Most Italians, I believe, have a love affair with fruit. That was certainly true in my house growing up.
After a big nightly meal, my mother would put a plate of whole fruit with a little paring knife at my father’s place. I always wondered how he could eat all that. In the winter, it was apples, oranges and pears. But summer was special. We celebrated the beautiful berries and stone fruits of the season. I still do.
I love the sweet aroma of strawberries cooking on the stove for strawberry glace pie or strawberry preserves. For me, there is always room for strawberry shortcake, which I make with biscuits, sweetened berries, powdered sugar and half and half (no whipped cream for us!).
And then there are blueberries. I make a simple blueberry cobbler—more biscuits and berries cooked with sugar, butter and cinnamon, served warm from the oven. And it is not the Fourth of July without homemade blueberry pie. This year, we celebrated two late June birthdays with a rich blueberry poundcake. No icing needed!
It’s hard for me to pick a favorite summer fruit. Some days, I can’t stop eating fresh bing cherries or sweet, ripe watermelon. But I think my heart might lie with fresh peaches. I was so carried away one summer that I picked a bushel, still warm from the sun, and wondered what I was going to do with all of them. They made their way into peach Marsala pies and peach chutney saved for Thanksgiving dinner. The leftovers were peeled, sliced, tossed with a little sugar and cinnamon and served as a simple weeknight dessert.
In Italy, peaches, or pesche in Italian, are found in many wonderful desserts, cocktails and even savory dishes. You will find peach granita and peach semi-freddo, chilled desserts for the hot summer months. Peaches-and-cream cookies and peach fruit tarts are loved, as well.
Perhaps the most classic of Italian peach desserts is known as pesche ripiene or baked stuffed peaches. They are very easy to prepare and can be served plain or with a little vanilla ice cream or gelato. There are several variations in Italian cookbooks for this recipe. Some call for lemon juice, others white wine for the cooking liquid. The recipe included here adds a little cocoa to the stuffing, but the peaches are good without it. What is most important is that you use only “freestone” peaches. This means that the peach pit pulls easily away from the peach flesh. Otherwise, it is very difficult to get a clean peach half.
Pesche Ripiene (Baked Stuffed Peaches)
- 4 ripe peaches, peeled, halved and pitted
- 2 teaspoons finely ground almonds
- 8 almond macaroons or Italian amaretti cookies, crushed
- 1/3 cup sugar
- ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (optional)
- 7 tablespoons dry white wine
- 3 tablespoons butter
- Scoop out a little flesh from the hollows of the peaches and reserve.
- Mix together the ground almonds, crushed cookies, half the sugar, the cocoa if using, 1 tablespoon wine and the reserved peach flesh.
- Fill the peach halves with this mixture and top each one with a small cube of butter.
- Arrange the peach halves in a buttered baking dish, pour over the remaining wine, and sprinkle with the remaining sugar.
- Bake in a pre-heated, 350-degree oven about 25 to 30 minutes until the peaches are soft and tender. Serve warm plain, or with a little vanilla ice cream or gelato.
- Marsala wine can be substituted for the dry white wine. It will add additional sweetness.
- Amaretti cookies can be found in the grocery store. But if you can’t find any, vanilla wafers can be used and mixed with some almond extract to taste.
Enjoy the peaches of August. Perhaps next year, we will talk about how we can create a wonderful Italian cocktail with white peaches and prosecco—the famous Bellini. You will love it.
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