Peaches are to me the great herald that summer has well and truly begun. Just when you start to feel the weather change from warm to downright hot and the air from breezy to thick with humidity, peaches make their appearance at markets and roadside stands. At summer camp, you could always get your hands on a peach, and biting into that juicy, fuzzy flesh, the juice dripping down your chin, sucking every last bit of flavor off the pit was just part of the camp experience. A friend’s family has a lovely lake house several hours from here, and on my trips there, we always stop on the drives up and back at a roadside orchard stand for boxes of delicious peaches, scenting the car like a summer day for the whole journey.
And these peaches poached with basil may well be the perfect summer dessert. It makes the brilliant use of summer’s best produce, it is easy but impressive, you can make it ahead, and it’s beautiful and truly unique. And the fragrance that wafts through the kitchen during poaching is magical. The beautiful pink globes served with a drizzle of syrup and a sprig of basil makes a lovely plate, but add a small scoop of vanilla ice cream or some sweetened whipped cream if you’d like. Or my favorite, a dollop of mascarpone blended with a little powdered sugar.
Under no circumstances should you discard the excess poaching liquid. Keep the pale pink syrup in the fridge in an airtight container. You can drizzle it over plain ice cream or stir it into yogurt, use it to sweeten iced tea, add an outstanding twist to a gin and tonic, or just pour it over ice and top with sparkling water for a real refresher. I sometimes think I make these peaches just for the syrup.
Peaches Poached In Basil
1 cup white wine
1 ½ cup water
1 ½ cup sugar
1 bunch fresh basil
6 yellow peaches
Place the wine, water and sugar in a wide bottomed saucepan and stir to dissolve sugar slightly. Place the pan on the stove over medium heat and bring mixture to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes and then reduce heat, leaving the syrup to simmer.
Cut the peaches in half and remove pits gently. Drop half of the basil leaves into the syrup then gently place the peach halves cut side down into the syrup. Poach for about 3 minutes and then gently turn over using a slotted spoon. Continue poaching for an additional 3 – 4 minutes until soft (cooking time will depend on ripeness of peaches). Carefully prick the cut side of the peaches to check for tenderness. The peels should be wrinkling up as well. You may cook the peaches in two batches if all the halves will not fit in the pan at once.
Remove the peaches to a plate with a slotted spoon. When cool enough to handle, gently slide the skins off and discard. Add all but about six basil leaves to the syrup and bring to a boil, boiling until reduced by about half. Remove from the heat. Pour any juices that have collected on the plate with the peaches into the syrup. Leave to cool to room temperature.
The peaches can be covered with plastic wrap and kept at room temperature for several hours. When ready to serve, place two peach halves on a plate and drizzle with a little basil syrup. Reserve the remaining syrup for another use. Garnish with basil leaves.