Home with the Lost Italian: Healthier dessert, Italian style: Sicilian Grilled Peaches
During the two weeks we spent last month in Sicily, Italy, we were blessed to enjoy several home-cooked meals prepared for us by various members of Tony’s family.
Lunch is the largest meal of the day for Sicilians, and these celebratory luncheons included at least three courses of antipasti, pasta and meat, often with two or more Sicilian specialties per course. Instead of serving a heavy dessert like gelato, tiramisu or cannoli (which we enjoyed daily, several hours later in the day), these feasts were always followed by a simple offering of fresh fruit.
Fresh peaches were in season during our stay, and after every lunch we would be presented with a bowl of beautiful Sicilian peaches of various size and color, including my favorite, a darling, almost-flat peach called the pesca tabacchiera (“snuffbox peach”). These quirky little peaches are grown along the slopes of Mount Etna, an active volcano located on Sicily’s east coast, and were named for their resemblance to the round, flat snuffboxes used to hold tobacco.
With our days of large lunchtime feasts sadly behind us, we are happy to continue the custom of enjoying fresh fruit after a meal. This simple ritual is not only a lovely way to finish a meal but, like so many parts of Sicilian culture, it exists with intention, as fresh fruit helps to promote healthy digestion, especially after a large meal.
This week’s recipe for Sicilian Grilled Peaches is a simple dessert inspired by our daily peach ritual, and features fresh peaches which are sliced in half, then grilled and topped with whipped mascarpone cream, honey and toasted almonds. Mascarpone cheese is a luscious, soft Italian cheese like cream cheese in style, but since it is made with whole cream, it is richer and creamier in texture and flavor.
For this recipe, we whip the mascarpone cheese with heavy cream and vanilla extract to create a topping that is light, airy and the perfect balance to the sweetness of the peach and honey. Almonds were a natural fit for this recipe as they provide a bit of crunch and are grown in abundance throughout southeastern Sicily.
We had the opportunity to tour an almond processing plant in Rosolini, Sicily, during our visit, where the owners gifted us with two large bags of beautiful Sicilian almonds — one blanched, one whole — which I will be featuring soon in an upcoming recipe. For this recipe, I used the blanched variety for a contrast of color, but any kind of almond will work.
Easy, delicious, elegant and, dare I say, quite Italian, these Sicilian Grilled Peaches are the perfect end-of-summer dessert and a terrific way to end a meal. Buon appetito!
“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at email@example.com.
Sicilian Grilled Peaches
8 peaches, pitted and halved (skin on)
½ cup mascarpone cheese
½ cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Honey, for drizzling (about 2 to 3 tablespoons total)
½ cup almonds, toasted and roughly chopped
Fresh berries and mint, for garnish
To prepare the grill: Clean off any grime, brush the grill with vegetable oil (to prevent sticking) and preheat on high to about 400 degrees.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, add the mascarpone, heavy cream and vanilla extract and beat on low for 30 seconds to combine. Increase to medium speed and continue to beat until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 1 to 2 minutes. Refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to use, up to 3 days.
Brush the cut side of each peach with olive oil and place on the hot grill, cut side down. Cook until grill marks are achieved and the peaches have softened but still hold their shape, about 5 to 6 minutes.
Remove peaches from grill and place on a serving platter, cut side up. Use an ice cream scoop or two spoons to drop a dollop of the whipped mascarpone in the center of each grilled peach. Top each peach with a generous drizzle of honey followed by a sprinkling of toasted almonds. Garnish with fresh berries and a sprig of fresh mint. Serve immediately.