Peaches are arguably the hallmark fruit of the season. Sweet and floral, heavy with juice and flavored like honeysuckle with a delicate tang, they're just as delicious as part of an appetizer as they are in cobblers and pies.
Growing up in Virginia, peaches were the mainstay of our summer diet. Whether selecting a fuzzy, ripe orb from the fruit basket or baking them in my grandmother’s famous peach pie, peaches were a constant every July and August. Our universal favorite was when my mom added swirls and chunks of ripe peaches into homemade ice cream. In those days, ice cream meant rock salt and sweat equity from cranking the churn by hand. It was hard work that came with a creamy, sweet reward.
Yes, on the best of summer fruits list, peaches rule and should be celebrated at every opportunity, not just for dessert. In fact, we even like them before the main course, especially when entertaining.
When throwing a party — especially in the latter weeks of summer — it's best to stick to the easy stuff: a tried and true rub or marinade for chicken, beef or pork; whole grain salads augmented with garden veggies and herbs; icy cocktails and chilled wine. And of course Southerners are never upset when you punctuate the end of a relaxing meal with bowls of store-bought ice cream and cookies from the local bakery.
With a steady progression of offerings like this, you don’t want to weigh down your guests ten minutes after they’ve arrived with a cheese ball and crackers. Instead, go with a light and satisfying punch of flavor that they might not expect on a typical hors d’oeuvre tray.
These fresh country ham and peach bites transform five simple ingredients into something sublime. Bright, fresh and mildly addictive, they take advantage of the bounty of peaches and basil overflowing at the farmer’s markets this time of year.
The best part? No cooking is required for these nibbles, unless you count the thirty seconds in the microwave — and I don’t. Just wrap the peach slices with a rope of shaved country ham and drizzle with crushed red pepper honey and a bit of basil.
The salty, buttery nature of country ham is a delicious foil to the fragrant peach and basil. Infusing the honey with red pepper flakes adds zing and rounds out the flavors. These one bite wonders are great with cocktails and will rev up your appetite for the main course.
In the swelter of August, this is the way all “cooking” should be — casual, approachable, simple and always delicious.
Country Ham and Peach Bites
Serves 6 to 8
Prep: 15 minutes
1/4 cup orange blossom or other mild honey
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
4 ripe peaches
4 ounces shaved country ham or prosciutto
Fresh basil, for garnish
In a small microwave bowl, combine the honey and pepper flakes. Microwave on high heat until the honey is hot and very loose, 20 to 30 seconds. Stir to combine.
Peel the peaches, slice them in half and remove the pit. Cut each of the peach halves into four wedges. Wrap the peaches with the country ham and arrange on a serving tray.
Drizzle the peaches with the spiced honey. If using small basil leaves, garnish the peaches with individual leaves. If your basil is larger, slice the leaves into thin ribbons and sprinkle over the peaches. Serve.