By Casey Barber, CNN
There’s nothing like sinking your teeth into a perfectly ripe, juicy peach on a hot summer day. It’s one of summer’s simplest pleasures, and it’s hard to beat for pure enjoyment.
But it’s not the only way to eat a peach. In addition to enjoying them raw and cooked in desserts, fresh peaches can be roasted, grilled, pickled, and even frozen for a burst of summer sunshine in the middle of winter.
Eating peaches is also a tastier way to get crucial vitamins and nutrients into your body than by swallowing a pill. According to Rachael Hartley, dietitian and author of “Gentle Nutrition: A Non-Diet Approach to Healthy Eating,” peaches are high in vitamins A and C and great for digestion, containing prebiotic fibers that feed beneficial gut bacteria.
“They also contain potassium, which can help support healthy blood pressure, as well as antioxidants, especially in and near the skin of a fresh peach,” she said.
However, if you aren’t a fan of peaches’ fuzzy texture, you can always substitute nectarines for any of the recipe ideas here and reap the same nutritional benefits. Or try other members of the stone fruit family, such as plums, pluots (a hybrid cross between a plum and an apricot) and apricots.
In fact, you could eat peaches all day and not have the same dish twice. Here’s how you can maximize your peach perfection with recipe ideas for breakfast, lunch, dinner — and dessert, of course.
Peaches for breakfast
Overnight oats are a trend that’s not going away anytime soon, and summer is the ideal time to embrace this chilled-out breakfast dish. Add fresh sliced peaches to a mason jar with oats, milk and spices, and you’ve got a sweet peach cobbler-inspired treat waiting for you in the morning.
If make-ahead breakfasts aren’t your speed, blend up a peach smoothie. This easily adaptable recipe can be made vegan with your choice of plant-based yogurt and milk, or with any combination of dairy that suits you.
For the most decadent brunch, peach stuffed French toast made with fresh peach quick bread is an over-the-top meal that will have you retiring to the hammock for the rest of the weekend. If baking homemade quick bread isn’t in your plans, substitute challah or soft Italian bread.
Grilling for lunch and dinner
Fire up the grill and give your peaches a little heat to turn them into a sweetly charred accompaniment for a number of dishes.
To grill peaches, preheat a gas or charcoal grill to medium heat. Halve and pit the peaches, then brush the cut halves with olive oil or vegetable oil. Place cut-side down and cook uncovered for 4 to 5 minutes, until grill marks appear and the peaches release easily from the grill grates. Gently flip and cook a few minutes more until the skin is lightly charred.
Grilled peaches become the star of the show in a big salad, like this quinoa, peach and summer vegetable salad that works as a main course. Or simply drizzle them with balsamic vinegar and quality olive oil along with a sprinkling of flaky sea salt and serve as a fruit salad.
Use sliced grilled peaches as a flatbread topping with a creamy cheese such as burrata or ricotta, a handful of fresh greens like arugula, and an optional serving of protein like grilled steak or shrimp. Or tuck a few slices into a grilled cheese sandwich or a burger for a sweet-and-salty combination.
Dice grilled peaches and turn them into a fresh salsa that’s ready to be spooned into fish tacos or as a topping for lighter meals like grilled fish, chicken breast, or pork tenderloin or chops.
An outdoor happy hour is always happier with a special cocktail for sipping and a grazing board for snacking. Pickled peaches are a piquant complement to soft cheeses like fresh goat, Brie or Taleggio, which in turn taste fantastic with cured meats like prosciutto and speck.
Pair your cheese and charcuterie with a peachy drink. Peach lemonade can be served on its own or spiked with vodka or rum. Peach margaritas are a blender drink done better than you could with a mix. And a peach bourbon smash will be a new favorite for those who love mint juleps.
But you know what makes any of those desserts even more peachy keen? Crowning them with a scoop of no-churn peach ice cream or easy Philadelphia-style peach ice cream that doesn’t require you to cook a custard on the stove.
And if you can’t decide which peach dessert you’re in the mood for most, have your cake — and cobbler — and eat it too by indulging a cast iron skillet peach cobbler cake.
Save some for later
Bagged frozen peaches are always an option year-round, but if you have a lot of peaches on hand at summer’s end, you can freeze your own stash for pies, smoothies and cobblers in colder months.
“Freezing doesn’t significantly damage the nutrients in peaches, and it’s a great option for storing peaches if you pick up a few too many and they’re starting to go bad,” Hartley said.
To freeze fresh peaches, you can blanch them in boiling water to remove the skins if desired, or leave the skins on. Pit and slice, then arrange the peach slices in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Freeze until hard, then transfer to a sealable bag for long-term storage.
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Casey Barber is a food writer, illustrator and photographer; the author of “Pierogi Love: New Takes on an Old-World Comfort Food” and “Classic Snacks Made from Scratch: 70 Homemade Versions of Your Favorite Brand-Name Treats”; and editor of the website Good. Food. Stories.