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In Praise of Peaches

August 05, 1993|ABBY MANDEL

I'm infatuated with peaches. If I were asked to name my favorite way of eating them, I would have to say: "Right out of hand." If the peach is just right, this means standing over the sink or in the grass, with juices streaming down my arm. I always reserve this pleasure for white Babcock peaches, a floral and intensely sweet peach that waltzes in and out of the market in about three weeks.

But hand-held is certainly not the only way to take in the pleasures of peaches. I'm still passionate about homemade peach ice cream, peach pie and yellow cake layered with fresh sliced peaches and whipped cream.

Every year when peaches are at their prime, I look for new ways to use them. Consider the following trio of peach recipes when you can load up with baskets of the fruit at your local farmers market.

A practical peach note: When buying peaches, look for a golden undertone and a smooth, plump appearance. Avoid peaches with dark soft spots and bruises. A reddish blush indicates variety more than ripeness. Ready-to-eat peaches yield to gentle pressure when placed in the palm of your hand. If the peaches are slightly underripe, place small quantities in closed paper bags at room temperature until ripe. Often, this takes only a day in warm weather. Then refrigerate the peaches until ready to use; they will last a few days without deteriorating.

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Here, peaches and raisins form the substance of a spirited chutney. Most of the peaches are cooked down into a puree while only some are added at the end of cooking to add texture. Serve the chutney with any simply grilled meat or poultry or use as a sandwich spread, mixed with a little light mayonnaise.

PEACH CHUTNEY WITH GOLDEN RAISINS 1 tablespoon oil 2 large cloves garlic, minced 1 1/2 tablespoons minced ginger root 1 large Spanish onion, minced 2/3 cup golden raisins 8 medium peaches, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 4 cups), tossed with 1 tablespoon lemon juice 1/3 cup cider vinegar 1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar 2 teaspoons mustard seeds 1 teaspoon ground cumin 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper 2 to 4 tablespoons water

Heat oil over medium-high heat in 2-quart non-aluminum pot. When hot, add garlic, ginger root, onion and raisins. Cook until onion is tender, about 4 minutes, stirring to avoid browning.

Add 2 3/4 cups peaches, vinegar, light-brown sugar, mustard seeds, cumin, salt and cayenne pepper. Cook, covered, over medium heat until thick (like marmalade), about 10 minutes, stirring often to avoid scorching. Add remaining peaches and, if necessary, water. Cook until peaches are just tender but still intact, about 5 minutes, depending on ripeness.

Let cool completely. Adjust water for consistency and seasonings to taste. Can be refrigerated up to 2 weeks and frozen up to 3 months. To serve, mix well. Makes 4 cups

Each tablespoon contains about: 19 calories; 19 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 0 fat; 4 grams carbohydrates; 0 protein; 0.11 gram fiber.

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The celebrated Bellini cocktail at Harry's Bar in Venice is made from slightly sweetened pureed white peaches mixed with Prosecco, the Italian version of Champagne (typically, one part peach puree to three parts wine). Here, sliced peaches are sauced with a mixture of sweetened pureed peaches and Champagne, then dotted with fresh raspberries. The remaining Champagne should be poured into flutes and enjoyed along with the dessert. It's important that the ingredients are well chilled before being combined. Peach puree can be successfully frozen for the times when seasonal peaches are but a memory; the puree may darken somewhat even with the addition of lemon juice but it's not a put-off.

BELLINI PEACHES WITH RASPBERRIES 3 medium peaches, peeled, pureed and mixed with 2 teaspoons lemon juice (about 1 generous cup puree) 1/3 cup sugar 4 large peaches, peeled or not, cut into 1/2-inch-wide slices and tossed with 2 teaspoons lemon juice 2 tablespoons sugar 1 1/2 cups chilled Champagne 1/2 pint fresh raspberries

Put peach puree mixed with lemon juice in small bowl with sugar. Mix well. Cover airtight. Chill several hours or freeze.

Mix sliced peaches with sugar. Chill several hours.

To serve, combine puree with Champagne. Taste for sweetness. Add more sugar as needed. Sauce should be somewhat sweet. Arrange sliced peaches in chilled shallow serving bowls. Pour Champagne-peach sauce over, dividing evenly. Dot each with raspberries. Serve immediately. Serve remaining Champagne in flutes with dessert. Makes 4 servings.

Each serving contains about: 229 calories; 7 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 0 fat; 45 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams protein; 1.9 grams fiber.

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