Harvest season is coming - my favorite time of year. But on the cusp of that is peach season, so I wanted to do something with peaches besides the normal jams, pies or crumbles. I’ve never pickled peaches before but I’m now glad that I tried it - they’re terrific, especially in a dish like this that eats a bit hardier than summer fare.
There are a few steps to prepare the ingredients for this salad, but this is a great salad to serve as a meal, or aside a simple protein.
For the salad assembly
Cleaned baby spinach
Blue cheese pieces*
Aged Balsamic vinegar
Diced cooked bacon
Blue cheese/Stilton dressing
For the peaches
4 cups sugar
2 cups water
2 cups apple cider vinegar
4 pounds fresh peaches**
1 tablespoon whole cloves
1 1/2 inch sliced fresh ginger
6 cinnamon sticks, about 2 to 3 inches
**Most southern cooks will tell you that the peaches need to be underripe to pickle. That may be true if you’re doing real “canned” on the shelf pickles, but for this dish, I preferred them ready to eat.
Wash and quarter the peaches, removing the pit. There’s no need to remove the skin, but you can if you like.
Place all but the peaches in a pot. Once the liquid is boiling, place the peaches in the pot and cook for 20 minutes, turning often. Watch that they don’t get mushy.
In a large glass jar, put all the peaches and top with as much liquid as will fit. Refrigerate until ready to use - hopefully at least a few days. That will last in the fridge for 6 months, however.
For the pecans
½ cup confectioners’ sugar
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 teaspoons water
2 cups pecan halves
Preheat the oven to 350°F and set an oven rack in the middle position.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, kosher salt, cayenne pepper, and water.
Add the pecans to the sugar mixture and stir until the nuts are evenly coated.
Transfer the pecans to the prepared baking sheet and arrange in a single layer.
Make sure the nuts are evenly spread out (if they are clumped together, they won’t cook evenly).
Scrape out every last bit of glaze from the bowl and drizzle over the nuts. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the pecans are caramelized and the caramel on the baking sheet is a rich brown color but not burnt. (The nuts around the edges will darken first; watch closely so they don’t burn.)
Immediately slide the parchment off of the hot baking sheet and allow the pecans to cool completely on the counter (this stops the cooking process and prevents the nuts from burning). Once cool, remove the pecans from the parchment, breaking apart any clusters if necessary, and store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.
If the nuts are sticky after cooling, that means they are a bit undercooked. Pop them back in the oven for a few minutes and let cool again.
You can use a bottled dressing if you choose. I usually have homemade blue cheese dressing around, but my friend Patrick had given me some Stilton dressing as well as some homemade bacon. As far as the Balsamic, an extra-aged one like the Lodovico Campari, or a Balsamic glaze is best.
Start with the spinach, add the cheese, nuts and bacon in whatever quantity your tastebuds prefer. Put a little dressing in the center and glaze a bit with the Balsamic. Balsamic and blue cheese are a brilliant combo. But don’t buy blue cheese crumbles - they’re often coated with flour another non-caking agent. Just break pieces off of a wedge.
Enjoy with a nice Albarino, and wait for Fall.
(You can get this Balsamic for about $50 (worth every cent, believe me) at Di Bruno Brothers. It’s one of my all-time favorite ingredients.)