How to Savor Millions of Peaches

We’re barely into fall, and I’m already missing sweet, juicy, delectable Palisade Peaches. When it comes to favorite foods, peaches are right up there. Except it has to be just the right peach. It has to have that faint floral aroma when I put it to my nose. It has to give ever so slightly when I squeeze it for ripeness. It has to be picked from the tree in July, August or early September. And it has to be from Colorado, where the soil, sun and air mix together to create what some call “Rocky Mountain Gold.” In short, it has to be the perfect peach.

The perfect peach isn’t too hard to find in late summer in Colorado. They’re in season and they’re divine. Very occasionally, you’ll get a dry, mealy one, and it’s a sad, sad day. That’s exactly what happened to me recently when I was scooping up the last-of-the-season peaches at my local farmers market. The farmer took his last box from his truck and put it on the table in front of me as I was rummaging through the remnants of another box for the best ones. “That’s it,” he said abruptly. “No more peaches this year.” I panicked. I opened my bag and loaded it with at least a dozen peaches, still wondering if I should buy more.

As I drove home I was still telling myself I should have bought the whole box. I didn’t, so I told myself to savor the ones I did have. I got home and immediately cut into the most fragrant peach in my bag. Uh oh. No juice as I drove my knife to the pit. I cut a wedge out and it was clearly dry and mealy. My dreams of one more bowl of fresh peaches macerated in honey and rum over vanilla ice cream were squashed. I grabbed another peach, cut into and again, no juice. I realized I had a rarified batch of bad peaches. It was a truly sad, sad day (insert appropriate sad-face emoji here).

IMG_0008It was late in peach season, and I knew I could end up with a bad peach or two. I’ve had amazing late-season peaches before, so it was entirely possible I would have been rewarded with Rocky Mountain Gold, too. But here I was with a bag full of bad peaches. What was I going to do? I hate to waste food, so the trash was out of the question. Cobbler, crisp, pie? All okay options but even those need decent peaches to begin with.

Then in a moment of clarity, I recalled my Mom’s cranberry ice recipe (it might have originated with my Granny) that she always makes at Thanksgiving. It’s a simple recipe of fruit, sugar and water, frozen and then whipped to make a sorbet-like treat. My less-than-stellar peaches now had a purpose: peach sorbet. I had a bunch of thyme in the fridge, so I decided to make Late Season Peach Thyme Sorbet. It’s super easy and a great way to savor the last flavors of peach season.

Late-Season Peach Thyme Sorbet

  • 8-10 ripe peaches, peeled, pitted and cut into large chunks
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • 1-2 dozen sprigs of fresh thyme (depending on how much flavor you want)

Put the peaches in a food processor and process until smooth. You should have about five cups of puree once processed. Mix in the lemon juice. Set aside.

In a medium sauce pan, combine the sugar and water over medium-high heat. Heat and stir until the sugar dissolves and small bubbles start to form around the edges of the pan. Remove from heat and add the thyme sprigs. Set aside and let the herbs steep in the simple syrup until the mixture cools or for at least 30 minutes. Once cooled, remove the thyme and pour the simple syrup into the peach mixture. Run the food processor for 15 seconds to make sure everything is combined.

Pour into an ice cream maker and churn according to manufacturers directions. That’s it! You can serve it immediately or put it in the freezer to serve later, making it an ideal dessert to prepare ahead.

If you don’t have an ice cream maker, electric or otherwise, don’t fret. I also learned this trick from my Mom’s cranberry ice recipe. Pour the combined peach and sugar/herb mixture into a glass, freezer-proof casserole dish. Pop it in the freezer for two to three hours. You don’t want it frozen solid, so if  you put it in and forget about until the next day, just pull it out and set it on the counter for an hour to soften. Then, take a hand mixer and whip the mixture until it’s more light and fluffy instead of frozen liquid. Put it back in the freezer and freeze until firm.

And just like that, I saved the last flavors of summer.

 

Tomato Abundance? Make This Easy, Fresh Sauce.

How was that Gazpacho? Delicious, right? So my Gazpacho recipe caused you to go nuts at the farmers market and you bought 23 tomatoes for a recipe that only needed two, all because those tomatoes were bright, plump and colorful. You couldn’t resist. I’ve so been there. Now, what do you do with the 21 other tomatoes you bought? As delicious as they are, you can only eat so many BLTs. I totally get it.

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Sauce is a great way to use less-than-perfect tomatoes. Just cut out the bad parts.

Take those lovely tomatoes and make some sauce. Once you prepare, cook and eat fresh marinara sauce, you will never (and I mean never, ever) buy the jarred kind again. Just like the Gazpacho recipe, my homemade tomato sauce requires some prep work, but it is otherwise easy to make. As an added bonus, your kitchen smells ahhhhh-mazing.

The beauty about homemade tomato sauce is that your quantities and measurements don’t have to be exact for the flavor to be amazing. You just need to start with great tasting fresh tomatoes and you’ll be fine. So grab those 17 extra tomatoes (you’ve had at least four BLTs, right?), and let’s get sauced.

Fresh Tomato Sauce (as you read my blog and my recipes, you’ll notice I call most summer recipes “fresh,” because that’s the only way to be!)

  • 10 or more ripe red tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup of good extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves of garlic, crushed and then minced
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon of dried basil

First, you gotta peel the tomatoes. I know, I know, it’s a pain, but important. Boil enough water to submerge your largest tomato in a medium sauce pan. While you’re waiting for your water to boil, take the tip of a sharp knife and cut a shallow “x” just through the skin on the bottom of each tomato. Scoring the tomatoes makes them easier to peel if you’re wondering why you need to mutilate your tomatoes before you kill them much like a serial killer.

Once the water is boiling, drop three or four tomatoes, or as many as will fit, into the water. Leave the tomatoes in the boiling water for about 30 seconds. Remove them with a slotted spoon and set them aside to cool. Continue until you’ve finished with all your tomatoes.

Grab a big bowl and your sharp knife. Holding a tomato in one hand, and remember that “x” you put on each tomato? Using your sharp knife, grab a flap from the “x” between your thumb and your knife blade and gently pull the skin off. It should come right off. Cut out the core of the tomato, too. Do this over your big bowl to capture all the juices and other tomato bits. Discard the skin and squeeze the tomato in your hand to crush it slightly. Drop it in the bowl and repeat with all your tomatoes.

Once your tomatoes are peeled, crushed and juicy in your big bowl, grab a dutch oven or medium stock pot and put it over medium heat. Add the olive oil and heat it up. Once the oil loosens a bit and easily swirls at the bottom of your pan, add the minced garlic. Cook over medium heat for one to two minutes or until fragrant, being careful not to burn it (burned garlic is bitter and brown – yuck!). Then dump the entire bowl of tomato goodness into your pan. Add sugar, salt and pepper, bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to a simmer, and let that thing go. I usually simmer it for at least an hour, but you could go longer depending on how thick you like it. The longer you cook it, the more it will reduce and intensify the flavors. After about three hours, though, your returns diminish.

As you simmer your sauce, you’ll notice the tomatoes break down. I’ve made this sauce and left it chunky at this point, but I’ve found that most people (especially my kids) like a smoother sauce. Grab a hand-held immersion blender and blend the sauce directly in your pan to your desired consistency. If you don’t have a hand-held, let the sauce cool a bit and throw it in a blender or food processor. Return it to your cooking pan. Add the dried herbs and more salt and pepper to taste. 

Now you’re ready to ladle that sauce over whatever you want: fresh pasta, chicken parmesan, zucchini, sausage, you name it. Or you can freeze it or can it if you’re especially ambitious. Either way, you’ll have fresh tomato sauce in January, and you’ll forget all about the time it took to peel all those tomatoes.

I freeze my sauce in quart-sized bags. I ladle the sauce into two-cup portions and pour into the plastic bag. I lay it flat in the freezer, so it’s not a big frozen blob when I want to use it. To thaw it, I remove directly from the freezer, run it under hot water for about a minute, hit it against my counter to break it up, peel back the plastic bag and warm it directly in a small sauce pan. Easy, peasy, and oh, so delicious!

A note on using fresh herbs vs. dried herbs. A lot of fresh summer herbs (I’m looking at you basil and oregano) turn brown, gross and flavorless when exposed to the heat of cooking. If you’re going to eat the sauce right away, you can add fresh herbs to each plate after you’ve ladled the sauce onto whatever you’re eating. Otherwise, for flavor and appearance, it’s best to use dried herbs in this recipe.