An interesting thing happened on the way to delivering this recipe. It's a one-pan dish that fuses a few spices and brown sugar with ripe peaches and that old weeknight standby - boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Prep work is minimal: Blanch the peaches, peel and slice them. Pound the chicken to an even thickness. Cut a lemon in half.
The first time I tested it, the skinned peach slices went directly on the chicken, with the rest sprinkled on top. It came out of the oven slightly crusted on top and the fruit was sweet - almost like having an entree and dessert in one bite. A garnish of fresh basil helped balance the flavors. I sprinkled the brown sugar and spices directly on the chicken in the second go-round, with unadorned peaches on top. Even ripe and roasted, the fruit did not skew as sweet, and the spices were subdued almost to aromatics. I'd like to say I was experimenting, but you know the drill - make a simple dish once and you think you have it down. But obviously, it was meant to be!
So you have a choice, dear readers. Skew more sweet or savoury. It's good either way.
Baked Chicken Breasts With Peaches (Serves 4)
Serve with couscous.
Adapted from a recipe on the Georgia Peach Council website.
3 ripe peaches
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
Freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground mace or freshly grated nutmeg
Basil leaves, for serving (optional)
Preheat the oven to 190 degrees. Have a large, shallow roasting pan at hand. Boil a kettle of water.
Meanwhile, use a sharp knife to cut a wide "X" at the bottom of each peach.
Pour the boiling water into a deep heatproof bowl.
Add the peaches and let them sit for about a minute; you should see the skins start to curl where you scored the fruit.
Remove the peaches from the bowl, then carefully peel and discard the skins. As soon as the fruit is cool enough to handle, cut it in half, discard the pit and then cut each peach into about 8 equal slices.
Place the chicken breast halves between 2 pieces of plastic wrap; pound to an even thickness of 2,5cm then season lightly on both sides with salt and pepper.
Arrange them in the pan in a single layer, then it's your choice
For a more fruit- forward flavor, sprinkle the chicken with the brown sugar, ginger and mace or nutmeg, then top each one with the sliced peaches.
For a sweeter treatment, place the peaches directly on the chicken, then sprinkle the fruit with the brown sugar, ginger and mace or nutmeg.
Squeeze the lemon half's juice evenly over each portion. Bake (middle rack) for 20 minutes, or until the center of the chicken registers 68 degrees on an instant-read thermometer and is browned on top; the sugar and spices applied over the fruit will give the dish a more browned look. There should be a fair amount of pan juices.
Coarsely chop the basil, if using, and scatter it over the chicken. Serve warm, with some of the pan juices.