It’s August and the fruit we dream about all year is finally here. Strawberries, raspberries and blueberries are a bargain. Melons can be trusted to taste good. And the tree fruit! Plums, peaches, nectarines and apricots, needing only the nick of a knife for their sweet juices to start dripping.
Depends where you live, of course. I live in Florida, where most fields lie fallow in August, and mangos and other tropicals are the only fruit truly in season. But the markets are flush with fruit. Though most of it has traveled, you’re not going to catch me complaining about a Georgia peach.
August is also prime time for la bella far niente, and Italians know lots of ways to enjoy fruit with very little effort. Here are seven of the best.
Just eat it. I’m not talking about grabbing a plum and munching it on the way to the car. Do that, sure, but also think about arranging whole fruit in a pretty bowl to serve for dessert. If you eat as Italians do, everybody gets a plate, knife and fork. Or pile fresh cherries in stemmed glass bowls or martini glasses, and fill each one halfway with water. As diners eat the cherries, they drop the pits back into the water. Another idea is to cut cantaloupe or honeydew wedges close to the rind to separate the fruit; position each peeled wedge in its rind. For me, eating melon this way brings back memories of breakfasting on Sicily’s bright yellow melons.
Drizzle fresh berries with good balsamic vinegar. Ideally, this would be syrupy tradizionale balsamic aged 25 years and up. If you don’t have any, vincotto makes a pleasant substitute. You might also consider teaming up the berries with vanilla ice cream, another sweet thing that takes well to a drizzle of good balsamic.
Make macedonia. Okay, it’s just fruit salad, but saying macedonia elevates the experience. It can be just perfectly ripe, cut-up fruit, or mix in a little sugar and fresh lemon juice to brighten the flavor. A swirl of whipped cream on top of each serving, that’s not wrong. If you’re lucky enough to have strawberries and peaches at the same time, slice and layer them in a glass bowl, dribbling a little maraschino liqueur over each layer.
Infuse, muddle or puree fresh fruit for cocktails. No need to search for your inner mixologist when you work with enough fruit for a pitcher of cocktails. A spritzer I’ve enjoyed making this summer, adapted from a Bon Appetit recipe, calls for placing up to a pint of raspberries or quartered strawberries in the bottom of a pitcher. Lightly crush (aka, muddle) the strawberries (no need with raspberries), pour in a bottle of rosé and let the berry flavor infuse the wine for at least three hours or overnight. Strain into another pitcher, discarding the berries. Add 1/2 cup Aperol or Campari–the slight bitterness of these aperitivi adds just the right accent–and, immediately before serving, stir in 2 cups of selzer. Serve over ice and garnish with more fresh berries.
Compose cheese and fruit plates. Fresh figs or melon, prosciutto and Gorgonzola are one classic combination. For breakfast, cheese guru Max McCalmon suggests plums or peaches with “coffee friendly” Fontina Valle d’Aosta and a croissant. If you can get your hands on fresh sheep’s milk ricotta at a farmer’s market, drizzle it with a little honey and serve with nectarine wedges and almond biscotti.
Make my watermelon granita. The full recipe is in my cookbook, Seafood alla Siciliana, but I’ll give you the gist of it. Make a simple syrup by combining equal parts sugar and water and heating until the sugar dissolves. Submerge a sprig of mint in the hot liquid; cool and discard the mint. Puree seeded watermelon chunks, using a blender or food processor, and sweeten to taste with the minty syrup. Process in an ice cream mixer and scoop into bowls, adding fresh berries to each.
Whip up a batch of amaretti-stuffed peaches. “Every Piemontese cook makes this humble dessert in summer,” says my friend Meme. “Just put a pan of these peaches on the kitchen table and watch them disappear.”
- 2 tablespoons butter plus more for the baking dish
- 4 large freestone peaches ripe but not overripe
- 12 amaretti cookies or as needed
- 1 teaspoon cocoa
- 1 tablespoon sugar optional
- 1 large egg yolk
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly butter a gratin dish or other baking dish just large enough for 8 peach halves.
Halve the peaches and extract the pits. Cut a thin sliver off the ends to permit them to stand upright in the baking dish. Using a teaspoon or grapefruit spoon, scoop out some of the peach flesh to make a hollow; chop your peach scoopings and place in a small bowl.
Using your hands or a potato masher, crush enough amaretti cookies to make 1 cup of crumbs. Add to the bowl with the chopped peach. Stir in the cocoa; taste and add sugar if you wish. Stir in the egg yolk until the mixture holds together.
Line up the peach halves in the prepared dish and fill with the seasoned amaretti crumbs. Top each one with a small knob of butter. Bake on a middle rack until the peaches are glazed and tender and the crumbs lightly browned. Spoon any pan juices over the peaches. These taste best when eaten at room temperature.