Vail Simply Seasonal: Nectar of the gods | VailDaily.com

Vail Simply Seasonal: Nectar of the gods

Sue Barham
Simply Seasonal
Vail, CO Colorado

Fragrant, juicy and sweet, nectarines are a close cousin of the peach. The only characteristic difference is the smooth skin, which is a minor genetic variation within the plant’s family. In fact, it is possible that a peach tree might have a branch of nectarines and vice versa.

Nectarines are traced back to ancient China and through the centuries, found their way across Europe and the Atlantic. It was a Chinese emperor who termed the fruit “nectar of the gods.” Today, 95 percent of the United States’ nectarines are grown in the San Joaquin Valley of central California. Palisade is our local source.

There are more than 100 varieties of nectarine, in freestone and clingstone varieties. In freestone types the flesh separates from the pit easily, while clingstone types cling to the pit. Nectarines are more delicate than peaches and bruise very easily. Allow nectarines to ripen at room temperature for a day or so, then keep refrigerated for up to a week.

“The burst of sweet flavor from a ripe nectarine works well with savory flavors,” said Jeremy Kittelson, executive chef of Restaurant Avondale. “For a simple appetizer, slice nectarines and wrap each slice with a piece of Serrano ham and some arugula. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and serve. The combination of sweet, salty and spicy is a great way to whet the appetite.”

Their flavors are so similar that nectarines and peaches are interchangeable in recipes. For those who dislike the texture of peach “fuzz,” try a nectarine – no peeling necessary. Nectarines make sensational desserts from homey cobblers to elegant tarts. “Try placing nectarine halves on the grill for a couple of minutes and then top with vanilla ice cream,” suggested Bill Fitzgerald, Avondale’s pastry chef. “It’s a perfect summertime dessert.”

Though super sweet, nectarines have plenty of nutritional value, too. High in fiber and vitamin C, low in fat, sodium and cholesterol, they are a guilt-free treat.

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1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons honey

1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

2 pounds thinly sliced boneless pork loin chops

3 nectarines, halved and pitted

Fresh rosemary

Whisk together first four ingredients in a small bowl. Add pork chops and turn to coat. Marinate for 1 hour, turning occasionally. Grill pork on medium-high heat 1 to 2 minutes on each side or until done. Grill nectarines 1 minute on each side or until nice grill marks appear. Garnish with fresh rosemary sprigs.

Nectarine Salsa

2 nectarines, diced

1/4 cantaloupe, diced

1/4 cup diced red onion

1 medium jalapeno, seeded, deveined, and finely chopped

2 Tablespoons cilantro, chopped

2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 Tablespoon honey

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1 clove garlic, minced

Combine all ingredients. Allow to sit at room temperature 30 minutes to meld flavors. Serve with grilled chicken or pork. Makes 2 cups.

Nectarine raspberry crisp

Topping:

3/4 cup all purpose flour

3/4 cup quick-cooking oats

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon cardamom

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted, cooled slightly

Fruit:

2 pounds nectarines, halved, pitted, cut into 3/4-inch-thick slices

1 1/2 pint fresh raspberries

1/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons cornstarch

Vanilla ice cream, for serving

For the topping: Mix flour, oats, sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, and cardamom in a medium bowl. Add the melted butter and mix with a fork until mixture comes together in small clumps.

For the fruit: Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter a large glass or ceramic baking dish. Combine the nectarines, raspberries, sugar and cornstarch in a large bowl; toss to blend. Transfer mixture to prepared baking dish. Sprinkle topping evenly over fruit. Bake until fruit mixture is bubbling and topping is golden brown, about 50 minutes. Cool 20 minutes. Serve with ice cream.

Sue Barham is the marketing director for Larkspur Restaurant and Restaurant Avondale. Larkspur, (larkspurvail.com) at the base of Vail Mountain, has been serving American Classics with a fresh interpretation since 1999. Avondale, (avondalerestaurant.com) opened in September 2008 in the Westin Riverfront Resort and Spa and features a West Coast inspired, market driven menu.