The story of Peaches and Prosciutto with Fresh Mozzarella and Mint Pesto begins at last week’s farmers market. A Cambodian man with a face the color of carved hickory sat in the open side door of his van. In front of him a couple of tables with a few flawless eggplants and some peaches on display. I felt the peaches. VERY firm. “Do you have any that are riper?” I asked, glancing hopefully toward the dark interior of the van. He gestured toward a case of peaches at the back of a table. SECONDS, a hand-lettered sign said. “Just those. But they taste good.” Peaches of all sizes and shapes filled a generous produce crate, some with funky shapes, some with spots, a handful small as golf balls and just as hard; most, in any event, impossible to see or feel since they were buried. My fingers migrated over the fuzzy surfaces of several dented candidates. Softer, but still too firm. “I have to use them tomorrow,” I said, wondering if I might find a couple of just right ones to photograph entombed beneath their bruised sisters. He sighed, pulled a jackknife out of his jeans, cut a wedge from one of the large seconds on top and handed it too me. To my surprise it felt much softer in my mouth than it looked. The flesh resisted, then collapsed between my tongue and upper palate, releasing a mouthful of peach juice. It was absolutely perfect–sweetness, edged round by a few tart onlookers. He watched as I swallowed and wiped my mouth. “Tastes good, right?”
I apologized for doubting him and asked how much he was asking for them. they cost. He tapped the sign with the tip of his knife. $20. “You have to buy the whole case.” He smiled and closed his knife with a snap. Ball in your court, pal. “Fine,” I said. “I’ll take them.”
Which is how the peaches won the coin toss for Easy Antipasto – Peaches and Prosciutto with Fresh Mozzarella and Mint Pesto. After having given up eating supermarket peaches (too hard, too sweet) local Massachusetts peaches are teaching me that it’s never too late to ignite the embers of an old love, and evidently I’m not alone in my renewed affections. A few years ago I only found one farmer doggedly selling peaches in the market; now there are always at least three. Maybe people are buying local peaches because the fruit seems nuanced in a way that typical supermarket offerings are not. You can’t eat a farmers market peach with your hands without making a mess, which we all need to do from time to time, and their sweetness is balanced by a faint tart counterpoint. Salty prosciutto couldn’t ask for a better dining companion. With just those two ingredients, and a bit of fresh mozzarella, you have the kind of meal that Inspector Montalbano rhapsodizes about in the Sicilian mystery novels of Andrea Camillari. But we had a raft of culinary fellow travelers in our larder, so Jody upped the ante with a pistachio-mint pesto that doesn’t require much more than a quick buzz in the food processor. The fresh mozzarella makes it a sumptuous enough to stand in for lunch, if that’s where’s you want to go. Local cherry tomatoes, now at their spectacular peak, don’t require peeling. What did I say? Easy. Since making this antipasto, our household has consumed a couple of mixing-bowls’ worth of peaches with yogurt as we’ve worked our way to the bottom of the vendor’s case of seconds. The rest have been peeled and put in freezer bags for winter smoothies. Like some sinners, a few were beyond redemption. Still, that twenty bucks may have been the wisest investment I’ve made all summer. Enjoy. Ken
Peaches and Prosciutto with Fresh Mozzarella and Mint Pesto
- 1 cup mint leaves + plus a few small ones for garnish (use leaves as young and as pale as possible)
- ¼ cup parsley leaves
- 3 tablespoons toasted pistachios, coarsely chopped
- Freshly grated zest of lemon
- 1 garlic clove, grated on a microplane
- 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 good size peaches (about ½ pound)
- 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 6 ounces cherry tomatoes
- 1 5-6 ounce ball fresh mozzarella
- ½ pound thinly sliced prosciutto
- Put 1 cup mint and the parsley in a food processor and pulse to chop the leaves. Add 2 tablespoons of the pistachios, the lemon zest and garlic with 5 tablespoons olive oil and buzz once or twice to combine. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl and cover. At this point you can refrigerate overnight.
- Lightly rub the blade your knife over the surface of the peaches. This helps separate the skin from the flesh and will allow you to peel them easily. You don’t have to press very hard, if you do you may bruise the peach. Peel the peaches, cut into ¼-inch wedges. Put into a small bowl and toss with lemon juice. If the skins are stubborn, you can use a peeler.
- Cut the tomatoes in half. Add to the bowl with the peaches. Season with salt and pepper and toss. Add 3 tablespoon pesto, more if you like, and toss. You may have some leftover pesto.
- Arrange the prosciutto, with a little wave, out onto a platter in a single layer. This isn’t just esthetic – the waves prevent the prosciutto from sticking to the plate and make it easier to serve. Spoon the tomatoes and peaches over the prosciutto. Rip the mozzarella into 12 pieces and arrange over the prosciutto. Garnish with reserved mint leaves and remaining pistachios.
We made this on September 5th, a broiling 90° day that had somehow escaped its proper place in the middle of July. On a cooler day I might used the stove to blanch the herbs before making the pesto in order to keep their color vibrant. But not that day. I might also have blanched the peaches for a few seconds to loosen the skin, but thank God they were ripe enough to skip that step too. For pesto, I like using young light green leaves–they give the sauce a bright minty flavor–but that day all I could find was mature hearty mint with deep green leaves. If you find yourself in my position there’s a couple of things you can do to insure you end up with a minty pesto. First, use a food processor instead of a blender. The former is easier on the herbs. Mature mint can include a hint of bitterness if it gets banged around too much and a food processor is easier on the leaves than a blender. Second, try to make it ahead to let it rest awhile. My pesto definitely improved after sitting overnight in the fridge.