Tuesday, July 3, 2012

P'cahns (Pecans) and the Season of Stone Fruits

It is time for stone fruits, even on this side of the pond. I was telling the handsome Spaniard today about how we would travel down to Georgia to load up on the peaches during the season, and we could pick our own or drive by on one of the many long stretches of highway sprinkled with individual peach peddlers. Now that is some serious fruit. The peaches we picked were as big as my fist, fuzzy wuzzy, bursting with that golden juice and succulent flesh, and their skin was patterned with the traditional southern sunset. I mean, with memories like those, how can I even try to avoid the mountains of delicious peaches, nectarines, apricots, and plums that are piling high in the fresh markets down the street? It's simple, I can't!.

I also have a coveted stash of pecans, courtesy of a birthday care package from a dear friend of mine. I couldn't wait on them any longer, so today I whipped up some candied and spiced pecans to put on this incredible salad I'm about to tell you about. To me, pecans are one of the main ingredients of fine southern cuisine, and are native to North America. I cannot think of Derby Pie, Thanksgiving stuffing, sweet potato souffle, or spiced nuts without pecans at center stage. Needless to say, pecans are one of my comfort foods, and at 30 euros a kilo ($40/ 2.2 lbs) they are a little beyond reach here in Spain, even though I heard they are growing them now in Málaga. So, busting them out, spicing them up, and eating them as simply as I could in a salad was my best effort to have the pecan sing it's beautiful melody to us.

All this talk of peaches and pecans brings me to today's summer super salad! I think that spiced pecans with their punch of flavor mixed with the sweetness and depth of a grilled peach is the perfect combination for a salad. I simply combined these ingredients with fresh spinach and a beautiful Spanish extra-virgin olive oil. So easy and so incredibly satisfying.

Grilled Peach and Spinach Salad with Superbly Spiced Pecans

Some healthy handfuls of fresh spinach, washed and torn into salad-size pieces
2 Just ripe peaches, cut away from the pit into slices
Extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt

1 Tbsp. Butter
1 tsp. Sugar
1 tsp. Chimayo chili powder (or other fragrant chili powder)
Pinch of Salt

It's pretty easy to make up the superbly spiced pecans. Place a small skillet on medium high heat and melt down the butter and sugar. When it gets nice and foamy (but not brown!), add in the chili powder and stir it all together, you'll immediately start smelling the chili--when that happens, add the pecans. Stir the pecans, making sure that they are all coated in the spicy syrup. Continue toasting the pecans in the syrup over medium heat until they are toasted through, but do not stop stirring (7-10 minutes). The more you let them sit on the pan, the more likely they are to burn, and that would be a tragedy. Sprinkle that pinch of salt over the pecans and stir them well. Turn off the heat and spread out the nuts evenly on a plate to cool down (meanwhile you can make up the peaches). The syrup will make the nuts candied, so separating them makes sure that you don't end up with one disc of pecan bark, rather separate candied pieces of joy.

For the peaches, make sure they are washed and clean because we'll be eating them skin-on. Cut slices of the peach away from the pit and put them directly on the grill. I use a stovetop grill on high heat. Oh, the caramelization! It is gorgeous. They will stick a bit due to the precious golden sugar, so if you don't have a non-stick, remember to prepare your cooking surface with a wipe of olive oil. Grill for a few minutes each side, depending on how grillified you want them, I doubt you could overdo it. When they are finished, let them rest for a few minutes on a seperate plate.

At this point, you can rinse and prepare the bed of spinach, which will be the base of the salad. Then you distribute your peaches evenly among however many plates you are serving. The color contrast between the vibrant green of the spinach and the golden peaches dripping in their grilled syrup, that alone is a reason to get excited about lunch. Then you add those spicy, sweet, crunchy pecans and you have a meal that will make anybody's day a happy day!

Finish off that phenomenal presenation with a drizzle of Spanish gold (olive oil), and a wisp of finishing salt. Now you can rest assured that you will be eating a delicious meal abundant with the fruits of the season!

I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

Listening to Kyle Meredith on WFPK Radio Louisville

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