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Cooking

A little Italy

Four classic peach desserts, plus a new play on bruschetta

By Adam Ried
August 21, 2011

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Italians have a way with art, fashion, cars . . . and peaches, which find their way into several classic Italian summer desserts. Perhaps the best known among them is the simplest – sliced peaches marinated in lightly sweetened red wine flavored with vanilla. There are two approaches to this dish: You can either use uncooked wine, which gives the dessert a bit of a boozy bite, or cook it with sugar to make a wine syrup, which is milder. You can also switch to white wine – my preference for this light dessert.

Similarly, there are two approaches to another classic: peaches stuffed with amaretti cookies. Some cooks prefer to use the amaretti alone, while others, including me, add some of the peach flesh that is scooped from the halves to make way for the stuffing. The sweet peach “bruschetta” is by no means traditional, but it’s Italian in spirit for sure.

SWEET PEACH AND RICOTTA BRUSCHETTA

Serves 6

2 tablespoons plus ¼ cup sugar

2 tablespoons brandy, optional

2 tablespoons juice plus 2 teaspoons finely grated zest from 1 lemon

2 ripe, fragrant medium-large peaches (about 1 pound), peeled, pitted, and sliced into 3/8-inch wedges

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1½cups (about 12 ounces) whole-milk ricotta

¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

Salt

6¾-inch-thick slices brioche, lightly toasted or grilled

2 tablespoons sliced almonds, lightly toasted and cooled

In a medium bowl, stir 2 tablespoons sugar, brandy, if using, and 1 tablespoon lemon juice to mix. Add the peaches, toss to coat, and set aside for about 15 minutes. In a medium bowl, mix the remaining ¼ cup sugar and the cinnamon; reserve 1 tablespoon of the cinnamon-sugar and set aside. Add the lemon zest to the bowl and stir until moist and fragrant. Stir in the ricotta, the remaining lemon juice, vanilla, and a tiny pinch of salt until uniform.

Set the broiler rack about 6 inches beneath the heating element and heat the broiler. Place the brioche slices on a broiler-safe baking sheet and spread a portion of the ricotta mixture on each slice, all the way to the edges. Fan out a portion of the peach slices on each, sprinkle with the reserved cinnamon-sugar, and broil until warmed through and edges are lightly browned, about 4½ minutes (remove from broiler if the crusts begin to burn). Transfer the slices to plates, sprinkle each with a portion of the toasted almonds, and serve warm.

ICE COLD PEACHES IN WHITE WINE

Serves 6

Adapted from The Italian Country Table, by Lynne Rossetto Kasper. For a medium-bodied syrup to form, you’ll need at least ¼ cup of sugar, but you may want more if the peaches are not sweet enough.

6 ripe, fragrant medium-large peaches (about 2½ pounds), peeled, pitted, and sliced into ¾-inch wedges

¼ cup sugar, or more as necessary

1½ teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1¼ cups dry white wine, or more as necessary

½ vanilla bean

In a large nonreactive bowl, very gently fold the peaches, sugar, and lemon juice just to combine. Cover and refrigerate until a light syrup forms, about 1 hour.

Pour the wine into the bowl (it should come up just to the surface of the peaches – if it doesn’t, add a little extra). Cut the vanilla bean lengthwise, scrape the seeds into the bowl, add the bean, and stir gently to mix. Cover and refrigerate to infuse the peaches, at least 4 and up to 8 hours. Serve cold.

Variations

PEACHES IN RED WINE

Follow the recipe for Ice Cold Peaches in White Wine, substituting dry red wine for the white. Serve cold or at room temperature.

PEACHES IN WINE SYRUP

Follow the recipe for Ice Cold Peaches in White Wine, making the following changes:

1) Use red or white wine, depending on your preference. Increase the wine to 2 cups.

2) Do not mix the peaches with the sugar. Instead, in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring wine, sugar, and lemon juice to a boil, swirling the pan to dissolve the sugar. Lower heat to medium and reduce wine mixture, swirling pan occasionally, to about 1½ cups, about 12 minutes. Add the split vanilla bean and seeds and cover and refrigerate until cold, at least 1 hour. Add the peaches, making sure the fruit is submerged.

Cover and refrigerate until liquid thickens to a light syrup, at least 4 hours, stirring and basting peaches occasionally. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

BAKED AMARETTI-STUFFED PEACHES

Serves 6

Vanilla ice cream or gelato, or whipped cream, mascarpone, or creme fraiche (or even Greek yogurt) are all excellent on the side.

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

6 ripe but firm medium-large peaches (about 2½ pounds), halved and pitted

1½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon sugar

28 amaretti cookies

1 large egg

¾ teaspoon vanilla extract

Salt

Set the oven rack in the middle position and heat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a large baking dish with about 1½ tablespoons of the butter and set aside.

With a melon baller or dinner spoon, scoop out some flesh from each peach half, enlarging the pit cavities to about 1½ inches in diameter. Chop the flesh you have removed, place ¾ cup of it in a medium bowl (reserve the rest for another use), and set aside. Rub each of the peach halves cut side down in the buttered dish, then set them cut sides up in the dish. Sprinkle the peaches with the lemon juice and the sugar.

In a food processor, pulse the amaretti cookies 2 or 3 times to begin breaking them down. Add the remaining melted butter, the egg, vanilla, and a pinch of salt and continue pulsing until the amaretti are broken into roughly lentil-sized crumbs. Pour the mixture into the bowl with the chopped peach and toss to combine.

Divide the filling among the peach halves, mounding it in each, and bake until filling is browned and peach shells are tender, about 35 minutes. Cool the peaches briefly and serve warm.

Send comments or suggestions to Adam Ried at cooking@globe.com.

TRADITION? NAH This “bruschetta” nods to the real thing. Here, though, peaches and ricotta top toasted brioche. (Photograph by Jim Scherer; Styling by Catrine Kelty) TRADITION? NAH This “bruschetta” nods to the real thing. Here, though, peaches and ricotta top toasted brioche.

KITCHEN AIDE
Amaretti cookies

Amaretti are small, light, crisp, almond-flavored Italian macaroons, often very sweet. Said to have originated in Venice centuries ago and now strongly associated with northern Italy, particularly the Piedmont and Lombardy regions, amaretti are typically served with coffee, sweet wines, liqueurs, and custardy desserts. They’re also crumbled and used as an ingredient in other desserts, including baked stuffed peaches, and sometimes even in savory dishes such as pumpkin ravioli. Amaretti are widely available in Italian neighborhoods and specialty stores.