Stone fruits at their best are sweet and juicy, but the store-bought varieties sometimes can be the pits. Here's how to choose and use these summer fruits.
By JANET K. KEELER
Published July 12, 2006
[Times photo: Patty Yablonski]
Summer in Florida can be a bummer for reasons mostly involving the weather: humidity and heat, tropical storms and worse, wicked thunder and lightning. Did I mention bugs?
Add to that list the fact it is not our primary growing season and that we rely on the better weather of other places to provide traditional summer produce. And by that I mean glorious nectarines, peaches, plums, apricots and cherries.
Even though these stone fruits aren't locally grown, local stores are loaded with them. Still, you can't count on the fruit to be sweet and juicy all the time. I've bitten into my share of bland samplings. What a disappointment.
Stone fruits - those with one pit - get their sweetness while hanging on the tree, but fruit meant to be eaten fresh is often picked for optimal shipping, not necessarily for prime taste. Once picked, they soften and change colors but they will not get any sweeter. Actually, you may find more consistently pleasing fruit in freezer cases or cans.
To coax more flavor from fresh stone fruits, and to take advantage of their many nutritional benefits, use them in recipes such as cherry-chipotle barbecue sauce or peach-rum sauce heaven-sent for ice cream or waffles. Heat intensifies flavor, and sugar, or artificial sweetener, makes each bite, well, sweeter. Even a less-than-stellar peach will taste fabulous in homemade vanilla ice cream.
Some tips on buying, storing and using what's in season . . . somewhere:
Don't buy more than you can eat in a few days.
Four peaches, two nectarines, three plums and five apricots may seem judicious at checkout but when they all ripen two days later, you better be prepared to start eating or cooking. The stone fruit season lasts at least through August so how about taking a chance on peaches this week and apricots next?
Ripen at room temperature.
Ripen fruit on the counter top, not in the refrigerator. It'll take about two days for fruit to soften; eat it then or refrigerate for two to three more days. The cold temperature arrests development. For optimal flavor, bring to room temperature before eating out of hand.
Look for color and smell.
When buying fruit, avoid any with green undertones. They were picked too early and will not have a lot of flavor. Fruit should be fragrant. If you can't smell anything, keep looking. Likewise, if the smell is overpowering.
Shop by feel.
Though most fruit, with the exception of cherries, will be quite firm, avoid those that are as hard as baseballs. They should yield a bit to slight pressure and will soften even more as they sit at room temperature.
It's the pits.
Removing the stone from summer fruit is sometimes easy and other times near impossible. For peaches and apricots, the pits practically jump out. With plums and nectarines, you'll need to be a bit more forceful. A small, sharp knife will help dislodge them. You can buy a pitter for cherries, which is a time-saver if you're making a pie and need a lot. For me, it's faster to push the seed out by hand after cutting the cherries in half.
And by the way, I've found cherries to be the most consistently good of the stone fruits.
Sturdy stone fruits are delicious when grilled outdoors or in a grill pan on the stove. Halve and brush with melted butter, then slap them on an oiled grate. How long to grill them depends on how ripe they are. Softer fruit takes less time than firmer. Figure on about three to four minutes a side. Serve them alongside meats, on top of salads, with ice cream.
Cook halved, pitted fruit in a mixture of water and sugar, add a bit of rum or brandy if you'd like. Don't let the liquid boil or the fruit will fall apart. Keep it at a gentle simmer for about 10 minutes. Cool completely and serve with ice cream or sorbets, or with a dollop of creme fraiche.
Baked halved peaches, cut side up with a bit of butter where the pit was, in a 350-degree oven for 20 to 30 minutes. Cool slightly and serve with frozen yogurt sprinkled with granola.
They may not be perfect every time, but you've got until September to enjoy fresh stone fruit. Our summer lasts longer than that.Janet K. Keeler can be reached at (727) 893-8586 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Peaches in Brown Sugar With Rum Sauce and Ice Cream
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
6 tablespoons (packed) golden brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 ripe peaches, peeled, halved, pitted, each cut into 8 wedges
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons dark rum
Vanilla or peach ice cream
Melt butter in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add sugar and cinnamon and cook, stirring often, until sugar begins to dissolve (mixture may clump together). Add peaches and vanilla. Saute until peaches are tender, stirring occasionally, about 4 minutes. Remove skillet from heat. Stir in rum. Return skillet to heat and cook until sauce thickens, stirring frequently, about 2 minutes. Cool sauce for about 5 minutes and pour over ice cream. (Could also be used for waffles.)
Makes 6 servings.
Source: Bon Appetit, August 2003.
Nectarine Tarte Tatin
7 medium nectarines
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
11/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons butter
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 15-ounce package refrigerated pie dough (such as Pillsbury)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cut 1 nectarine in half and pit and set aside; quarter the other half. Quarter and pit the remaining 6 nectarines.
Combine sugar, water and juice in a 12-inch stainless-steel skillet. Cook for 2 minutes or until sugar is golden (do not stir). Remove from heat; stir in butter and vanilla. Let stand 3 minutes.
Place nectarine half, cut side down, in center of sugar mixture; arrange nectarine quarters, cut side down, around center. Return pan to medium heat. Cook for 10 minutes or until sugar mixture is bubbly (do not stir). Remove from heat; let stand 3 minutes.
Roll pie dough into a 12-inch circle on a lightly floured surface. Place dough over nectarine mixture, fitting dough between nectarines and skillet.
Bake for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from oven and cool for 10 minutes. Carefully invert tart onto a serving plate. Cut into wedges.
Makes 10 servings.
Nutritional information per serving: 183 calories, 7g fat (3g saturated), 2g protein, 30g carbohydrates, 2g fiber, 84mg sodium.
Grilled Chicken with Cherry-Chipotle Barbecue Sauce
1 cup fresh or frozen dark sweet cherries, pitted and chopped (see note)
1/2 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/3 cup cherry preserves
1/3 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
11/2 teaspoons minced canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, or more to taste
11/4 teaspoons dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of fat
Stir cherries, broth, preserves, ketchup, vinegar, chipotle peppers, thyme and allspice in a small, deep bowl. Transfer to a shallow, nonreactive dish (stainless steel, glass or enamel-coated) large enough to hold chicken. Add the chicken and turn to coat well. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours over overnight.
Preheat grill to high. Oil the grill rack. Remove the chicken from the marinade. Transfer the marinade to a medium saucepan.
Reduce the grill heat to medium and grill the chicken until cooked through and no longer pink in the middle, 7 to 9 minutes per side. Meanwhile, bring the marinade to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until the sauce is reduced by about half, 12 to 15 minutes. Let the chicken cool slightly, serve with the sauce.
Note: If using frozen cherries, thaw first.
Makes 8 servings.
Nutritional information per serving: 180 calories, 3g fat (1g saturated), 14g carbohydrate, 24g protein, 1g fiber, 179mg sodium.
Source: Eating Well, June/July 2006.
Stone Fruit Pouches
2 cups crushed gingersnaps
4 apricots, pit removed and cut into eighths
4 plums, pit removed and cut into fourths
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons sugar
4 teaspoons lime zest
2 limes, juiced
4 teaspoons brandy
Heat coals of grill or gas grill. Cut 8 squares of aluminum foil (18 by 18 inches). Lay down double thickness of foil and divide gingersnaps evenly among the 4 squares. Divide fruit evenly and place on top of gingersnaps. Dot with butter.
In small bowl mix sugar, salt and lime zest. Sprinkle sugar mixture evenly over fruit, drizzle with juice and brandy and seal packets. Once coals are covered with ash, lay packets over them and cover with lid of grill. Cook for 10 minutes. (If using a gas grill, place packets on grate and cook for about 15 minutes.) Remove from heat and open carefully, as steam inside packet is very hot. Serve on plates as is or spoon into shallow bowls and top with creme fraiche or ice cream.
Source: Alton Brown/Food Network.
Chinese Apricot Chicken
4 pounds of chicken pieces
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar or white wine vinegar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sherry
3 tablespoons ketchup
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons peanut oil
6 fresh apricots (about 3/4 pound), halved
3 green onions, cut into 2-inch slivers
Cut chicken parts into 2-inch pieces, using a cleaver, whacking straight down through the bone (or have a butcher do it for you).
Combine vinegar, water, sugar, soy sauce, sherry, ketchup and cornstarch for sauce; set aside.
In a wok or large frying pan, heat oil and stir-fry chicken over high heat 10 minutes or until tender and golden brown.
Add apricots; stir-fry 1 minute.
Pour sauce mixture over chicken; cook, stirring until thickened.
Garnish with green onion slivers.
Makes 6 servings.
Nutritional information per serving: 812 calories, 58g protein, 30g carbohydrates, 819mg sodium, 51g fat.
Source: California Apricot Council.
[Last modified July 11, 2006, 10:28:12]
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