Rosann Fama, a contestant on the reality TV show Hell's Kitchen, correctly identified the taste of a nectarine while blindfolded. What's impressive about that, you may ask?
A peach and a nectarine are essentially the same fruit. The difference is the result of a slight genetic variation - one gene - that leaves the nectarine without fuzz. In fact, a peach tree can begin growing nectarines instead of peaches if that genetic variation occurs within the peach tree, according to the Web site bouquetoffruits .com, which sells fruit gifts.
Just like peaches, nectarines come in white-flesh and yellow-flesh varieties. Nectarines were even called "fuzzless peaches" before they were officially named nectarines, according to the California Tree Fruit Agreement Web site. "To me, nectarines are more dynamic," says Dale Janzen, a fruit expert with the California Tree Fruit Agreement. "To me they have a more robust flavor, compared to the more subtle flavor of peaches."
Nectarines are in season from June to September. Locally grown nectarines will be available beginning in late July. Most nectarines in Maryland grocery stores during fall, spring or winter months are from California, according to the Web site summeripe.com.
Nectarines are packed with fiber and vitamin C. Add slices to nonfat yogurt with granola for a healthful dessert. Says Allan Baugher of Baugher's Orchard in Westminster, "Most people just eat them fresh, put a bit of chill on them and have them for dessert."
Choose a nectarine that is "firm, with a little give to it," says Maryland produce wholesaler Joe Rahll. "If it has too much give, it might be mealy or it might be a really nice piece of fruit. You have to taste it," he said.
The shoulders - yes, nectarines have shoulders! - should be full and round, which indicates a mature fruit. The color of the fruit should be a creamy gold or yellow. A pink blush on the skin is attributed to exposure to sunlight. Avoid a rock-hard or green-tinged nectarine, according to the Web site of produce expert Tony Tantillo.
Nectarines, along with bananas, tomatoes and other fruit, give off a gas called ethylene as they ripen, according to the Web site of Catalytic Generators, which produces and sells ethylene. To trap the gas and still allow the fruit to ripen naturally, put the fruit in a paper bag and store it at room temperature in a dark cupboard for a few days. The paper bag allows air to circulate, keeping the fruit from decaying, according to Dale Janzen, the California Tree Fruit Agreement expert.
Plastic bags aren't good for storing fruit because moisture cannot escape. Once the fruit is ripe, it should keep for about a week in the refrigerator. Add a banana, which gives off a lot of ethylene, to the paper bag and the nectarine should ripen faster.
To make pie filling, Janzen recommends combining 5 cups of sliced nectarines and 1 cup of sugar in a Ziploc bag. Leave the bag and its contents at room temperature for 25 minutes. Add a few tablespoons of tapioca to act as a thickener, 1/2 teaspoon almond extract, and a shot of brandy for added flavor. It's "the perfect marriage of flavors," he said.
Making nectarine jam is a way to preserve the flavor of nectarines all year long.
Combine sweet with tangy by adding nectarine slices to salads with balsamic vinegar dressing.
The California Tree Fruit Agreement Web site recommends adding nectarine and avocado slices around salmon dishes as a tasty garnish.
Prosciutto-Wrapped White Nectarines
Makes 20 appetizers
2 large fresh white nectarines
20 thin strips prosciutto (about 4 ounces)
1/2 cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese
Preheat broiler and line a baking sheet with foil. Cut each nectarine into 10 slices and wrap each with a prosciutto strip. Place on prepared baking sheet and broil for 2 to 3 minutes on each side or until prosciutto is crispy. While warm, sprinkle with cheese. Serve with toothpicks.
From the California Tree Fruit Agreement Web site, eatcaliforniafruit.com.Per serving: 32 calories, 2 grams protein, 1 gram fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 3 grams carbohydrate, trace fiber, 7 milligrams cholesterol, 190 milligrams sodium