As a new crop starts to appear, Elisha Young (aka @elisha.eats on Instagram) talks nectarines
Every year, I can hardly wait for the beginning of stone fruit season. There’s just something so exciting about the arrival of peaches, apricots, cherries and plums, after months of nothing but winter citrus and leafy greens. It feels almost decadent to bite into a fruit that’s so juicy and full of flavour, and (for me at least) the experience conjures up images of warm summer evenings, picnics and vibrant meals. Of all the stone fruits, one of the first to grace our shelves is the nectarine.
The name ‘nectarine’ comes from the Greek word ‘nektar’, which means ‘food of the gods’. And it’s not hard to see why. The flavour is sweet, rich and almost like honey, with a touch of tartness. They taste extremely similar to peaches, which makes sense, since nectarines and peaches are actually the same fruit species (nectarines just have a gene that prevents them from developing velvety skin). This lack of fuzz makes for a more pleasant eating experience, but does have a downside – they bruise far more easily than peaches. My tip is to only buy a few nectarines at a time; they ripen quickly and it’s all too easy to watch as your delicious fruit suddenly succumb to a swarm of flies.
Although you might assume nectarines are naturalised to the UK, like cherries and plums, their widespread distribution is actually quite recent. They have been cultivated here at least since the 1600s, but were reserved as a rare treat for the upper classes, since it was easier to grow them in walled gardens where they were protected from pests, predators and extreme weather conditions.
When I was talking to my family, I discovered my mum only tried her first nectarine when she was a teenager – and my grandma in her 40s! I shudder to imagine a world without easy access to my favourite stone fruit, which is now abundant around Cambridge market stalls, and in farm shops and delis such as the The Gog, Culinaris and The Larder at Burwash Manor. They’re an adaptable ingredient, mouth-watering in cakes, crumbles, ice creams, tarts, trifles and cobblers – and even make an excellent addition to salads.
If you think of salads as sad and tasteless, with piles of limp leaves and forlorn chunks of vegetables thrown together at random, allow me to introduce my recipe for nectarine and mozzarella salad. I promise it will change your mind.
Slice one ripe nectarine into eight segments, then grill on a BBQ or hot griddle pan brushed with oil until slightly charred, turning halfway. While the nectarine slices are cooking, toast some pecans in a dry saucepan until they’ve slightly darkened and smell nutty. Then mix the salad dressing: one part runny honey, three parts balsamic vinegar and six parts olive oil. Mix the dressing well and season generously with salt and pepper.
Assemble your salad, laying a bed of your favourite leaves with half a ball of mozzarella placed in the middle. Arrange the nectarine around the mozzarella, then garnish with the pecans, salad dressing, salt and pepper, and some chilli flakes (if you fancy a little kick). The jammy fruit pairs beautifully with the crunch of the pecans and creaminess of the mozzarella. Alongside the fresh salad leaves and chilli flakes, this salad is bursting with both flavours and textures.
There, now you’re prepared for your next summer party in the garden!
Read more from Elisha here.