Saturday, August 12, 2006

Peaches and Herb - Revisited

White, Freestone Peaches

Trivia Question:

What pop group from the 1960's and 70's earned the nickname "Sweathearts of Soul" with hits like "Let's Fall in Love" and "Close Your Eyes"?

(No guesses? Or are you one of those clever people who knew the answer right away?)

Here's a Hint:

The answer is food-related! And no, it's not the Beatles -- even as gregarious an eater as the Ingredient Sleuth hasn't termed beetles (and it's spelled with an 'e' rather than an 'a' anyway) a food just yet!

(Give up?)

The Answer:

Peaches & Herb!

If you've finished groaning, after that introduction, we can proceed to the topic at hand -- peaches! Here we are, well into the depth of summer (ask anyone in the hot zone that seems to exist everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere this year), and peaches are available in all of their juicy abundance.

Originating in China, then migrating along the ancient Silk Road to Persia and the Mediterranean by 2000 B.C., the pretty, pink blossoms of peach trees now grace fields and back yards worldwide. Where blossoms glow, peaches grow!

As modern cultivars, peaches are typically classified as either "cling" or "freestone" based on the characteristics of the peach flesh surrounding the stone. In cling peaches, the flesh clings to the ridgy-surfaced stone; in freestone peaches, the flesh pulls away cleanly from the stone.

Many say that cling peaches are sold primarily for commercial canning purposes, and, as a result, do not appear routinely on grocers' shelves as fresh fruit. I find that NOT to be true, however.

Many times, after making a nice, slick cut around the circumference of the peach, then doing that opposite-direction turn of the two halves, I grimace as I discover that the peach is as tightly attached to the stone as before I made the cut! A Cling Peach! I then proceed with more cuts, wedging off thin slices of peach, one by one. Still just as delectable, albeit a bit more drippy -- and best not tried if the consumer is wearing long sleeves -- the peach slices eventually find their way to mouth or serving dish.

Freestone peaches are simpler and much better for lunch boxes, picnics, and virtually all applications, in my way of viewing the world (in which I prefer dry wrists to peach-juice wrists!). The flesh of the peach slips easily away from the stone and is ready for use without delay.

The flesh of the peach, in both cases, may be either yellow or white. Those with a true sweet tooth will likely prefer the white-fleshed varieties; the yellow varieties typically provide an extra little acidic tang.

Both yellow- and white-fleshed peaches often have red on their skin. As a result, peach identification, at the market, is best accomplished by faithful reading of the grocer's signage -- and perhaps of those pesky little glued-on stickers.

Today's recipe makes splendid use of freestone peach halves. From the recent cookbook by Jerry Traunfeld (HERBAL KITCHEN: Cooking with Fragrance and Flavor, William Morrow/Harper Collins Publishers, 2005), the recipe develops the flavors of the peaches by roasting and enhances them with the zing of herbs, nuts and sugars.

Roasted Peaches filled with Almond and Tarragon
(8 servings)

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped tarragon
¾ cup sliced almonds
4 large ripe freestone peaches

Preheat the over to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Beat together the butter and both sugars in a mixing bowl with a wooden spoon, or in an electric mixer, until there are no lumps. Beat in the egg and then the flour. Stir in the tarragon and almonds.

Split the peaches in half and remove the pits. Arrange the peaches cut side up in a shallow baking dish just large enough to hold them. Divide the almond filling into 8 equal portions and mound each in the cavity of a peach half. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the filling spreads over the top of the peaches and becomes well browned and crisp. Cool the peaches slightly. Serve them warm in shallow bowls with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Herbal improvisations: In place of the tarragon, add ¼ cup chopped anise hyssop leaves. Fresh green fennel seed is also good in this dessert; use 2 teaspoons chopped soft seed.

** NOTE: This recipe was authorized for reprint by the Ingredient Sleuth with the express permission of the author, Jerry Traunfeld, and the publisher.

The pleasing blend of flavors in this dish seems to me to be in complete harmony with the concepts of yin and yang of peaches' native China! The balance of all the flavor components is simply grand. And the caramel-crisp nut/herb topping is eye-rollingly luscious!

Eating these peaches while they are still warm is heavenly. Oozing-sweet peach juice, melted butter-caramel, roasted-rich nuts and bright, slightly-licorice fennel -- flavor explosions, texture contrasts. A dish that made my mouth water WHILE I was eating it! Every bite called for another.

The HERBAL KITCHEN cookbook is grand, as well. Mr. Traunfeld grasps the concept of HOW we gardeners -- especially herb gardeners -- cook! He knows that we eyeball our herb beds/containers/windowsills and think, "Hmmm, I have a lot of lovely tarragon right now. I wonder how I should use it."

Then, we pull down a cookbook from a shelf and start browsing. In the HERBAL KITCHEN, not only do we find recipes, sweet and savory, that make wonderful use of herbs but also a quick, ready reference for answers to our herbal cultivation questions.

What herb gardener, somewhere along the way, hasn't asked himself, "I need to harvest some of that oregano. Now, do I cut it WAY back, or only halfway down the stem." Most of the time, I find answers to such gardening questions much more easily in the HERBAL KITCHEN than in a gardening book. This is not surprising, I think, simply because Mr. Traunfeld is a chef. He knows what we "cookers" are thinking!

As the head chef at The Herbfarm Restaurant ( in Woodinville, Washington, for over 15 years, Jerry Traunfeld creates herb-inspired Northwest menus each week. He has received the James Beard Award for Best American Chef in the Northwest and Hawaii.

Was it a favorite song from Peaches & Herb that inspired this delectable dish? Likely not, though every time you prepare Roasted Peaches filled with Almond and Tarragon, you may find yourself humming "Let's Fall in Love" -- mentally adding, "With peaches and herbs!"