If you find a perfectly ripe, locally grown peach, it’s almost a shame to do anything to it other than to bite into it and let the juice run down your arm as you savor it. Case in point: Alice Waters, revolutionary chef and owner of Chez Panisse restaurant, dreamed of serving then president Bill Clinton “the perfect peach” for dessert – just that, a peach, sourced from one of her most trusted farmers. But his visit to the restaurant fell short of the peak peach season, and she wasn’t able to give him one that would have made the kind of statement she hoped for.
As she explained in her book, Forty Years of Chez Panisse, “I was sure if I fed the president a perfect peach –the most delicious food –it would bring him to a new understanding of the politics of food.” Three years later, Alice had the chance to make dinner for Clinton again, and served wild blackberries and baked stuffed peaches for dessert.
The peaches I bought yesterday from the farmers’ market here in Central California are not quite perfect, but they sure are delicious and do speak for themselves. And because of that, I chose to treat them very simply, a la Alice, using a technique that I learned about years ago from one of her recipes: remove the peach pits and stuff each half and bake them.
Alice has been a huge inspiration to me ever since I was a preteen, got interested in cooking, and checked out her cookbooks from the Oakland public library. I later had the chance to be the first intern at Alice’s Edible Schoolyard Project in Berkeley. Learning the method of sensory-focused culinary education from the head kitchen teacher, Esther Cook, had such a big impact on me that it shaped my whole career as a public health nutritionist. We use these principles in Sugarproof, and I use them with my own kids when we cook together as well.
For this stuffed peach recipe, my boys and I came up with a super simple stuffing mix that they helped form into “fake pits,” as my seven year old called them. It’s just equal parts chopped walnuts and dates (with a pinch of sea salt and optional nutmeg). Any raw nuts would work with this, so you could also choose pecans or almonds or pistachios. You will want to make sure you have freestone peaches, meaning that the pit does not cling to the flesh of the fruit when you halve it, like the clingstone varieties do. If you can’t find freestone peaches, you can use apricots, which are always freestone, and are absolutely delicious in this recipe as well.
Another thing that I like about this recipe is that it is very easy for kids to help with. They can halve the peaches, remove the pits, chop the nuts and dates either by hand or using a food processor, form the stuffing into “pits”, and stuff the peaches.
There is no added sugar in the recipe, though the ripe peaches themselves and the dates have plenty of natural sweetness in them. As a flavour contrast, try serving them with a little plain yogurt.
Stuffed Roasted Peaches
- 4 ripe peaches, preferably locally grown (or substitute around 6 apricots)
- ½ cup raw walnuts or other nuts of choice (like almonds, pistachios, or pecans)
- ½ cup pitted dates
- Pinch of sea salt
- Pinch of nutmeg (optional)
Preheat the oven to 375°F
Wash the peaches, halve them and remove the pits but leave the skin on.
Line a 9×13 baking dish with parchment paper and arrange the peach halves in it.
Chop the nuts and the dates either by hand or in a food processor. You will want them both chopped finely enough so the mixture will stick together, but leave some texture to them. Put them in a bowl and sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt and nutmeg (optional).
Using your hands, press the mixture together and form “pits” about 2”x1”, or double the size of the ones you removed from the peaches, as you want them to stick out some for effect. You will need one “pit” for each peach half, for a total of 8 (or 12 if using apricots).
Place a pit into each peach half, pressing down lightly to anchor it in place.
Cover the dish with foil and bake in the oven for around 25 minutes or until the peaches have softened some and are starting to release juice,
Uncover them and continue baking until the pits are browned and the peach juice starts to caramelize, around 10-20 minutes more. Check them every 5 minutes to be sure the pits don’t burn.
Serve them either as is, or with a little plain Greek yogurt (or coconut milk yogurt) for a flavour contrast. Any leftovers can be kept in the refrigerator for a few days.
NUTRITION FACTS PER SERVING (1/2 peach): Calories 110 Total Fat 5g Protein 2g Total Carbohydrate 17g Dietary Fiber 3g Total Sugars 12g Added Sugars 0g