Even if you can find a ripe peach for sale, it is almost impossible to get it home without a bruise. I tend to buy my stone fruits on the firm side and ripen them in the spot I also use for mangoes and pears, turning them daily, until they are yielding and fragrant. Home-ripening doesn’t always work, with some fruit refusing to respond, spurning your attempts at love and nurture like a sulky teenager.
Peaches or nectarines are a rather good addition to a summer chicken salad, especially if you add the juice of a lemon to the dressing and maybe a slice or two of gherkin or green olives. I did just that earlier in the week, using the sticky “toffee” that had gathered under the roasting chicken to form the heart and soul of the dressing, sharpening the caramelised juices with lemon and vinegar, then tossing it with the still-warm chicken and chilled, ripe fruit.
The fruits that rebuff our TLC need not be confined to the compost or gnawed at like a dog with a rubber ball. Given time, they will respond to the warmth of the oven or grill. Sliced in half, stoned, brushed with melted butter or oil and seasoned with black pepper, they can be softened on the griddle or under the grill, basted every few minutes until they relent. As a dessert they need nothing more than a scoop of vanilla ice-cream and the merest trickle of orange blossom water.
This time I tucked my grilled peaches against roughly torn, milky mozzarella and a dressing made from basil, crème fraîche and yogurt. The lightly charred flesh of the peach was pleasing against the cool white cheese, itself only a step away from milk.
The sweet juice of the peach seems very much at home with the gentle linen-white cheeses on the table at this time of year: the burrata, buffalo milk mozzarella, ricotta and the firm English Ticklemore that sit so well with high-summer eating. But they also marry well with one of the sweet, mild blues such as Gorgonzola, either as it comes by the gently oozing spoonful, or by dropping teaspoons of the cheese into the hollows left by the stone and leaving them under a hot grill, where the cheese will melt into deep, creamy puddles.
A salad of roast chicken and nectarines
This salad is at its best when the roast chicken is still warm and the leaves and herbs freshly tossed with the hot dressing. With a perfectionist hat on, I would finish this at the table, pouring the still-steaming dressing over the lettuces, herbs and chicken just before piling it on to plates.
chicken thighs 500g
olive oil 6 tbsp
thyme 6 sprigs
parsley leaves 30
basil leaves 20
micro leaves a couple of handfuls
small seasonal lettuce 2 handfuls
white wine vinegar 2 tbsp
Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Put the chicken thighs in a roasting tin, a little distance apart. Mix together 3 tbsp of olive oil and the juice of 1 lemon, season with salt and black pepper and the leaves from the thyme sprigs. Pour the dressing over the chicken, turn the pieces until they are coated, add the lemon shell to the tin, then roast for 30 minutes or so until the chicken is golden skinned. Remove from the oven and leave to rest.
Slice the cornichons in half lengthways and put them in a large mixing bowl with the whole parsley and basil leaves (torn if they are exceptionally big). Halve the nectarines, remove the stones, then slice into quarters and add to the bowl. Add all of the micro and lettuce leaves.
Remove the chicken from its bones and tear into large pieces, and add them to the salad. Discard the fat from the roasting tin and place the tin over a low heat. Squeeze the juice from the lemon half into the roasting juices, add the white wine vinegar and the remaining 3 tbsp of olive oil and stir with a wooden spoon, scraping at the pan to dissolve any caramelised roasting juices. Season with salt and black pepper.
Pour the warm dressing on to the salad and toss gently. Pile on to a serving dish.
Grilled peaches with mozzarella
For a light summer lunch I would probably add a tomato salad to this, and perhaps a bowl of spinach. The tomatoes should be naked apart from a little oil and pepper, the spinach tossed with lemon oil, a few capers and a dash of not-too-sharp red wine vinegar. The peaches could be nectarines if that is what you have. What matters is that the fruit is given enough cooking time in which to soften. Fruit that remains stubbornly hard can, in desperation, be brought to softness by being halved, stoned and simmered in a very light sugar syrup, then seasoned and grilled as below.
peaches 2 ripe ones
basil leaves and stems 50g
olive oil 100ml, plus a little extra
natural yogurt 100g
crème fraîche 100g
mozzarella 2 balls
Heat a griddle pan. Slice the peaches in half and remove the stone, then brush the cut surface with a little oil. Place cut side down on the griddle and leave to cook until they are tender and golden brown. Remove from the griddle and season with coarsely ground black pepper.
Put the basil leaves in a food processor or blender, add the olive oil and reduce to a bright, fragrant dressing. Mix together the yogurt and crème fraîche then stir in the basil oil to taste.
Break open the mozzarella and divide between 2 plates. Spoon some of the basil dressing over the cheese and then add the grilled peaches.