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Monday, July 30, 2007

The Essence of Summer

The story of The Peach has taken on near-mythic proportions. Everyone has stories they bring out on occasion and for the two of us, whenever any conversation includes discussion of organic produce or buying fruit in season, we feel compelled to tell the story of The Peach.

It was the early 90s, we were on Martha’s Vineyard for our annual summer vacation and thought we’d pick up some fruit and veg at a local produce market one afternoon. I strolled past a crate filled with peaches and then stopped. The fragrance wafted by me, like a caress…or something from a Bugs Bunny cartoon, where the aroma glides past like a hand. It was the smell of summer. The sign said “organic” peaches. Back then, organic was most definitely not something one could find at Wal-Mart. To me, it meant someone had spent some time and energy growing these peaches. The smell confirmed it with a most unsubtle advertisement. These peaches were ripe and completely unlike the rock hard, fragrance-free specimens at the grocery stores. Oh, I had been burned by ‘pretty’ peaches before. They’d catch my eye, all golden and streaked with pink, only to get them home and then realize they were some sort of cardboard, masquerading as fruit. Well, this was the real deal. I could tell. I put one in my basket.

At the register the cashier put the peach on the scale. The peach rang in at $7. Steve nearly had a stroke. I gulped. There was silence for a moment. She looked at as. “Do you still want it?” I coughed. My stomach clenched. The peachy bouquet rose to my nostrils…tantalizing. Steve glared. I said “yes”, my face burning. $7 for a peach? It defied imagination.

We headed back to our rental house, arguing over The Peach.

The moment we got in the door, I defiantly pulled it from the bag, took a plate and a knife and sat down at the table. Steve seemed shocked. Just sitting down to eat The Peach, so casually? I cut into the fruit and the perfume exploded into the room. Glorious peach nectar, ran down my fingers and pooled in the plate. I was giddy. I popped a slice in my mouth…juice dribbling down my chin, breathing in…swimming in… essence of peach. I could have cried. Steve sat down and had a slice. We agreed. It was the best peach we’d ever had.

I was reminded of The Peach recently when chatting with my neighbor, about our farmer’s market. She described going every week for her fix of peaches, which she puts together in a deliriously good salad. We both agreed that it was expensive, but worth it during this tiny window that is peach season. The salad she described sounded familiar. Turns out it was from Naked Chef. I remembered seeing it somewhere and yet, being hesitant…maybe given my history with peaches, or maybe the unfamiliar pairing with fresh mozzarella. I was inspired. Peach season is in full swing.

So, last week’s visit to Green City Market was for the express purpose of obtaining fine peaches and there were fragrant lovelies at Seedling. Pretty with that glorious ripe, peachy smell. Eating this salad is the perfect way to celebrate the season, as well as a few other perfectly delicious ingredients that, together, create lovely harmony-on-a-plate. Fresh mozzarella and prosciutto I buy from my favorite cheese shop, Pastoral. Even the guy who sliced the prosciutto was hesitant when I described the components of the salad—noting, “you’d have to have a really good peach though.” (If you live in the area, I highly recommend a visit to Pastoral. Just stepping inside creates the sensation of being in Europe, as well as other happy, warm feelings I associate with seeing piles of cheese.)

So, it’s July-heading-into-August and here’s my recommendation: if you can find a really good peach, take a deep breath…open your wallet and go for it. You won’t regret it.

Summer Peach and Mozzarella Salad
Adapted from The Naked Chef Takes Off

Quantities are approximate, depending on how many you’re feeding…
For 2

One ball/ovoline fresh mozzarella, torn into pieces
Two medium-sized peaches, sliced into quarters, or smaller
2, or 3 slices prosciutto, torn into pieces
two handfuls arugula, or your favorite greens
several fresh mint leaves, torn
salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil and lemon juice

Layer the mozzarella and sliced peaches on a plate. Sprinkle with salt and pepper (Naked Chef also says you can sprinkle with a pinch of hot pepper flakes, if you’re so inclined…)
Scatter the torn prosciutto over the peaches and mozzarella.
Dress your greens with a sprinkling of the best olive oil you’ve got and squeeze of a lemon juice.
Scatter the greens over the plate and, as Jamie Oliver likes to say, ‘tuck in’.

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