Fuzz-less nectarines make peachy-keen desserts

September 02, 1992|By Jimmy Schmidt | Jimmy Schmidt,Knight-Ridder News Service

Nectarines are my favorite peaches. Although many people think nectarines are an entirely different fruit, they are a fuzz-less peach cousin. Both peaches and nectarines have similar fresh and cooked characteristics.

They are so similar, in fact, that the seeds from peaches may produce nectarines, peaches or even both on the same tree.

The smooth skin of nectarines is more delicate and easier to eat fresh. During cooking, it also softens further, almost melting away, so you often don't have to peel them.

Select nectarines with smooth, blemish-free skin and a sweet, fragrant scent. They should be supple, never soft or mushy. Avoid any green, which indicates they're immature. However, don't measure ripeness by skin color. You must use your nose and a gentle squeeze.

Handle either fruit carefully, because they are very delicate and bruise very easily. Lay them flat in a shallow box instead of stacking them in a bag. Continue ripening as necessary at room temperature out of direct light. Refrigerate when ripe for 1 or 2 days.

If you must peel for some desserts, first blanch them in boiling water for about 30 seconds to loosen the skin, then cool the fruit under running cold water to stop the cooking.

Carefully remove the skin with a paring knife, and it should easily peel away. Rub all cut surfaces with lemon juice to slow the browning.

Use nectarines just like peaches in your favorite dishes. For baking, nectarines work best in cobblers, crisps and other dishes, where the fruit is on the bottom and the pastry is on the tTC top. Both peaches and nectarines have lots of juice that tends to soften traditional bottom-covered pastries.

Tarts, pies and flans are best when the nectarines are quickly sauteed with a little sugar to release the excess juice and concentrate it back over the fruit. Prebake the crust, allowing just enough cooking time to set the filling, then add the hot sauteed nectariness and filling. Bake until the edges of the pastry are golden crisp and the filling is thickened.

Nectarines are also great with some savory recipes as well. The rich fruit flavor of the nectarines is complemented by more powerful meats, such as duck and squab. In these dishes, a splash of red wine or balsamic vinegar brings a sharper edge and balance. Try roasted shallots, chives and sweet onions as counterpoint.

Nectarine cobbler

Serves 4.

1 tablespoon butter for pan

6 cups sliced fresh nectarines

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar, divided

1 teaspoon orange peel

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 egg, beaten

1/2 cup buttermilk

4 scoops of vanilla ice cream

confectioners' sugar

sprigs of fresh mint for garnish

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Place nectarines in a buttered 9-by-9-inch baking dish. In a small bowl, combine 1 cup of the sugar, the orange rind and vanilla. Sprinkle over the nectarines. Place the dish in oven for 15 minutes while making the dough.

In a large bowl combine the flour, the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, baking powder and salt. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut in the butter until well mixed. Combine the egg and the buttermilk, then slowly add to the dry ingredients until mixed. Remove the nectarines from the oven. Spread the batter across the nectarines to cover.

Return the cobbler to the oven and cook until golden, about 30 minutes. Remove to a cake rack to cool. Serve the cobbler by cutting into squares and scooping onto the center of the serving plates. Scoop the ice cream and position beside the cobbler. Dust with confectioners' sugar. Garnish with sprigs of mint and serve.

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