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Luscious peaches gild summer's end; with recipes

Scripps Howard News Service

Must credit Sacramento Bee

With photo/graphic: SH12H071PEACHES, SH12H072PEACHES

By DEBBIE ARRINGTON

Sacramento Bee

This is the kind of peach season that makes David Masumoto's mouth water.

"My dad used to say, once in a decade you'd get a year like this -- you don't want to miss it," said Masumoto, a longtime organic grower in central California. "It's a good year for flavor; hot but not too hot. It's perfect for peaches."

Masumoto, author of five books including the award winning "Epitaph for a Peach: Four Seasons on My Family Farm" (HarperOne), just finished work on his first Masumoto Farms cookbook. It's due out next June from Ten Speed Press.

Mixing philosophy with farming, Masumoto's lyrical writing and organic heirloom peaches have made him a national star. He takes his passion for peaches very personally and advises other peach lovers to do the same.

"Get to know the different types of peaches and the farmers who grow them," he said. "When you're shopping for ripe peaches, you can't go just by the red color. There's a trick to knowing when they're ready. ...

"A ripe peach really does glow," Masumoto added. "It takes a while to learn the art of selecting the right ones. That's why you want to make friends with the farmers. They'll help you."

Masumoto said he's been lucky this year: He has plenty of peaches.

Peaches need a chill in winter and heat in summer.

"Peaches are native to the high desert of China," Masumoto said. "That's their natural climate. They like heat. They love a hot, dry summer. That's what they get in the Valley and why they grow so well here, especially organically.

"In the South, typically there's a lot of humidity," Masumoto added. "Peaches don't like it that much."

Peaches never get boring, he said.

"They're never quite the same from year to year," Masumoto said. "Part of the joy of cooking and working with peaches, they have this wonderful character. It changes every year. So should we."

Picking peaches: Look for peaches that are firm to the touch but have a little give. They should be unblemished, free of nicks or bruises, with a warm, fragrant aroma. Mature peaches have a well-defined cleft and a soft glow.

Avoid peaches with any sign of green (they won't ripen fully). Peaches will soften off the tree, but their sugar content will remain the same.

Nutrition: One large peach or one cup of fresh sliced peaches contains about 60 calories, almost all from carbohydrates. Peaches are a good source of vitamins A, C and niacin. They also contain several antioxidants and potassium, iron and copper.

Health benefits: High in fiber and low in calories, peaches have no sodium or cholesterol. That makes them a naturally healthy food, fresh, frozen or canned. Recent studies also show that compounds found in peaches may help fight off obesity-related diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Other studies linked peaches to fighting cancer cells, improving vision, reducing hypertension and easing side effects of irritable bowel syndrome. Peaches star in this summer soup from "Fresh Farm Southern Cooking: Straight From the Gardent to Your Dinner Table," by Tammy Algood. SWIZZLE-STICK SOUP

Serves 8 to 10

3 pounds fresh peaches or apricots, pitted, peeled and halved

3 cups peach or apricot nectar

1 cup dry white wine

1 teaspoon ground ginger

Pinch of saffron threads

1/2 cup honey

1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup half-and-half

1/2 cup plain yogurt

Mint sprigs for garnish

In a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, combine the peaches, nectar, wine, ginger and saffron. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer 30 minutes.

Remove from the heat and add the honey, brown sugar, salt, and half-and-half. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth. (Or cool and puree in a regular blender.)

Ladle into soup bowls. Place a dollop of yogurt in the center of each bowl. With a swizzle stick, swirl the yogurt, and garnish with fresh mint. Serve warm, at room temperature, or chilled.

"A nutty toasted oat topping gives this dessert crunch, while the luscious peaches and coconut bubble away underneath," Algood writes. She recommends baking the dessert during dinner, which "gives everyone time to enjoy the main meal and conversation while it tempts with a tantalizing aroma to remind guests that dessert is on the way."

COCONUT-PEACH CRISP

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

1 cup rolled (or old- fashioned) oats

1 cup ground blanched almonds

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour (divided)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

1 egg

1/8 teaspoon pure almond extract

2/3 cup lightly packed sweetened shredded coconut

2 1/2 pounds peaches, peeled, pitted and thinly sliced (about 6 large peaches)

1/3 cup sugar

2 teaspoons lemon juice

Whipped cream

Position rack in the lowest third of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees. Lightly grease a 13-by-9-inch baking pan; set aside.

Place oats on a baking sheet and toast 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer to a mixing bowl and cool completely.

Increase the oven temperature to 375 degrees.

Add the almonds, 1 tablespoon of the flour, the baking powder and salt to the oats. Set aside.

In a separate mixing bowl, beat the butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add egg and beat well. Stir in the extract, oat mixture, and coconut. Set aside.

Place peaches in the prepared dish. Add remaining flour, sugar and juice, tossing gently to coat the peaches. Crumble the oat topping over the peaches. Bake until crisp and golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Cool at least 10 minutes before serving. Top with a dollop of freshly whipped cream.

Try this peachy ketchup recipe from Kristy DeVaney of Sacramento Connect, who blogs at www.cavegrrl.com.

PEACH-CHIPOTLE KETCHUP

Makes about 3 cups

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 onion

1 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup apple cider vinegar

5 to 6 peaches

1 tablespoon molasses

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon crushed garlic

2 chipotle peppers, seeded

4 yellow tomatoes

1 Roma tomato

Heat olive oil in a skillet and slice the onion. Saute the onion and then add the salt when the onion becomes translucent.

When the onion begins to soften, add apple cider vinegar and cook onion down until it is brown and fully caramelized.

Peel and slice the peaches and place fruit in a food processor. Pulse until peaches form a thick liquid. Add the molasses and honey and set aside.

When the onion is fully cooked, put it into the food processor with the crushed garlic, and pulse to make a paste. Seed and remove the membranes from the chipotle peppers, and place them in the food processor with the onion paste. Pulse until well blended. Set this mixture aside.

Core and cut tomatoes into medium-size chunks and place in a saucepot with the peach puree. Cook them down with the peach puree until the tomatoes break down and the mixture starts to thicken. This will take 20 to 30 minutes.

Then add the onion mixture to the saucepot, along with the tomato paste. Incorporate completely and continue to cook on low to medium heat until desired thickness is reached (about 10 to 20 more minutes).

Keep in refrigerator for up to a week, or you can freeze for later use.

(Contact Debbie Arrington at darrington (at) sacbee.com. For more stories, visit scrippsnews.com.)

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