Peach season is here – and it will be with us until September. Because peaches don’t keep terribly well, that stretch will be filled by different varieties that mature at staggered times. If you find one you like, it will be gone soon enough, but if you stock up you are going to need some innovative ways to make use of them.
Reading up on peach recipes, I fully expected that most, if not all of them, would include a line mentioning that nectarines could be substituted, since a nectarine is a sort of smooth-skinned peach. But almost none of them did.
So, I guess it falls to me to offer this obvious advice: you can use nectarines in recipes that specify peaches, and vice versa. If you want to make nectarine melba, be my guest. If you want to use peaches in Dan Lepard’s nectarine strudel, I will not stop you (and neither, I suspect, will he).
Should you need to remove the fuzzy skin of your peaches for a recipe (often it is not necessary, but the skin can sometimes become tough with cooking), you can deploy the same method recommended for tomatoes: blanch them in just-boiled water for about a minute. When they are cool enough to handle, the skins should slip off.
Peaches reach their peak just as the summer heat makes cooking feel like a pointless drag. It is perhaps because of this that they feature in a lot of American desserts that seem to make a virtue of slapdashery and unfussiness, with names to match: slump, grunt, buckle. These days, the term “deconstructed” is preferred when you want to reassure people that the dish looks like that on purpose.
A peach slump is the kind of pie you throw together – lumpy biscuit dough spooned over sweetened, sliced peaches and then baked – but it is just as delicious as more presentable desserts. When the slump comes out of the oven, you invert it on to a serving dish so that the crust ends up on the bottom. This recipe uses American cups, but don’t let that get you down – pick an average-sized mug from the cupboard and eyeball the fractions. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall does an anglicised version, but he doesn’t flip it over at the end, which technically makes it a peach grunt.
Peach buckle is a type of rough-and-ready cake, traditionally cooked in and served from an iron skillet. Martha Stewart’s has a crunchy almond and cinnamon top. Again, she uses US measurements, but the relevant conversions are: 680g peaches; 113g butter; 150g sugar and 150g flour. Maths aside, the rest is easy: batter and peaches are folded together, sprinkled with the almond mixture and baked. For variety, you can replace some of the peaches with a seasonal berry of your choice.
Peach cobbler is very much in the same vein. Ruby Tandoh teams peaches with raspberries for her cornmeal cobbler, while Clare Ptak combines nectarines and cherries.
Yotam Ottolenghi’s peach, rosemary and lime galette has a more sophisticated ring to it, but that doesn’t mean it is any more difficult to produce. Shop-bought puff pastry keeps the effort to a minimum. This galette is a particularly good way to employ the hard, underripe peaches that are often all you can find, as is Nigel Slater’s peach and honey cake with pine nuts.
Truly the simplest treatment you can give a peach is a good roasting – a few minutes under a hot grill to concentrate the flavour. Clare Ptak roasts peaches halved with vanilla, raspberries and sweet white wine, which you could probably manage on a barbecue of a summer night, when everything else is cooked and the coals are still hot.
For a dessert with no heat in it, try a peach-based trifle. Thomasina Miers’s version (again pairing peaches with raspberries) includes a peach compote that comes together in about 10 minutes; if you make extra, you can have it for breakfast all week. There is a custard to make as well, but after that it is a mere matter of assembly. Then you and the trifle get to chill for a few hours.
Colder still is Liam Charles’s peach melba freeze-cake: a biscuit base topped with a filling of peaches, cream, cream cheese and ice-cream, swirled with a raspberry drizzle and frozen hard. This is, of course, a spin-off of peach melba, the classic (and deeply unfashionable) pudding created in honour of Nellie Melba by the French chef Auguste Escoffier more than a century ago. There is a lot of debate about the poaching – or not – of the peaches, but Felicity Cloake’s authoritative version strives to capture its original simplicity, which fortunately means it is also pretty easy.
Peaches are not just for pudding. They can feature in salads alongside savoury and especially salty ingredients, where you might otherwise deploy some kind of melon. Ottolenghi’s peach, raspberry and watercress salad is a great, if counterintuitive, accompaniment to pork belly.
Miers’s freekeh, nectarine and halloumi salad offers a comprehensive range of flavours – sweet, sour, salt – and textures in a simple summer lunch. Fearnley-Whittingstall’s peach, prosciutto, ricotta and rocket salad is in the same ballpark, while this peach panzanella, with brioche croutons, lettuce and mozzarella, is just the right side of weird.
Finally, there is peach shrub. This is not a plant, but a sweet-and-sour syrup used in all manner of alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails. It is a combination of macerated, sieved peaches, cider vinegar and, in this case, ginger. The proportions are straightforward, the preparation basic and the result will keep in the fridge for months, although you might fancy a little right now. And, by all means, try it with nectarines.