We might think of tiramisu, zuppa Inglese and the numerous types of Christmas cookies that grace the Italian table. But these desserts are usually reserved for holidays, while fruit or simple desserts prepared with fruit are the more traditional ending to an Italian meal.
Italians love to bathe summer fruit, like strawberries, in a variety of wines, sweet or dry. Fresh figs in autumn and oranges in the winter are glazed in honey and sugar syrups. Pears are served with creamy gorgonzola cheese and prosecco sparkling wine for an elegant ending to a special meal.
Summer is ending, but gorgeous, ripe peaches are still piled high at the fruit stands. As much as I love the strawberries of June and July’s blueberries and cherries, peaches may be my favorite summer fruit. They are also loved in Italy, where a lovely drink, the Bellini, was crafted at Harry’s Bar in Venice to honor the fleeting sweetness of the white peach.
Before the season ends, I always make a dessert the Italians call pesche ripiene or baked stuffed peaches, a delightful combination of peaches, almonds and a touch of cocoa. There are many versions of this sweet treat and, over the years, I have combined several recipes into one.
A few tips before you begin:
- Make sure the peaches you buy are ripe. Even time in the oven won’t soften an under-ripe piece of fruit.
- Look for “freestone” peaches. These are varieties in which the pit slips out easily from the peach flesh in contrast to “cling” peaches.
- For the filling, you can substitute crushed sugar cookies and add some almond extract. But imported amaretti cookies are best. Grocery stores have them most of the time in the “Italian section.”
- Cocoa powder adds a unique dimension to the dessert, but you can omit it.
- You can substitute Marsala wine, vin santo or other dessert wine for the white wine.
- And you can adjust the amount of sugar and cocoa to your taste.
- Both yellow and white peaches work in this recipe.
- 4 large, ripe peaches gently washed
- 1½ cups of crushed amaretti cookies
- ¼ cup sugar
- ¼ cup cocoa powder
- About 7 tablespoons white wine
- 8 small cubes of sweet butter
- Butter a rectangular baking dish large enough to hold 8 peach halves.
- Peel the peaches and split each of them in half with a small paring knife.
- Remove the pits and place each half in the baking dish.
- Place 1 ½ to 2 cups small amaretti cookies in a plastic Ziploc bag and pound with a mallet into fine crumbs. Place the crumbs in a small bowl.
- Add ¼ cup cocoa powder to the cookie crumbs along with ¼ cup of sugar.
- Add just enough wine to make a paste. If the mixture seems too thin, just add more cookie crumbs.
- Place a spoonful of the cookie paste into the center of each peach half and then press firmly to smooth it out.
- Dot each peach half with a small cube of butter (or lots of butter if you like).
- Bake in a 350-degree oven until the peaches are soft and the filling is bubbling slightly.
- Serve the peaches warm or at room temperature.
I made this dessert for my family recently and served it in small bowls with peach gelato. It got rave reviews.
Summer is ending, sadly for me. But I treasure the golden light and soft evening breezes of September. Try this wonderful peach dessert and cling to summer a little longer.