I first made this dish last summer when I was given a crate full of beautiful fuzzy peaches. We had so many that I finally began to use them in savoury dishes too once all of the sweet options were exhausted. Peach pie, peach melba and peaches for breakfast and dessert.
This stunning salad meant that peaches could be for lunch and dinner too. This is the type of dish that will get people talking. I made this for a barbecue recently and it was a big hit. Everybody ate it and there were no leftovers – music to my ears.
The sweetness of the peaches is perfectly balanced with the vinegar and onion. The salty sweet ham and creamy mozzarella complete it. Burrata – or feta at a push – would work in place of the mozzarella. Burrata (meaning “buttered” in Italian) is the dreamy cousin of mozzarella and proof that it’s what’s on the inside that counts. It’s outer shell is solid mozzarella, while it’s filled with a decadent mixture of mozzarella and cream, giving it a soft luxurious texture.
It was the brainchild of thrifty Italians in the early 1900s who needed to use up the leftover scraps of mozzarella. In a moment of pure genius, they stuffed little mozzarella pouches with the leftovers then topped it all up with cream. It’s not a cheese to cook with but rather to enjoy fresh with salads like this. Burrata is generally eaten within 24 hours of being made and considered past its prime after 48 hours. Hence its scarcity here in Ireland. So I suggest using a good mozzarella unless you come across burrata.
Barbecued chicken is amazing with this salad in place of the Parma ham. Or serve the pickled peaches and leaves with some just-fried halloumi.
Nectarines work just as well as the peaches. I recently saw pickled blueberries being used in a similar way. Simply cut some of the blueberries in half before marinating and leave some whole. Visually it makes for such a pretty dish and is a great way to celebrate homegrown blueberries. They grow so easily here and can be placed in pots on balconies or in small gardens.
A good mix of bitter salad leaves is ideal here. I love a mixture of mizuna, peppery rocket and watercress. My local supermarket has recently started stocking Horizon Farm salad leaves. They’re grown in Kinsale and as lovely as any you’d grow at home. I always buy a few bags of it, especially if I know that I won’t make it to a farmers’ market for a few days.
A good bag of salad leaves is the perfect base for so many dishes. It’s understandable that for years the sad-looking salad leaves were just seen as a garnish and pushed aside on plates at restaurants. But now we have access to so much more than iceberg and the humble butter head. I’ve started adding salad leaves to my morning smoothie along with baby spinach leaves. They’re not as harsh as kale and taste better with fruits. I offset the “green” taste with banana and a little cinnamon.
Whenever I am too heavy-handed with the kale or greens in a smoothie I add cacao and maple syrup. Even my kids drink these “chocolate” smoothies thick with the powerful cruciferous leaves. It’s the perfect start to the day.
Pickled peach salad: Serves 4
The five ingredients
¼ small red onion
8 slices Parma ham, torn into bite-size pieces
1 ball of mozzarella or burrata
150g mixed salad leaves
From the pantry
50ml white or red wine vinegar
Mix the sugar and vinegar together.
De-stone the peaches and cut into wedges. Cut the onion into very thin slices. Place the peach and onion slices into the vinegar and stir gently to coat. Set aside for at least 10 minutes.
To assemble the salad drain the vinegar from the peaches, it will be tinged pink from the onion. Mix it with two tablespoons of oil, and season with salt and black pepper. Use this to dress the leaves. Pile the dressed leave on to a big serving platter or individual plates. Scatter with torn mozzarella, peaches, onion and the parma ham. Season with a final grind of black pepper and serve immediately.
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