Every Wednesday, food52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius. This week: how to make good on the peaches you'd never want to eat, from Bill Smith's Seasoned in the South.
You just never know when you're going to get a bum peach.
When you get ahold of a perfectly ripe one -- soft, sweet and ready to pour peach juice all over your shirt the moment you bite -- you know you should eat it right then and there, maybe even leaning over a trash can at the farmers market.
But for those bum peaches, the ones that could roll around the bottom of your bag all day and emerge completely unfazed, Bill Smith -- longtime chef of Crook's Corner in Chapel Hill, NC -- gives us a genius way to make good, in his 2005 cookbook Seasoned in the South. Just in time for early peach season, and the hottest, most beastly days of summer -- a low maintenance, no cook, very little sweat recipe. 6 ingredients and 20 minutes till Green Peach Salad.
Green peaches -- at least the ones that us regular folks not in possession of a peach orchard can get our hands on -- are not actually green. Just poke around for the hardest, most unforgiving peaches in the pile. Unfortunately, these are easy to find, especially at your local grocery store.
According to Russ Parsons, author of How to Pick a Peach, you should also ignore any deceiving red blush (it's bred into most of our peaches and nectarines these days and says nothing about ripeness -- those tricksters!). Instead, look at the underlying yellow tone. The warmer it is, the riper and sweeter your peach. Snatch those up and eat them out of hand -- or sliced up, with cream and dark brown sugar, if you must.
But cool-yellow-bordering-on-green undertones? That spells tart and crunchy, like a firm pear (Melissa Clark is a fan too). Sure, you could leave them out on the counter and they'll soften, sometimes precipitously -- but they will never be one bit sweeter, so best go make a salad.
Peel them (or don't) and slice them as you would for pie. I take this to mean wedges about 1/2-inch wide at the fattest end (I've been faulted for my "rustic" knife skills in the past, but I think big and chunky works here -- it leaves them with some crunch). Freestone or clingstone, hard green peaches will cling like the dickens to the pit, so I find it easiest to segment them before pitting -- prying off one wedge at a time. Ripe peaches would cave and turn to pulp under such pressure, but green peaches maintain their dignity.
Shake some sugar and salt over them, toss with fingers, lick fingers, and let them macerate for a mere 10 minutes -- almost immediately they'll turn glossy and pert as moisture is drawn out. A bit of peachy nectar collects in the bottom of the bowl, which you swish together with olive oil, mint and lots of black pepper -- there's your dressing.
It looks a bit like canned peaches swimming in syrup and, in a way, it is -- if you could hook up jumper cables to their slippery undying flesh and jolt them back to life (please don't actually do this). It's resilient where they're sodden, refreshingly tart where they cloy.
Bill Smith says this salad is great with cold meats. I think a big bowlful would make a lot of sense at either a hot, smoky barbeque or a civilized brunch. Or you could make like EmilyC, who tipped us off to this recipe (thanks Emily!): "I made it for first time last night and ate about a pound of it in two minutes flat. It’s that good."
Got a genius recipe you'd like to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].
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I'm an ex-economist, ex-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."