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Stone fruits add vibrant flavors, colors, balance

| Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013, 7:28 p.m.

Thoughts of pies, cakes, jams, cobblers and other sweet treats of summer are usually the first that come to mind when we see the products of the Pennsylvania cherry, plum, apricot, nectarine and peach harvests.

These seasonal goodies are most often used in popular dessert applications with many luscious and memorable results. But stone fruits also add vibrant flavors, colors and balance to savory and spicy dishes and can be easily incorporated into a variety of salads, appetizers and entrees.

Peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines and cherries are members of the prunus genus. These fruits are also known as drupe and most commonly as stone fruits. The defining characteristic of the fruit in this category is the large, hard seed, pit or “stone” at the center. That seed is encased in a hardened endocarp and surrounded by a layer of fleshy, outer fruit and soft skin.

Stone fruits can bear from June to September, are native to warmer climates throughout the world and are grown in many areas of the United States, reports the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences.

These fruits can be a bit tricky for the gardening hobbyist, as they are susceptible to low winter temperatures, spring frosts, excessive rainfall and a disease organism that causes brown rot. Peaches, nectarines and apricots will typically not bear fruit consistently when planted north of a line that basically follows Interstate 80 in Pennsylvania.

Plums, peaches and nectarines are at their peak in the harvest season and readily available from Western Pennsylvania growers right now.

This is a great time to try something new with a few of your favorites. You can use any of the stone fruits in the recipes below or combine two or more to create your own special dish.

Olga Watkins is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

Honey Butter and Rum Poached Stone Fruit

Fruit sizes will vary. This recipe is enough for 4 large peaches. Adjust the amount of fruit you use accordingly.

You can serve this recipe warm over ice cream, sponge or pound cake, plain cheesecake or baked ricotta, topping your dish with the warm reduction.

Or, add the reduction to the fruit in the bowl, cover and chill and serve as an appetizer, salad or with a cheese course.

4 cups water

1 / 4 teaspoon salt

1 stick butter, plus 1 tablespoon cold butter

1 / 2 cup honey

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

4 peaches, halved and pitted

2 tablespoons dark rum

Bring the water and salt to a boil in a large, deep pan big enough to place all of the stone fruit halves face down, flat on the bottom of the pan.

Add the 1 stick of butter and honey, and stir until dissolved. Turn the heat down until the liquid is at a low, soft boil.

Add the vanilla bean and carefully place all of the fruit halves, cut side down, on the bottom of the pan. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, spooning the liquid onto the top of each piece of the fruit while cooking. The fruit should be soft, but not mushy, when finished. Check the softness with a fork at the 10-minute mark, cooking longer if necessary.

When the fruit is cooked, use a slotted spoon to transfer each piece to a shallow bowl. Allow the liquid in the pan to reduce by half, then remove the vanilla bean and whisk in the rum and the cold butter.

Makes 4 servings.

Spiced Stone Fruit Salad

Serve alone as a fruit salad or over mild, fresh salad greens with goat cheese. It works as a dessert over ice cream with shortcake and whipped cream.

Or, enjoy it as a topping for grilled salmon. This also makes a delightful breakfast cocktail when blended with ice and vodka.

For 2 pounds of fruit, make 1 1 / 2 times the dressing recipe.

Juice of 1 large lime

1 / 2 teaspoon lime zest

1 / 4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice

1 / 2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 / 4 teaspoon ground cloves

1 / 4 teaspoon salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 / 2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 tablespoons maple syrup

2 teaspoons each fresh, chopped basil, mint and cilantro

1 pound sliced, raw stone fruits — one kind or mixed

Whisk together the lime juice, lime zest, orange juice, cinnamon, cloves, salt, pepper, cayenne and maple syrup, in a small mixing bowl until thoroughly combined. In a larger bowl, fold or toss the fresh herbs with the sliced stone fruits.

Add the juice and spice mixture to the fruit and herbs and fold or toss until all of the fruit is coated.

Cover and refrigerate for one hour, then toss again before serving.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Broiled Stone FruitWith Rosemary-Lemon Mascarpone

Fruit sizes will vary. This recipe is enough for 4 large peaches. Adjust the amount of fruit you use accordingly.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons honey

1 small piece lemon peel, approximately 2 inches by 1 / 2 inch

1 sprig fresh rosemary

1 cup mascarpone cheese at room temperature

1 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

4 stone fruits, halved and pitted

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons sugar, divided

Melt the butter in a small saucepan on low heat, then stir in the honey and add the lemon peel and sprig of rosemary. Simmer on low heat for about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat under the saucepan, then remove and discard the lemon peel and sprig of rosemary. Allow the infused honey butter to cool for a few minutes, then whisk it into the mascarpone along with the lemon juice.

Cover the mascarpone and refrigerate it for about an hour. Allow the mascarpone to sit again at room temperature for 15 minutes prior to broiling the fruit.

Turn the broiler on high and make sure the broiler rack is about 6 inches from the flame. Place the fruits, evenly spaced, cut side up, on a sheet pan. Sprinkle each piece of fruit with a tiny pinch of salt and 1 / 4 teaspoon of sugar. Cook the fruit under the broiler for 4 to 8 minutes, or until it is caramelized and soft. Remove the fruit from the broiler and spoon 1 to 2 tablespoons of the mascarpone mixture over each piece of fruit. Serve immediately as an appetizer or a dessert.

Makes 4 servings.

Pickled Peaches

These are great with roast chicken or baked ham.

2 quarts, plus 2 cups water

3 teaspoons salt, divided

1 pound peaches

Ice for ice-water bath

1 cup sugar

3 / 4 cup white vinegar

1 teaspoon whole cloves

1 / 2 teaspoon ground ginger

1 cinnamon stick

Bring 2 quarts of water and 2 teaspoons of salt to a rapid boil. Blanch the peaches for about 1 minute in the boiling water, then transfer them to a waiting ice-water bath.

As soon as the peaches cool, you should be able to easily peel them. Peel and halve, quarter or slice the peaches and set them aside in a deep mixing bowl.

Bring the 2 cups of water and 1 teaspoon of salt to a boil. Add the sugar and stir until it is completely dissolved. Add the vinegar, cloves, ginger and cinnamon to the boiling liquid. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the liquid over the peeled peaches. Make sure the peaches are submerged, stirring occasionally. Cover the bowl and allow the peaches to cool gradually at room temperature, then refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Serve over baked ham, roast pork or grilled pork chops, roasted or grilled chicken or grilled salmon or other fish.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Ginger-Chile Nectarine or Apricot Chutney

Serve this hot with grilled or roast chicken or pork or grilled or baked, flavorful fish, such as salmon. Chill the chutney and serve with crostini or a cheese course.

1 1 / 2 pounds nectarines, apricots or both

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons clarified butter

1 clove garlic, minced

1 shallot, minced

1 tablespoon minced, fresh cayenne or jalapeno or habanero pepper (choose your preferred level of heat)

1 tablespoon grated ginger

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon allspice

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 / 4 cup firmly packed, light-brown sugar

2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

2 teaspoons orange zest

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

Peel, pit and slice the nectarines, toss them in the salt and set aside for about 10 minutes.

Heat the clarified butter on medium-low heat. Add the garlic, shallot and chile peppers to the butter and cook until slightly softened, for about 2 to 4 minutes. Add the fruit to the pan, then add the ginger, cloves, allspice, turmeric, sugar, orange juice, zest and vinegar.

Stir until thoroughly combined and allow to reduce by about 1 / 4 , or until there is no watery liquid in the pan.

Makes approximately 2 cups, or 8 servings, depending on the chosen application.

Balsamic and Plum or Cherry Sauce

This sauce works well as a pan sauce, prepared in the same pan, after pan-frying or roasting lamb chops, pork chops or steaks. If you choose to use this in another application, start by melting 2 teaspoons of butter in a hot pan, then following the directions beginning at the step that adds the beef broth.

This sauce also works well with elderberries.

Cooked meat of your choice

1 / 4 cup beef broth

2 tablespoons white onion, minced

1 pound fresh cherries or plums (pit and halve or slice plums or cherries)

2 tablespoons white wine

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

After cooking pork chops, lamb chops or steaks in a pan, transfer the pan to medium-high heat and deglaze the pan with the beef broth.

Add the onion and allow the beef broth to reduce by half. Turn the heat down to medium and add the fruit to the pan.

Cook for about 1 minute then add the wine, honey and balsamic vinegar. Stir occasionally while you allow the sauce to reduce again by about 1 / 3 . Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

Cinnamon Grilled Stone Fruit

Fruit sizes will vary. This recipe is enough for 4 large peaches. Adjust the amount of fruit you use accordingly.

Four stone fruits, halved and pitted, slightly less than ripe, works best for this recipe.

1 / 4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

4 peaches, halved and pitted

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Nonstick cooking spray

Whipped cream or creme fraiche, for serving

Mix the sugar and cinnamon together to make cinnamon sugar.

Brush the cut side of each piece of fruit with the melted butter and sprinkle liberally with the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Lightly coat the grill grates with cooking spray just before placing them on the grill over low heat.

Place the fruits, cut and seasoned side down, on the grill. Close the lid and grill the fruit on low heat, turning once, until the fruit is soft and the sugared side has glazed.

The cooking time will range from 8 to 15 minutes, based on the size and ripeness of the fruit and the temperature of the grill. Serve topped with fresh whipped cream or creme fraiche as a dessert.

Makes 4 servings.

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