At this time of year, I can’t help but feel bad for summer’s underdog: the poor nectarine. Nectarines don’t always get a fair break – it’s tough constantly being compared and confused with its fuzzy cousin, the glamour hogging peach. Sure, it started as a mutant variety of the peach, but that was 2000 years ago, and at this point the nectarine, with over 100 varieties, is ready to claim some fame for itself. And why not? A big flavor and distinct aroma are only part of nectarine’s charm –they are also a very good source of carotenes, potassium, flavonoids, and natural sugars, not to mention lycopene and lutein, phytochemicals that are especially beneficial in the prevention of heart disease, macular degeneration, and cancer.
Like a refreshing oasis in the heat of summer, a ripe nectarine can be juicy and succulent…a joy to sink your teeth into. Look for fruit with smooth, unblemished skin. When selecting fruit, avoid extremely hard or dull colored fruit; avoid soft fruit with wrinkled or punctured skin as well. Nectarines will ripen quickly when left unrefrigerated, and even faster in a brown paper bag. I favor pairing nectarines with sweet berries in desserts, but also find that white nectarines - a white-fleshed, mellow variety- can lend a deliciously subtle sweetness to main dishes, as in the light entrée below.
Pan-searing is a wonderful (and fast!) method for preparing fish in which the flavors are quickly sealed in by forming an outer crust of itself. You can also grill the Mahi Mahi for a different but equally delicious taste. Fish and summer fruits go very well together… a fantastically tropical union.
4 (6-oz.) pieces skinless Mahi Mahi fillets, about 1” thick
Freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoon canola oil
Rinse and pat fish dry. Season to taste with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat oil in a large, heavy, nonstick skillet over moderately high heat until just smoking. Place fish in skillet, and cook for 4-5 minutes per side, turning over only once during cooking, until golden and crusty and just cooked through (follow the “10-minute rule” – 10 minutes total cooking time per 1 inch of thickness). Do not move the fish until it’s ready to be turned over. Transfer to a plate.
Serve over rice, topped with the White Nectarine Salsa.
Cook’s Note: If the fish is sticking when you try to turn it, it is not ready. Leave it alone for another minute or two and then try again.
2 large, ripe white nectarines, pitted and diced
¾ cup (approximately half of a 15-oz can) canned black beans, drained and rinsed
½ yellow pepper, diced
½ medium red onion, minced
1 small jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced*
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon grated lime peel (zest)
1 tablespoons rice vinegar
2½ tablespoons orange juice
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Combine all of the ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir to blend. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Refrigerate until serving time.
*Be careful when handling chili peppers not to touch face or eyes as they contain oils that can burn the skin. Wash hands with soap afterward (or use gloves when handling them). The heat of chili peppers is contained primarily within the seeds. For more spiciness, add some seeds. For a more mild taste, remove them.