Just like parts of our lives are marked with songs, my summer memories are punctuated with stone fruits — cherries, apricots, nectarines, and peaches. Name a fruit, and I’ll remember a story.
Every single time I eat a cherry, like I did the other day, right out of the farmer’s box on the card table where he was selling them from, I think I’m the luckiest person in the world. To be able to have cherries again.
With that first cherry of the summer, other cherry memories come flooding back. Eating the cherries in Spain a few years back while I was on a train trip from Seville to Madrid. I’d get two coffee cups in the morning; fill one with coffee, and the other, with cherries grown in the Jerte Valley, and I’d snack on them as we rolled through the scrubby landscape of Extremadura.
In Paris, one summer I made savory sablé cookies with cherries and Manchego cheese and served them with Champagne. I made compotes and croustades dusted with cinnamon, threw them into salads, and made a yogurt with cherry purée.
Cherries’ tartness and sweetness can go sweet or savory, I’ve learned. Or they can be eaten just as they are, one by one, on a train in Spain or not.
The same Colorado farmer who insisted I try his cherries the other day tore open an apricot and handed me half of what was perhaps the sweetest apricot I’ve ever eaten. I love that apricots are easy like that. They’re ready when you are. No knives.
I made more jars of apricot refrigerator jam than I can count a few years ago when I was in Santa Fe and the season was at its height. As I’m writing this, there weren’t enough apricots yet available for jam-making, so I made a salad with them instead.
I’m a big believer in throwing seasonal fruits into salads, especially in the summer — because as much as I love fruit desserts, I also like to put them in savory dishes, too.
Nectarines, to be honest, I often forget about, because Texas peaches have always been the big star in my world; what I look forward to most each summer. Instead of birthday cake, my mom sometimes makes a peach cobbler for me, which, because it falls towards the end of July, is perfect timing for getting the season’s ripest fruit.
That said, while I was hiking in southwest Colorado last month, someone packed a nectarine in my lunch, and it was perfect — ripe, juicy, and just the thing I needed after a blistering hot hike.
It reminded me how wonderful nectarines could be. Peaches, watch your back.
I’ve heard that this year’s peach crop in Texas is predicted to be less than stellar, which is part of why they’re so special — you just never know from one year to the next what kind of season it’ll be, and even then, when you bring them home, there’s the waiting, the putting into paper bags and then, suddenly, everything’s ripe and you’ve got to eat all of them right away.
These recipes, all new, and leaning on summer’s herbs for little extra surprise, are meant to help when you’ve got too many cherries, or peaches, or anything else, and don’t know what to do with them all.
Which is not a bad problem to have.
Ellise Pierce is the Cowgirl Chef and author of “Cowgirl Chef: Texas Cooking With a French Accent” (Running Press). Read her blog (www.cowgirlchef.com), and follow her on Twitter (@cowgirlchef) and Instagram (cowgirlchef)
Apricot, Tomato and Avocado Salad
Makes 4 servings
10 cherry tomatoes
Balsamic vinaigrette, recipe follows
3 basil leaves, torn
2 ounces feta, crumbled
¼ cup pistachios, chopped
1. Halve the apricots, remove the seed, and roughly chop. Put into a medium bowl.
2. Halve the cherry tomatoes and toss these in, too.
3. Slice the avocado, remove the pit, and slice into bite-size pieces. Add to the salad.
4. Pour some of the balsamic vinaigrette on top and gently toss. Add the torn basil leaves, feta, and pistachios. Serve.
Nutritional analysis per serving, without Balsamic Vinaigrette: 190 calories, 15 grams fat, 12 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams protein, 13 milligrams cholesterol, 167 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber, 66 percent of calories from fat.
Makes 3/4 cup
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon chopped shallot
sea salt and pepper
3/4 cup olive oil
Put the balsamic vinegar, mustard, shallot and a little sea salt and pepper in a jam jar. Give it a good shake, then let it rest for 15 minutes. Add the olive oil, shake again, and taste. Will keep in the fridge for a week.
Nutritional analysis per 1-tablespoon serving: 121 calories, 14 grams fat, 9 grams carbohydrates, trace protein, no cholesterol, 15 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber, 98 percent of calories from fat.
White Chocolate and Basil Ice Cream with Cherries
Makes about 1 quart
1 cup cherries, pitted and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons sugar
2 basil leaves plus 4 more for custard
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch sea salt
4 egg yolks
White chocolate pastilles (I used Guittard brand.)
1. Put the cherries, sugar, and basil along with 2 tablespoons water into a small saucepan over medium heat. When it boils, reduce the heat to a simmer and let cook until the cherries soften slightly and the sugar mixture thickens and makes fat bubbles. Remove from heat. Let cool, then refrigerate.
2. Pour the cream into a bowl with a colander set on top.
3. Put the milk and 4 basil leaves in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook until you see tiny bubbles on the side — you don’t want this to boil. Turn off the heat and let the basil leaves steep for 45 minutes.
4. In a smallish bowl, whisk together the sugar, salt and egg yolks.
5. Remove the basil leaves and warm up the milk again. When the milk’s warm, pour a little bit into the sugar/egg yolk mixture, while madly whisking so you don’t have scrambled eggs. Keep pouring until the sugar/egg yolks are warmish, then add back to the saucepan, again, whisking until well incorporated. Let this cook for about 5 minutes or until the custard has thickened. It should coat the back of your spoon.
6. Put the white chocolate pastilles in a medium bowl.
7. Pour the warmed custard into the bowl with the white chocolate. Let it sit for a minute. Now whisk until the white chocolate has melted and is incorporated. Pour this into the colander set over the cream. Mix. Let the mixture cool, then refrigerate for 4 to 6 hours (I usually let mine rest overnight.) When ready to make ice cream, pour the custard into your ice cream maker and freeze. Fold in the cherries last, and pour the ice cream into a container to firm up for an hour before serving.
Nutritional analysis per 1/2-cup serving: 333 calories, 26 grams fat, 22 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams protein, 194 milligrams cholesterol, 64 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber, 69 percent of calories from fat.
White Nectarine and Rosemary Crisp
Makes 6 servings
2 pounds white nectarines, half-ripe, yet still firm
2 tablespoons corn starch
1/2 cup sugar
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 stick butter, melted
1 cup oatmeal
1/2 cup pecans, toasted and roughly chopped
1/2 cup wheat flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary, plus more for serving
Vanilla ice cream for serving
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Toss the nectarines in a small bowl with the cornstarch, sugar and lemon juice. Set aside.
3. Mix together the ingredients for the topping.
4. Divide the nectarines between 6 ( 1/2-cup) ramekins set on a cookie sheet. Add as much fruit as you can, because there will be shrinkage when cooking. Add a generous layer of topping (you can freeze any that’s leftover), and bake for 30 to 45 minutes or until the tops are brown and the insides are bubbling. Let cool slightly before serving with ice cream.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 413 calories, 23 grams fat, 53 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams protein, 41 milligrams cholesterol, 162 milligrams sodium, 5 grams dietary fiber, 47 percent of calories from fat.
Roasted Peaches, Chèvre and Thyme plus French Lentils
Makes 2 servings
2 tablespoons olive oil plus more for the peaches
1/2 cup diced onion
1 clove of garlic, minced
Sea salt and pepper
1 large carrot, diced
2 cups French green lentils, rinsed
1 quart (4 cups) vegetable stock
2 bay leaves
2 peaches, ripe but still firm
A few springs thyme
2 tablespoonfuls chevre
1. Put the olive oil, diced onion and garlic in a medium-size stockpot over medium-low heat with a little salt and pepper. Cook until the onion is translucent and you can smell the onion and garlic, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add the carrot and let it cook for 5 minutes, or until slightly soft.
2. Add the lentils, vegetable stock and bay leaves. Half cover the pot and let it boil. Reduce the heat to low and let it cook until the lentils are softened, but still have a little bite to them. This normally takes about 45 minutes.
To save time: Make the lentils in advance and keep in the fridge.
3. While the lentils are cooking, roast the peaches. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the peaches in quarters and put them in a baking dish, insides-up. Add some sea salt and pepper and a little olive oil, top with thyme sprigs, and cook until slightly soft, about 20 minutes. Add the chevre and cook for 10 minutes more.
4. I like to serve this at room temperature, so I let the peaches cool down and bring the lentils (usually made the day before) out of the fridge and let them warm up a little. Simply put the lentils in 2 shallow serving bowls, top with the peach segments with the chevre and thyme, and serve.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 982 calories, 29 grams fat, 132 grams carbohydrates, 79 grams protein, 3 milligrams cholesterol, 1,370 milligrams sodium, 62 grams dietary fiber, 24 percent of calories from fat.