SUMMER’S BEST DESSERT: GRILLED FARMSTAND PEACHES
There are certain flavors that seem to live within summer air. Certain things that on a good day, away from any landfills or traffic, you can almost taste on the breeze. For me, peaches have always been one of them. To bite into a ripe peach at its peak is to taste the memory of the best summer you ever had: Hitting rope swings into cooling waters. Having a coldbeer by one of those communal park barbeque pits that just seem to carry a summer flavor of their own. Sneaking cigarettes and eating tinned beans and weenies with hobos down by the river… Whatever your summer consists of, the flavor of a great peach is like a better, sweeter version of it. That’s probably not true with the hobo example, but still.
I typically never really crave desserts. I like them, but for me desserts are usually limited to big dinners out at restaurants where you just really want to taste one more thing. Not so in the summer. The dessert of grilled peaches hits my home table at least two or three times a week. Partly because they’re a great way to use the dying embers of your grill. Partly because they sit at the apex of two of summer’s best flavors. And partly because if I could live shoeless under a peach tree, living solely on its fruit and sleeping in a hollow log, it would arguably be a life well spent. Sometimes I top the grilled peaches with crème fraiche, sometimes with mascarpone, sometimes with ice cream—just depends on what I have in the fridge, because it’s all extremely tasty. Here I topped them with homemade mascarpone ice cream, which may be my favorite yet.
After lots of lazy evenings tinkering with this recipe, I’ve figured out a few things that make it sing. Around here Fredericksburg peaches are the best, hands down, no argument. I use them whenever possible. But Fredericksburg or not, a farmstand peach is always better than what you get in a grocery store and is always my preference. Predictably, I also use a wood fire to cook them whenever possible. It makes the peaches smoky sweet in a way that a gas grill never can. If you can only make these using a gas grill or even an oven broiler, they’re still good… but you may die knowing you’ve never had the best. It’s up to you if you feel like living with that burden or not. BUT if you do have a dying lump charcoal fire and a few pecan branches or wood chips lying around, just throw them on the coals and smell them make sweet, sweet love to your fruit. The last thing I do is brulee the fruit after it’s off the grill, using a torch and a good bit of sugar. It adds a crispy textural element that isn’t crucial but it’s really, really good. It turns the peaches from nature’s candy into nature’s crème brulee. And why wouldn’t you want to do that?
1 ripe but firm farmstand peach for each person eating
Ice cream or creme fraiche or mascarpone cheese or sweetened ricotta or Greek yogurt or crème anglaise (you get the point)
Before you sit down to eat the dinner you just grilled, throw a few extra coals or branches on the fire to get it ready while you eat. Halve the peaches, remove the pit and sprinkle liberally with sugar. Once you’re done with dinner, clean your grill (the peaches taste good with nearly everything but I would bet charred salmon skin is the exception) and pile your coals together to concentrate the heat. Place the peaches cut side down directly over the coals and close the lid for several minutes. When the peaches begin to char, turn them over and finish them on the skin side for a few more minutes until they’re soft and hot all the way through. Remove the peaches and cover the cut side with a good amount of sugar, using a torch brulee the peaches to create a browned crispy top. The peaches have a lot of liquid so it’s important to torch them right after adding the second dose of sugar. Top with Mascarpone ice cream and whatever other accouterment you have handy: lemon zest, fresh nutmeg, berries, etc.
Mascarpone Ice Cream
6 large egg yolks
8oz mascarpone cheese
pinch of salt
Heat the milk cream and half the sugar together. Mix the yolks with the other half of the sugar. Temper the yolk mixture with some of the hot milk mixture and slow combine the two being careful to not scramble the eggs. Cook till the mixture is a thick custard. Cool it and mix in the mascarpone then chill thoroughly. Freeze it in your ice cream maker and set overnight.