By Angela Denstad Stigeler
Ah, summer! The season that sings with fresh flavors is now full upon us, offering up seasonal delights aplenty. At the height of the season, one fruit—the peach—rises to juicy perfection. A real diva of summer, a peach is a lyrical tribute to the warm sun that ripens it. No wonder the famed French chef Escoffier looked to the peach when creating a dessert tribute to the operatic soprano, Nellie Melba. The classic dessert that bears her name, Peach Melba, hits all the high notes of summer: fresh peaches, ripe raspberries and rich vanilla ice cream.
The dessert is simplicity itself, reliant on subtle enhancement of the best possible fruit. In fact, the original involved nothing more than blanched and sugared peaches as the main component. Here, I’ve given the peaches the real royal treatment by lightly poaching them with fragrant vanilla. Be sure to keep your ice cream in tune by choosing the best quality real vanilla flavor you can find or make. Served in stemware, you’ll find these three components—ice cream, peach and raspberry sauce—elevated to new heights. Singing this dessert aria of summer, you’ll soon see why Peach Melba will forever be a star.
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, divided
½ a vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped
4 fresh peaches
2 cups raspberries
¼ cup powdered sugar, or to taste
vanilla ice cream, for serving
toasted slivered almonds (optional), for garnish
Combine the sugar, water, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, the vanilla pod and seeds in a wide saucepan over moderate heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar and bring the mixture to a boil.
Halve the peaches and remove the pits. Place the peach halves into the boiling syrup, in two batches if necessary, and simmer until the peaches are soft throughout, about 5 minutes depending on ripeness. Remove the poached peaches to a bowl with a slotted spoon and, when cool enough, slip off the skins. If preparing them in advance, store them in the refrigerator in their poaching liquid.
Meanwhile, puree the raspberries with the powdered sugar and the remaining tablespoon of lemon juice. Pass the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve or food mill to remove the seeds.
When ready to serve, scoop vanilla ice cream into each serving dish, place poached peaches amid the ice cream and top with the raspberry sauce. Garnish with almonds, if desired.