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The Lost Italian makes a peach salad with mozzarella, basil, extra-virgin olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar. FORUM NEWS SERVICE/Michael Vosburg

Salad showcases versatile, fuzzy fruit

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This month, we have been enjoying the bounty of beautiful, blush-toned peaches found at our farmers markets and local grocery stores, and our enjoyment has nearly reached the point of obsession.

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If our memory is correct, the big lugs of fresh peaches arrived a week or two earlier this summer than the past couple years, and we have been greedy in our indulgence.

There is something wonderfully inviting about a ripe, juicy peach, so much so that even our previously peach-phobic son, Giovanni, had to take a bite to see what all the fuss was about. That one bite was all it took, and now he’s riding the peach train all the way to September.

What is it about peaches that have inspired artists of all kinds to elevate them to a point of praise and adoration? Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir and Cezanne, to name a few, have honored this late-summer fruit with beautiful images that are so life-like you could almost reach into the painting and sneak a taste. Alice Walker, renowned author of “The Color Purple,” has a lovely quote about peaches that perfectly sums up our penchant for them: “Life is better than death, I believe, if only because it is less boring, and because it has fresh peaches in it.”

With its soft, fuzzy coating and attractive blend of red, gold and pink hues, nature has given the peach a visual appeal that makes it nearly impossible to resist. Ripe peaches should have bold, saturated colors, and be soft to the touch, but not mushy. To test for ripeness, hold the peach in your hand and squeeze ever-so-gently, as pressing with just your finger may bruise the fruit.

Peaches are wonderfully diverse and there are endless ways to enjoy them. Moreover, as a rock star of the fruit world, peaches have achieved crossover status and can be enjoyed in both sweet and savory dishes.

For dessert at the recent Banquet in a Field we attended near Harwood, N.D., we served sliced homemade shortcake laden with peaches marinated in amaretto liqueur and sugar. We’ve also featured a scrumptious peach cobbler at Sarello’s, a classic dessert which has delighted our clientele.

Tony can often be found after dinner service with a glass of red wine filled with freshly sliced peaches, and I’ve been known to stick them in the freezer for a while to enjoy later in a glass of white wine.

Peaches are also great in salsas and salads, and we’ve even grilled sliced peaches to serve with grilled chicken, fish or pork. But one of our favorite ways to enjoy this succulent fruit is a twist on the classic Caprese salad, which traditionally features slices of tomato and fresh mozzarella cheese layered with basil leaves and dressed with olive oil, coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper.

For this new variation, we showcase just sliced peaches with fresh mozzarella and basil, but tomatoes do pair well with this sweet fruit and can be added if desired. To make this simple salad sing, Tony drizzles the top with a balsamic reduction that is easy to make, can be refrigerated for up to a month and is perfect with chicken, strawberries, figs, salads and practically any grilled vegetable.

Whichever way you slice them, peaches are a wonderful way to savor these late days of summer.

Sarah and Tony Nasello own Sarello’s restaurant in Moorhead, Minn., and live in Fargo. Readers can reach them at dine@sarellos.com. All previous recipes can be found at http://thelostitalian.areavoices.com.

Peach Caprese Salad

  • 3 medium or large peaches, sliced
  • 3 balls fresh mozzarella, sliced
  • 10-12 fresh basil leaves, whole with stem removed
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Balsamic reduction for drizzling (recipe below)

Slice the peaches and fresh mozzarella between 1/8, to ¼-inch thick, but not bigger than ¼-inch. On a plate or platter, begin layering with a slice of peach first, followed by a slice of mozzarella, and then a basil leaf (the basil stands out better with a white background). Repeat this pattern until finished.

Once the layering is complete, sprinkle the salt and pepper evenly over entire salad, then drizzle the olive oil back and forth over the layers. Lightly drizzle with balsamic reduction – the flavor is intense and a little goes a long way.

Tip: For added texture, flavor and presentation, scatter toasted almond slices atop the salad. Serves: 4 to 6.

Basalmic Reduction

  • 2 cups regular balsamic vinegar (not the high-end, aged variety)

Place the vinegar in a small sauce pot or sauté pan and cook over high heat until it reaches a boil. Lower the heat to a gentle simmer, and cook until the vinegar has been reduced by half and a syrupy consistency is achieved, approximately 20 minutes.

To store: Refrigerate for up to one month. Serves: 4 to 6.

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