Despite what some reference books say, nectarines are not a cross between a peach and plum, nor simply a fuzzless peach. They're actually a distinct fruit all their own, available mid-May through September in more than 85 varieties.
Earlier nectarine varieties tend to be small and freestone, later ones larger and clingstone. Most have a creamy to yellow background with crimson blush and yellow, firm flesh. Their flavor is sweet, with a slight tartness in the skin.
A sure sign of ripeness is if the nectarine gives slightly to gentle palm pressure. If not quite ripe when purchased, store in a loosely closed paper bag or ripening bowl at room temperature for a few days.
Rosy ripe nectarines should be kept refrigerated until just before use. However, for the best flavor, return to room temperature before eating.
Even though it's hard to resist eating ripe nectarines out of hand, they also make an excellent recipe ingredient. This trio of summer desserts is proof.
FROZEN AMARETTO ZABAGLIONE
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 cups half and half
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup amaretto
Slivered almonds, optional
Mint sprigs, optional
Puree nectarines to measure 2 cups. Combine sugar, half and half and egg yolks in saucepan. Heat, beating constantly with wire whisk, until slightly thickened and lemon colored. Do not boil.
Stir in nectarine puree and liqueur. Churn-freeze in hand-crank or electric ice cream maker according to manufacturer's directions. Pack into freezing containers and freeze firm.
To serve, allow frozen zabaglione to soften slightly. Scoop and serve over nectarine slices, garnished with slivered almonds and mint sprigs. Makes 4 servings.
DEEP-DISH NECTARINE SHORTCAKE PIE
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon grated orange peel
1 teaspoon melted butter
Whipping cream or half and half
Pit and slice nectarines to measure 5 cups. Mix 1/3 cup sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon and orange peel in 10-inch skillet. Stir in nectarines and let stand 5 to 10 minutes while preparing Shortcake Pastry.
Place nectarines over moderate heat and heat until juice that forms thickens, stirring gently, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and turn into 9-inch pie pan.
Top with prepared Shortcake Pastry, folding edges under. Cut 4 or 5 slits in top. Brush pastry with melted butter and sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon sugar. Bake below oven center at 400 degrees 20 minutes or until filling bubbles at edges and crust is baked and golden brown.
Remove from oven and cool on wire rack. Serve warm or cold with cream. Makes 6 servings.
1 cup sifted flour
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/3 cup shortening
1/4 cup cold milk
Resift flour with sugar, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. Cut in shortening until particles resemble peas. Sprinkle with milk, mixing to form stiff dough. Shape into ball. Roll out on floured board to fit pie pan or baking dish.
NECTARINE ZUPPA INGLESE
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
2 cups hot milk
4 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1/4 cup brandy
6 tablespoons dark rum
2 cups thinly sliced nectarines
1 cup whipping cream
Additional nectarine slices
Chocolate curls, optional
Combine sugar and flour in saucepan. Beat in hot milk with wire whisk until smooth. Heat gently, stirring constantly, 3 minutes. Whisk in egg yolks and continue stirring over low heat until custard is very thick and glossy, about 2 minutes.
Remove from heat and stir in brandy. Chill custard with piece of plastic wrap over surface to prevent skin from forming.
Cut Spongecake in large triangles and place, point first, into 1 1/2-quart dome-shape bowl or mold, piecing where necessary to fully line bowl. Reserve some cake pieces to cover middle layer and top.
Sprinkle cake with 2 tablespoons rum, then spread half of custard in center. Top with 1 cup nectarine slices. Top with half of reserved cake pieces, sprinkle with 2 tablespoons rum and spread remaining custard over cake.
Top with remaining 1 cup nectarines, then with remaining cake pieces and sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons rum. Chill Zuppa 3 to 4 hours or until set.
When ready to serve, unmold Zuppa, whip cream until stiff and spread over Zuppa. Pipe extra whipped cream in decorative pattern and garnish with additional nectarine slices and chocolate curls. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla
Sift flour with baking powder and salt and set aside. Beat eggs until very thick and lemon-colored. Gradually beat in sugar. Blend in water and vanilla. Gently mix in dry ingredients, stirring or beating only until batter is smooth.
Pour into greased 15x10-inch jellyroll pan lined with greased brown paper. Bake at 375 degrees 12 to 15 minutes or until lightly browned.
Loosen edges and immediately turn cake upside down on towel or sheet of wax paper. Carefully peel off paper. Let cool.