Some people like smooth-skinned nectarines; some people prefer fuzzy peaches. Either way, the two fruits are almost the same—one expresses the gene that creates the fuzz, and the other doesn’t. Both are available in yellow- and white-fleshed varieties and also as “freestone” (the pit easily comes off of the flesh) and “clingstone” (the pit stays stubbornly stuck to the flesh). Nectarines tend to be slightly more firm than peaches. How firm either fruit is mostly depends on how ripe it is. White-fleshed nectarines and peaches tend to be sweeter than yellow-fleshed varieties, which means that fans of tartness gravitate towards the latter. You can usually tell how ripe any nectarine or peach is by how aromatic it is.
No matter which fruit you prefer, a good rule to keep in mind is that the freestone varieties are much easier to cut into neat slices, especially the less-ripe, firmer freestone fruits. That’s a good quality to have if you want to make a salad or salsa with nectarine/peach cubes, but if you’re going to purée or cook your fruit, then it’s okay if slicing it is messy. To reduce how much you lose by trying to cut out the pit, though, stick with freestone if any cutting is involved—clingstones are great for eating out of hand, but otherwise they can be a bit frustrating.
Ideas for enjoying nectarines & peaches:
Make nectarine/peach salsa.
It’s just like making regular salsa, but you swap nectarines/peaches for the tomatoes. Just cut them into tidy cubes and stir in fresh lime juice, diced onion, diced garlic, chopped cilantro, and a diced jalapeño if you’re brave. Nectarine/peach salsa makes a fantastic marinade for chicken and seafood dishes.
Cut your nectarine/peach in half and grill it.
When topped with mascarpone and toasted nuts, it makes an easy and oh-so-summery dessert. Alternatively, simply cube your nectarine/peach and layer it in pretty glasses with whole-milk Greek yogurt and toasted nuts. If you like, sweeten the yogurt with a touch of maple syrup.
Make nectarine/peach smoothies.
Add a dab of cashew butter, a hint of ginger, and cream or coconut milk to make the ultimate summer milkshake. (Sweeten it with a touch of maple syrup or honey if you like.) If you have an ice cream maker, you could make this into ice cream, too.
Include nectarines/peaches in your summer salads.
Again, think “swap for tomatoes”—whenever you would usually toss in tomatoes, toss in nectarines/peaches instead. This is equally valid when it comes to insalata caprese: arrange nectarine/peach and mozzarella slices on a plate, scatter with fresh basil leaves, and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. This works especially well with yellow-fleshed varieties since they have more of a tart/sweet profile than the white-fleshed varieties do.
Make nectarines/peaches the star of your next fruit salad.
They’re ideal with berries and kiwis because those fruits don’t brown, either—they can hang out in your fridge, cubed, for several hours before you serve them.
Make a nectarine/peach tart or pie.
French bakers love their plum tarts, but nectarines in particular work just as well thanks to their similar firmness, and peach pie has long been the rage in the South.
Try snacking on nectarine/peach hybrids.
Plums, cherries, and apricots are also stone fruits and are closely related to nectarines/peaches, and orchard growers have hybridized stone fruits using traditional methods (not GMO) to produce all kinds of interesting crossovers: apriums (apricot + plum), peacotums (peach + apricot + plum), pluots (plum + apricot), pluerries (plum + cherry), nectaplum (nectarine + plum), and more. If you haven’t had these fruits before, sample them solo to get an idea of their flavor and how you might like to use them in both savory and sweet dishes.