Editor’s note: Silvia Balidini will be sharing her remixes with us monthly here at Wine4Food, where she cooks time-honored recipes, and then reimagines them with a modern spin. We’ll share both the traditional and the remixed recipes, as well as Silvia’s wonderful stories.
Round, flat and juicy; yellow or white, bloody purple, smooth or fuzzy, peaches are my favorite summer stone fruit. They are versatile and useful in countless recipes and not only sweet but also savory. At the peak of the season, I choose to eat them unpeeled. 85% of the vitamins are in the skin, but in truth I’m impatient.
Nothing beats the urgent pleasure of sinking my teeth into a flawless and ripe summer peach. I scrub my peaches with a cloth to remove the fuzz. I devour them stretched over the sink, in the intimacy of my kitchen, sleeves rolled up, feet planted onto the ground for stability. I enjoy them while sticky juices run down my face, neck and elbows.
I enjoy a sticky chin and my peaches straight off the vine, but I’m also a huge glutton for stone fruit desserts: pies, crumbles, tarts and everything in between.
Peaches baked and stuffed with Amaretto cookies is a dish that’s far more than the sum of its parts. It’s a marriage made in Italy, thanks to the alchemy of the slightly bitter almond flavor and the soft creaminess of the peaches.
Though it’s by no means the only stone fruit dessert I crave—warm, buttery and crumbly biscuits dropped on a cloud of whipped cream and macerated white peaches spring to mind—it’s for sure a favorite. I decided to combine the two and remix my recipes. As a welcome result, I have the best of two worlds: sweet peaches and warm biscuits with Amaretto whipped cream.
Right after the 4th of July is when peaches start peaking. I hunt the markets, and I buy them by the boxes. I tap and gently squeeze them to make sure they are slightly under-ripe or at different stages of readiness. At home, I keep the peaches in a cool and dry place, so I have a few days to handle them before they reach their peak. Then I weave them in as many dishes as I can. Crunchy salads, cooling gazpachos, rich and creamy preserves, sugary but tangy desserts. I even cube them, and I wed them to piney basil pesto tossed in a bowl with toothy spaghetti.
Currently, I’m writing from my house in Castagneto Carducci, a minuscule coastal town perched on the silent hills of Tuscany. Here peaches are abundant because this ancient Etruscan soil, kissed by the warmth of the Mediterranean ocean, is very fertile. The compact and gracious trees grow in neat rows next to the olive groves and they share the same terroir with the Sassicaia, Le Macchiole and Antinori vineyards.
I buy my peaches from the source—the stands by the orchards, or what Italians call “Km Zero”. I bike to the weekly market, on Thursdays, where the street merchants are storytellers and part singers, part magicians, part astute business dealers.
These seasoned men and women seize the opportunity. They scan the prey and they cast their spell by yelling and singing the virtues of their produce. They describe each attribute. They depict the vivid colors and the pungent smells of their offerings. They engage in singing duels with the next stall seller. They know how to advertise and adhoc lower their prices if they feel a chance to captivate. The pregnant tables stand in their full glory staged to attract and bedazzle the passer-buyers.
Vegetables and fruits mounds vibrate with deep hues and mixed aromas. The cheese corner assaults my nostrils and makes me hungry. The fishmonger stands erected at the bottom of his ascending seafood amphitheater. He croons and describes: rusty red tuna, silver mackerel, whole shimmering swordfish! He sings praises, we prance for a few seconds, I cave, and I buy squid. With quarterback precision, he throws it to the very top. Up there his wife stands in the thin air, ready to weigh and to package. She catches my squid with a wink and her sturdy arm. She completes the transaction. Then she delivers the parcel back down to her man with equal precision. Squid for the prize of potatoes! she yells at me and I walk away, feeling pleased.
I inspect the tables; I evaluate the offers and I compare the goods. I move on, I taste, and I bargain until I set my eyes on the ultimate price. Sugary white peaches.
Alice Waters, the visionary chef-turned-activist, in her book 40 Years of Chez Panisse said, “I spread my philosophy about local, seasonal eating by placing a beautiful peach in Bill Clinton’s hand as he exited a fund-raiser. I was sure if I fed the president a perfect peach,” Waters writes, “it would bring him to a new understanding of the politics of food.”
Stefania Barzini is a gastronomical journalist and author of some of my favorite Italian cooking books including the latest Nonne on the Road. Her editor Guido Tommasi Editor is a peach believer. She sent me a note from her home at the 465th step on Filicudi, one the Eolian island, where she spends her summers:
“Peaches: Always my favorite fruit. It’s the first I tasted as a child. My mother used to tell me, as a baby, I refused to eat fruit. I rejected apples, pears, and even bananas, a fruit loved by every child in every corner of the world. Pigheaded, I would spit out ALL fruit. Until the day she gave me peaches. White peaches, fragrant and sugary. My expression changed when I tasted them. My mother used to say that white peaches changed my baby existence. After that, I welcomed all the other fruits. Later in life, I reflected that what charmed me was their fuzzy softness, more than their flavor. The softness of a peach to me is like a blanket and a maternal hug. My mother told me she asked me to caress the peach and then eat it. Now that I’m grown up, I have become a peach buff. White peaches, yellow, Saturn, bloody peaches, Clingstone, freestone, fuzzy or not…I love them all. But these days, when I first bite into a white peach, I close my eyes and I think about my mom who is no longer with me.”
Baked Amaretto peaches are prepared in the north of Italy at the height of summer when the trees are heavy with fruit and the prices are practical. They don’t need much work. Halve them and remove the stone. Stuff them with a mixture of crumbled Amaretto cookies or almond macaroons. Add the crushed kernels of the peach stone plus a dusting of cacao. The kernels of most stone fruit contain amygdalin. They add a concentrated bitter, fragrant “almond” supercharged flavor. They also contain a small amount of cyanide, luckily our bodies can detoxify the small amounts. Once baked they are great served room temperature or even better slightly chilled.
Peaches and warm biscuits with Amaretto whipped cream are the celebration of summer flavors and they require minimal effort.
Christopher Kimball said in an interview, “The secret of biscuits is that they are dead simple, and you should be able to make them in your sleep or even in the midst of a blind-drunk hangover,” he added, “To hell with the gourmet stuff.”
To make this heavenly dessert I drench sliced white peaches in lemon and sugar. I add a couple of teaspoons of Amaretto liquor, then I set them aside to macerate. I usually don’t peel my peaches; I use a cloth to remove the fuzz.
It takes less than 15 minutes to make biscuit dough. Use the best fats you can find. I like lard, for its flavor and intensity or European-style butter for its low water content and taste. I work the biscuits with either All-purpose flour or cake flour for a silkier crumb, and I always use cream.
I use a soft touch on the mixing, turning out and patting down of the dough. (Do not fool with a rolling pin. A rolling pin has no place in biscuits.)
Right before serving, I soak the top and the bottom of the cut biscuits in the leftover peach juices. Then I float them on a cloud of whipped cream. I confess, the future always looks peachy after my first bite.
Baked Amaretto Peaches
Serves: 6 people
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 40 minutes
6 ripe white or yellow peaches
8 Amaretto cookies, crushed by hand
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
4 crushed peach kernels, optional
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon butter
Pre-heat oven to 350°F. Cut peaches in half and remove pits. Carefully remove a spoonful of pulp (just around the area of the pit cavities) from the halves. Transfer extracted pulp to a bowl and crush any large pieces with a fork to a mush. Place peach halves with their cut sides facing upwards in a lined baking dish greased with butter. Put in the hot oven to slightly dry for 5 minutes. Remove and set aside.
In a bowl, combine crushed Amaretti with sugar and cocoa. If using, remove kernels from peach pits, crush with a mortar and pestle and add, along with the peach pulp and lightly beaten egg yolks, to the Amaretti, sugar and cocoa mixture. Mix until well combined. Distribute the Amaretto filling evenly inside the cavities of the peach halves.
Place a small knob of butter on top of each peach half. Bake for an hour or until the peaches are tender, golden and have shriveled noticeably at their edges. Remove baking dish from oven and leave to cool. Served room temperature, or chilled, with some roughly crushed Amaretti or a sprinkling of cocoa powder and a glass of Moscato d’Asti or Barolo Chinato.
Peaches and Warm Biscuits with Amaretto Whipped Cream
Serves: 6/8 people
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 15 to 20 minutes
4/5 ripe peaches, sliced
1½ teaspoon granulated sugar
2 teaspoon Amaretto liquor
2 cups All-Purpose flour or cake flour
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1½ teaspoon granulated sugar
8 tablespoons European style butter unsalted, chilled and cut in to pieces
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon milk or heavy cream
1 ½ cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon amaretto liquor
2 ½ tablespoons sugar
To Finish: 8 amaretto cookies crumbled and a tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder
Remove the peaches fuzz gently with a cloth. Slice the peaches, remove the pit, and toss them in a bowl with the sugar, the juice of half a lemon, and the Amaretto liquor. Set-asides to macerate.
If you want to skin peaches, cross the bottom with a sharp paring knife, pour boiling water over them. When ripe they will peel after 15-20 seconds.
To make the biscuits line a cookie sheet with baking paper and preheat the oven at 400°F. Sift the flour, the baking powder, sugar and the salt in a large bowl. Add the butter and with your hands or a pastry cutter or a fork work the mixture into a crumbly dough. Add the cream and stir gently until it forms a rough ball.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and shape with your hands, not a rolling pin, into a rectangle about 1 inch thick, fold once and gently reshape the rectangle about 6 inches by 10 inches large. Cut the dough into 6 disks with a metal cutter or a small glass. Shape the remaining dough into a disk. Brush the top of the biscuits with cream or milk and sprinkle with sugar.
Place the biscuits gently onto the lined cookie sheet and bake for 10 to 15 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the oven and let them cool.
Whip the cream in a standing mixer until it begins to get stiff, then add the sugar and the Amaretto liquor. Continue to whip until the cream is firm. Do not overbeat the cream or it will turn in to butter.
To assemble cut the biscuits in half and place the bottom of each plate. You can lightly dunk the cut biscuit halves in some of the maceration juices to mop up the extra flavor. Divide the peaches among the biscuits and spoon more of the macerating liquids over pressing a little so the bottom absorbs more juices. Sprinkle the crumbled Amaretto cookies on the peaches. Add a generous dollop of whipped cream, dust lightly with the cocoa powder.
Top the whipped cream with the biscuit crown and drizzle the remaining juices around the plate.
Note: If your peaches are not perfectly ripe and sweet, you can bake them for 15 to 20 minutes after macerating them. Baking the peaches will develop their sugary flavor and soften them. To bake, place them on a lined cookie sheet and dot them with butter, then place them in the oven at 350°F.
Silvia Baldini is a former advertising art director and an Italian-born classically trained chef known for her work with popular Italian ingredients. She is a Chopped Champion on Food Network and the founder of The Secret Ingredient Girls and Strawberry & Sage. Following a distinguished and award-winning career as an Art Director on Madison Avenue, Silvia pursued culinary training at ICC in NYC and graduated first in class at Cordon Bleu in London.
Her work and recipes have been published in Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, Parents Magazine, Reader’s Digest, Thrillist, Country Magazine, Saveur, The Wall Street Journal and The Independent. Her TV appearances include CNN, ABC, and Dr. Oz. She is a frequent keynote speaker and industry panelist, sharing extensive experience in the food and media industry. Silvia believes that wholesome cooking and traditional wisdom combined with modern technology will be the key to living a happy and healthy life.