca. orchard, Mud Creek Ranch, and works as a caterer. Smith loves adding a marjoram glaze to grilled peaches. “It adds a hearty earthiness,” she said.
A member of the mint family, marjoram has a lot of similarities to its cousin oregano, but bears a more delicate flavor that will pair well with stone fruit.
First, to those who avoid cooking with lavender for fear of making food that tastes like your grandmother’s powder room: Don’t be afraid. The keys to cooking with the tiny buds are: 1) Be conservative with amounts. A little goes a long way. 2) Choose good pairings.
While yellow peaches, especially those of the later-summer clingstone variety can have a tartness about them, white peaches boast a milder, sweeter, floral element that pairs beautifully with the herbaceousness of lavender. Try Martha Stewart’s white peach sherbet enhanced with lavender.
From a culinary standpoint, orange blossom is typically used in the form of orange blossom water. Like lavender, orange blossom demands a delicate touch. It can add a gorgeous perfume, but it has a bitter element that can become overwhelming if a chef fails to be judicious in its use.
In dishes that capitalize on the sweetness of peaches, orange blossom water can add a floral dimension with just a breath of the citrus one would expect from something with the name “orange” in it. Add a half-teaspoon of orange blossom water to peach pie filling. Armita Fazeli, owner of Sola Foods, makes a peach and orange blossom jam that pairs well with tart Greek yogurt or buttery pound cake.
Holly Leber is a writer and editor based in Silver Spring, Md. When she’s not hunting for stories, she can be found going on produce-related shopping sprees, making jam, wine tasting and reading 1930’s Nancy Drew. Holly is the editorial director of The Daily Do Good.
Photo: Liloh CC-BY-NC-SA