August is National Peach Month, honoring the most popular stone fruit: the peach. (Other stone fruits, in the genus Prunus, include almonds, apricots, cherries, nectarines, peaches and the cross-bred apriums, plumcots and pluots.)
A BRIEF HISTORY OF PEACHES
The peach originated in China and has been cultivated at least since 1000 B.C.E. Peaches traveled west via the silk roads to Persia, earning them the botanical name Prunus persica. There, they were discovered by Alexander the Great, who mentions half a dozen types and brought them to Greece.
By 322 B.C.E. Greece was growing peaches, and by 50 to 20 B.C.E., Romans grew them. They called them Persian apples, and sold them for the modern equivalent of $4.50.
The Romans transported peach trees to other parts of their empire.
Columbus brought peach trees to America on his second and third voyages. The Spaniards brought peaches to South America, the French introduced them to Louisiana, and the English took them to their New England colonies.
To this day China remains the largest world producer of peaches, with Italy second. California produces more than 50% of the peaches in the United States (and grows 175 different varieties). And so many peaches are grown in Georgia that it became known as the Peach State.
Over the next week or two, we’ll be presenting a menu of peachy recipes, starting with…
RECIPE #1: PEACH PANZANELLA
Panzanella, an Italian bread salad that uses up day-old bread, is one of our favorites, tailored to the bounty of each season. Panzanella can be sweet or savory. In the winter, with a paucity of fresh fruit, recipes tend to be savory (here’s a classic winter panzanella recipe).
But when the season gives you so much fresh fruit, sweeter panzanellas call.
Panzanella is one of those delicious foods invented by necessity: Poor people needed to get another meal from bread that had gone stale (the history of panzanella).
In summer grilling season, juicy, caramelized peaches and smoky grilled bread unite in this summer panzanella. These recipes, for a salad course and a dinner salad, are from Good Eggs. They were inspired by Julia Sherman’s new book, Salad for President.
No grill? Broil the peaches and bread cut-side up in the oven.
1. PREPARE a very hot charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill to medium. No grill? Use a grill pan in the oven)
2. CHOP the shallot finely. Cut off two large slices of sourdough. Set both aside.
3. MAKE the dressing: Whisk together 2 teaspoons vinegar, 1 tablespoon oil and the shallot in a small bowl. Set aside.
4. HALVE the peaches and remove the pits. In a large bowl, toss the peach halves and optional ingredients with 1 tablespoon olive oil; season with a sprinkle of salt and freshly ground pepper. Drizzle another tablespoon of olive oil over both sides of the bread slices and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
5. OIL the grill grate and let it heat up for a minute or two. Arrange the bread slices on the outer edges of the grill grate and the peaches, cut-side down, in the center. Set the peach bowl aside but don’t rinse it.
6. GRILL the bread on each side for for 1 minute, or until lightly toasted. Grill the peaches until the bottoms are caramelized and lightly charred, about 3 minutes. Flip the peaches and cook for another 3 minutes. If using an oven, broil both the bread and the peaches cut side up.
7. REMOVE the toasted bread from the grill, allow it to cool enough to handle, and tear it into bite-sized pieces (we prefer to cut it into large croutons). Cut each peach half in half again (or if the peaches are larger, cut them into into large chunks). Place them in the peach bowl along with the torn bread.
8. DRIZZLE the dressing over the peaches and bread, and toss. Let the panzanella marinate for 5-10 minutes. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper, as desired.
9. GARNISH with torn basil and serve.
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