You know, if I were in a more articulate frame of mind, today would be a great day to exercise my eloquence-muscle and use this little blog o’ mine to sing the praises of seasonal summer cooking.
But today is also a rain-soaked Tuesday, and I’m a working stiff in every sense–sleep-deprived and body-sore and generally about as lucid as an owl full of schnapps. So here’s all the eloquence I can muster right now:
IT’S NECTARINE SEASON. FINALLY.
If I had to pick a favorite season, summer would win hands-down. And the emergence of nectarines has a lot to do with it. (Well, that and the neverending sunshine.) I wait all year for them, impatiently, like a small grubby-faced child. And then when they finally show up, I’m like a Christmas shopper at the mall on Black Friday. Don’t get between me and my fruit.
For my money, there are few things more satisfying than the first bite of a white freestone nectarine. It’s a firmer, more decisive bite than a peach allows, subtle-sweet but never syrupy, with nothing but an apple-smooth skin between teeth and flesh. As a ravenous teenager, I had no problem finishing off five or six fruits in a single sitting.
But eventually–though every summer I’m loath to admit it–there comes a time when nectarine burnout looms. Then there are two options: give them a rest, and mourn the speed-train approach of the season’s end–or get creative.
At some point, somewhere, somehow, the notion of nectarine salsa wormed its way into my brain. I don’t remember where the initial spark came from, but I’m so, so grateful for it. As it turns out, nectarines’ whispery sweetness is a fabulous foil for the sharpness of onion and the heat of jalapeno. It’s also a chance to combine my favorite fruit with my favorite herb–mint. And it’s ludicrously simple to make: just a chop and a squeeze and a short nap in the fridge.
Not only is this a cure for the nectarine doldrums, it’s also seriously gourmet. The first time I tried it out, over grilled halibut, it blew my ever-loving mind. I’m not even exaggerating. It’s the kind of sweet-spicy-salty-sharp-fresh-fatty-festival-for-the-tongue I usually associate with white tablecloths, glass votives and unthreatening background music. Or at least I did, until I tried it under the late-afternoon sun, with a backyard grill going and a passel of family and friends squawking in the background. You can probably guess which approach I like better.
Now, despite my TOTAL INCREDIBLE OBSESSION with nectarines, I’m willing to concede one point: this template of a recipe would work beautifully with other fruit too. Since a nectarine is really nothing more than a peach with a diva streak, peaches would make a fine swap. So would apricots, plums, or even mangoes. But whatever you decide on, this recipe really, really needs firm fruit to work–as firm and sturdy as possible (without being underripe, of course). If the fruit is too soft, it’ll slump and disintegrate under the knife, and then you’ll have mushy salsa. Nobody wants mushy salsa.
This is a great complement to firm, sturdy fish, crisp-seared or grilled–halibut, swordfish and salmon come to mind. I haven’t tried it with chicken or pork, but I’m betting it’d be lovely. Heck, it’s pretty darn satisfying just eaten straight out of the fridge with a spoon. Especially at lunchtime on a hot summer Sunday.
Nectarine-Mint Salsa (makes about 4 cups)
3 large firm nectarines or 5-6 small ones, pitted and diced
1 red, yellow or orange bell pepper, seeded and diced
1/3 of a large red onion (or 1/2 of a small one), diced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced very fine
1 tbsp chopped fresh mint
Juice of 1 lime
Salt to taste
Mix all ingredients together in a bowl. Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving, to give the flavors time to blend. This will keep for about 5 days in the fridge–if you can make it last that long.