Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Peaches and cream (and chilli and cheese) AKA salsa and saganaki

Peaches are late summer. The tangy sweet-sour of yellow peaches and the fragrant sugariness of white peaches, fuzzy-furry skin and juices dripping down my chin: bliss (albeit sticky bliss).

I grew up on the remnants of a peach farm. I am never short of ideas about what to do with them*. Cut in half, drizzled with honey and scattered with flaked almonds, roasted in the oven for half an hour. Poached in sugar syrup for 30 minutes, then peeled to reveal the transferred pink tinge on the beautifully sweet and yielding fruit. Pureed and turned into sorbet (or better yet, into a Bellini). Sliced and tossed with jamon and buffalo mozzarella and rocquette. Cooked down into jam, like my mum used to make, with walnuts, served with cheddar. Atop a frangipane tart. In tea cake. The classic combination: peaches and cream.

So many temptations. Such a short season.

Cheese is just grown up cream. And peaches are peaches. Classic combination.

* I mean, after you tire of eating them fresh and ripe in the sun. As if you ever would. I bought a kilo and half this evening and ate one on the way home. Even though I knew I was using them for dinner.
Peaches in chilli syrup with fried haloumi*

Serves two for dinner or four as an starter

Drawing inspiration from Australian-Greek chef George Colambaris, who tops saganaki with figs in pepper and honey.

1 ripe yellow peach (score the bottom with a cross)
1 ripe white peach (score the bottom with a cross)
1 very hot red chilli, finely minced, seeds retained
3 tbsp sherry vinegar (or white vinegar)
3 tbsp honey
1 tbsp whole basil leaves
1 tbsp shredded basil leaves
1 small bulb fennel, finely diced
½ small red onion, finely diced
1 roasted red pepper, peeled and cut into small dice (about ¼ inch)
Eight spears asparagus
250 gm haloumi cheese, cut into 1 cm thick slices
2 handfuls rocquette
Olive oil

To poach the peaches: bring a saucepan of water to the boil. Carefully place peaches into the boiling water, simmer for about ten minutes. remove with a slotted spoon. When cool enough to handle, peel off the skin. Dice into small dice (about ¼ inch)

To grill asparagus: heat a grill pan to very hot. Brush asparagus spears with olive oil, grill until tender and char marked (about 5 minutes). Set aside (they don’t need to be hot when you serve the salad).

To make the chilli syrup: in a small saucepan bring the vinegar, honey and chilli to a simmer. Reduce by half. Taste. Add extra dried chilli flakes if not hot enough. Or substitue sweet chilli sauce. It's up to you.

To make the salsa: toss together peaches, basil, fennel, onion, red pepper. Season with a little black pepper and stir through two to three tablespoons of the chilli syrup. Taste. If too sweet, add a little lemon juice.

To fry haloumi. Heat a tbsp oil in a non-stick fry pan (or saganaki, the pan for which the named). When hot, add haloumi slices. Leave to cook until the slices are deeply browned (or until your smoke alarm goes off), then turn over and cook the other side. When cooked, squeeze over some lemon juice.

To serve: place a handful of rocquette on a place. Arrange haloumi slices and asparagus spears, top with peach salsa. Drizzle with a little chilli syrup if at all pretentious.

* Type of cheese. Texture kind of like rubber, but in really, really good, salty way. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halloumi. In a pinch you could substitute fetta, if you dusted it with flour before frying (I have done this) – but be very careful as fetta melts much more quickly.

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