A Taste of Summer
By Neil Zevnik
Add these sweet-and-savory nectarine dishes to your summer repertoire, and you’ll find yourself the hit of the backyard barbecue.

True or false: nectarines are a cross between a peach and a plum? Yeah, I got it wrong too. It turns out nectarines are not affiliated with plums at all, but rather are the product of a specific recessive gene in what would have been a peach, resulting in the typical bald pate of the nectarine instead of the usual fuzzy hairline of the peach.

Thus, the tale of the nectarine is inextricably linked to the procession of the peach down through the centuries. Fruit historians (“fruitorians” perhaps?) assume that the nectarine had its origins in China, several millennia ago. The peach, and by extension the nectarine, held a significant place in not only the cuisine but also the folklore and traditions of several Asian nations. In Chinese lore, the peach was considered to confer immortality upon those who partook of its sweet flesh. In Vietnamese myth, the flowering branch of this cordial fruit tree signified not only victory, but also the peace and happiness that followed.

The dissemination of the nectarine followed a meandering path—the Persians carried it from China to the Roman Empire and beyond; it was not recorded in Europe until the 17th century, and subsequently made its way to North America, where it was carried across the land by Native American tribes as they moved westward. Today, 95 percent of the nectarines produced in the United States come from the farthest reaches of that migration—California.

Sweet Goodness
Low in calories, and sodium- and cholesterol-free, nectarines are an excellent source of vitamins A and C, plus they offer a generous helping of dietary fiber. Vitamin A promotes lung health, while vitamin C functions as an antioxidant and is critical for good immune function. Recent research indicates that consumption of fresh fruits contributes significantly to a reduced risk of macular degeneration. And of course, the benefits of dietary fiber are well-known to us all.

So now’s the time to start enjoying this delicious riff on the peach as often as possible—slice it into granola, whip it up in a smoothie, and when you’re feeling decadent, chop it, sauté it, and crown with a scoop of ice cream.

Bringing Them Home
Nectarines are at their peak right now. Make a pilgrimage to your health food store or local farmers’ market for these rosy-cheeked beauties—the supermarket varieties have generally been picked too early to ever achieve their full flavor and sweetness. A ripe nectarine will have a faint ambrosial aroma, and the skin will yield slightly to pressure. Reddish color is not an indicator of ripeness; a pure yellow nectarine may well be riper than one with an extensive blush, depending on the variety. And there are more than 150 varieties!

If your nectarines are still a bit hard, placing them in a paper bag at room temperature for a few days will enhance ripening (and putting a banana in the bag will make it go even faster). Once ripe, they can be stored in a plastic bag in the fridge for up to five days. Though take note, they taste best at room temperature.


Grilled Nectarine & Goat Cheese Salad Serves 4

Serve this zesty, fresh salad with crusty bread and a pitcher of lemonade, and you have the perfect summer lunch.

2 large nectarines, halved and pitted

4 oz. mixed baby greens

1 Tbs. organic olive oil

1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

3 oz. fresh goat cheese, crumbled

2 Tbs. coarsely chopped pecans

  1. Heat grill to medium. Place nectarine halves on grill, cut-side down. Grill about 2 minutes; turn, grill 2 minutes more. Remove from grill, and
    cool slightly.
  2. Toss baby greens with olive oil and lemon juice. Divide among four plates. Top greens with goat cheese and pecans. Arrange nectarine slices around edges of plates, and serve.


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