Peaches have always been one of my favourite fruits. Since moving to Turin, I’ve found myself hanging out for summer every year, partly so I can make stuffed peaches (or pesche ripiene, as they are called in Italian). Just in case you’re not familiar with this dessert, it’s a Piedmontese specialty that consists of oven-baked peaches with an amaretti biscuit and cocoa-flavoured filling.
I was quite sceptical when my now-husband described this dessert his mother was planning on making us for lunch several years ago. I actually remember scoffing quite bluntly about the oddness of the chocolate and peach pairing he spoke about so enthusiastically. Chocolate and pears, yes, that definitely works. Chocolate and orange, that’s a good combination too. Chocolate and candied citron, hmm, I’m warming to that. Chocolate and peaches though, no way!
Anyway, that Sunday lunch arrived. It was time to try these eagerly-anticipated stuffed peaches. The verdict? That rare dessert with just the right note of sweetness. I still remember how the soft and juicy pulp of the peach contrasted perfectly with the roughly crushed amaretti filling. The fragrance of armelline (apricot kernels, a key ingredient in amaretti biscuits) brought out the lusciousness of the peaches. The unsweetened cocoa complemented the flavours of its co-protagonists perfectly. It was, quite possibly, the most perfect dessert that I had ever eaten. I’ve been hooked ever since.
I would have liked to have used my mother-in-law’s recipe for this post. The problem though, is that like many Italians of her generation, she’s so used to making things all’occhio. By this I mean she gauges amounts just by looking or by using whatever informal measuring unit (i.e. a cup or a spoon) she has available. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her use kitchen scales or consult a written recipe. Knowing this, I spoke to her this week and simply asked her what exactly she puts in her pesche ripiene and how she prepares them. I then leafed through some recipe books in the hope of finding a version of this dessert that best matched hers.
My first stop is Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the kitchen and the art of cooking well. Artusi’s seminal publication from the late 19th century has a recipe for stuffed peaches. Artusi’s filling, however, consists of savoiardi (as opposed to amaretti) biscuits and crushed almonds. Delicious, but with the amaretti and cocoa absent, it’s not what I’m looking for.
I then look up another historical cookbook, Ada Boni’s Il talismano della felicità. This 1929 publication, intended for newlywed housewives, includes a recipe with peaches, amaretti, sugar, egg yolk and butter. The only thing wrong? It’s missing the cocoa from my mother-in-law’s filling. The Tuscan-based Australian food writer Emiko Davies suggests an ingenious compromise for chocolate lovers by serving Boni’s stuffed peaches with chocolate shavings. Though I like the idea (and intend to prepare them this way another time!), I want to stay true to the first pesche ripiene I ever ate.
A cookbook devoted exclusively to Piedmontese cuisine, La cucina del Piemonte collinare e vignaiolo, is my next port of call. The author Giovanni Goria’s ingredients include yellow (like my mother-in-law, he specifies that they must be this colour) peaches, amaretti, sugar, cocoa, egg yolk, butter and several spoonfuls of rhum, Cognac and Marsala. Although my mother-in-law never said anything about including alcohol, I keep Goria’s recipe in mind.
Finally, I consult another Piedmontese cookery book, Nonna Genia, by Beppe Lodi. In Lodi’s recipe, there are peaches (unlike Goria, he doesn’t specify the colour of the peaches), sugar, amaretti, egg yolk, cocoa, butter and peach kernels. Yes, I know bitter almonds should be consumed in sparing amounts but I love their fragrance and taste. So I find the idea of upcycling the kernels very appealing. Like my mother-in-law, Lodi also suggests using some of the fruit pulp in the filling mixture.
In the end, I find myself mixing elements from both Goria’s and Lodi’s recipes. Here is my recipe for pesche ripiene alla piemontese:
Ingredients (serves 6)
- 6 ripe yellow peaches, halved and pitted
- 6 amaretti biscuits, crushed
- 4 peach kernels, crushed
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons cocoa
- 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
- Butter, to grease baking dish
- Pre-heat oven to 180°C.
- Grease baking dish with butter.
- Mix crushed amaretti with sugar and cocoa.
- Cut peaches in half, remove pits and carefully scoop some pulp from the halves. Reserve pulp.
- Remove kernels from pits and crush them with a mortar and pestle.
- Add kernels, peach pulp and lightly-beaten egg yolk to amaretti, sugar and cocoa mixture. Mix until well combined.
- Place peach halves facing upwards in baking dish.
- Fill peach halves with amaretti mixture.
- Place a small knob of butter on each peach half.
- Bake for about an hour or until peaches are golden and cooked through.
- Remove baking dish from oven and leave to cool slightly. Serve tepid.
N.B. Photos in this post updated on 24.08.2016. Recipe (with a couple of variations) also published on Italy Magazine at this link.