I know what you are thinking…again with the peaches! The season is so short, who can resist when your favorite market stocks the most luscious blush peaches. Summer in Northern California has been hot and uncharacteristically humid – we want dessert but not too much fussing. White Peaches Stuffed with Sheep Milk Ricotta is exactly what I was looking for.
My inspiration for this dessert came from Gale Gand’s collection of recipes, Short and Sweet Dessert Deck; quick showpiece recipes on individual cards from this acclaimed pastry chef. Stuffed peaches is by no means a new dessert concept. For years I prepared the traditional peaches stuffed with crumbled Amaretti cookies for summer gatherings. White Peaches with Sheep Milk Ricotta is a nice alternative to this old stand by.
It’s not a secret that I have a particular fondness for sheep milk ricotta, I’ve confessed this before. The tangy milky flavor brings a different dimension to any dish requiring ricotta; now don’t get me wrong, I adore cow milk ricotta and it certainly can be used interchangeably for any dish requiring sheep milk ricotta. When using either, I rub the ricotta through a sieve to give it a smoother, silkier texture – totally a matter of personal preference, certainly not a must.
Honey is the sweetener of choice for White Peaches Stuffed with Sheep Milk Ricotta and my darling Guillermo never fails to return from a holiday abroad without honey typical of the area for me. The Tuscan honey used in this recipe is from the central part of the countryside; sweet yet smokey at the same time.
Roasting the peach halves cut side down is genius; the peaches soften without the cut surface drying. Make the compound butter using the vanilla beans and honey a day or so before you plan to roast the peaches to allow the butter time to absorb the essence of the vanilla seeds. Roasting the peaches along with lemon peel and thyme sprig, creates a delicate yet complexly fragrant peach without masking the distinct flavor of the fruit.
When entertaining, have the ricotta and compound butter ready ahead of time Before your guests arrive, prepare the peach halves so they are ready to place into the oven. Once you have started your entree, pop the baking dish into the oven. This dish can be put together in no time once you are ready to serve dessert.
The roasted peach halves flecked with vanilla seeds and thyme leaves are also wonderful on their own or with a bit of good quality ice cream or gelato. Served with a few of your favorite biscotti and an espresso – what else could you possibly ask for…
Hard to believe, but there were leftovers; well when you have five dinner guests and prepare for eight that’s what happens (and come on – it seems rather forward to ask for seconds with individually plated desserts, its not like your guests have an entire cake sitting in the center of the table). I welcomed the opportunity to create a variation of the original dessert using these incredible leftovers. Since we fired up the pizza oven the following day, the ricotta was spooned into a small terra cotta baking dish, topped with the leftover peach halves – now sliced, along with the fragrant nectar. A few additional sliced almonds finished the dish nicely. After about 5 minutes in the mouth of the oven, the ricotta and peaches warmed as the juices began to gently bubble. Naturally, this can be done with a conventional oven preheated to 325º.
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- 4 large white peaches, ripe yet still firm - free of bruising
- 1 large lemon
- 2 Tbs. sweet butter, at room temperature
- 3 Tbs. flavorful honey
- ½ plump vanilla bean
- ⅔ cup of ricotta, preferably sheep milk
- 14 fresh thyme sprigs, plus additional fresh thyme to garnish the finished dessert
- ¼ cup lightly toasted sliced almonds
- Butter to grease the baking dish
- The evening before you plan to serve the peaches, place the ricotta in a fine strainer set over a bowl. This will allow the ricotta to drain. The next day, discard the milky residue from the ricotta. Hold the strainer with the drained ricotta over a bowl and using the back of a table spoon, rub the ricotta through the strainer. Scrape the ricotta from the underside of the strainer into the bowl. Once all of the ricotta has been run through the screen, add 1 tablespoon of the honey and stir to combine. Refrigerate until ready to use.
- Assemble the 2 tablespoons of room temperature butter, half vanilla bean and 2 tablespoons of honey. Slice the vanilla bean lengthwise and using the back of a small pairing knife scrape the seeds out of the pod. Combine the vanilla seeds, honey and butter until a smooth paste has been formed. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.
- Preheat the oven to 400º. Butter a 9 X 13 baking dish.
- Using either a vegetable peeler or strip zester, make 8 strips from the lemon peel each about 3 inches long. Cut the lemon in half.
- Gently wash and dry the peaches. Cut each peach in half from top to bottom, remove the pit. Rub the cut side of the peach with the lemon. Place the peach halves, cut side down in the buttered baking dish. Lay a slice of the lemon peel and one sprig of thyme under each of the peach halves. Spoon a dollop of the compound butter onto of each of the peach halves, dividing the butter equally. Scatter the remaining thyme leaves around the peaches.
- Place the baking dish into the preheated oven and bake for 10 minutes, open the oven and baste each of the peach halves with the pan juices. Bake for an additional 10 minutes. The peaches are done with soft to the touch. Remove to cool.
- The peaches can be served warm or at room temperature. When ready to serve assemble eight individual dessert plates. Place one of the roasted peach halves in the center of the plate, top with about two tablespoons of the sweetened ricotta. Spoon some of the pan juices over the ricotta and around the peach, top with the toasted sliced almonds and garnish with a thyme sprig.