[Hazelnut and Nectarine Gratin]
In French, a portrait chinois (literally “Chinese portrait”) is a kind of riddle in which one person tries to guess a famous person’s name by asking a set of questions and working by analogy: if he were an animal, what would he be? And if he were a flower, a city, a song, a color, a movie? Since this is incredibly difficult — I mean really, if Charles de Gaulle were a flower, what the heck would he be? I’m telling you, you don’t want to be trapped in a car with people playing that game — the portrait chinois is more often used as a poetic way to ask someone about his own personality. It is also a popular interview pattern, although it has been used so much now that the interviewer is obligated to come up with clever questions, otherwise everyone (interviewee and readers alike) will be bored to tears.*
And the reason why I am telling you this — yes! there is one! — is that while I was making this nectarine gratin for our dinner party the other night, lovingly coring and quartering these plump ripe nectarines, the juices running down my wrists and the occasional bite accidently flying into my mouth (well you do have to make sure they’re of satisfactory quality for your guests, no?), I came to the following realization: if I were a fruit, I would want to be a yellow nectarine. I’m not sure what it is about it exactly, but it has been my favorite summer fruit for as long as I can remember. White nectarines and peaches are fine, but the yellow nectarine is really something else — smooth-skinned and warmly sweet and the color of sunshine.
I am quite content to eat them out of hand, or paired with redcurrants in my mother’s fruit salads. But they lend themselves really well to baking too, so I prepared this simple dessert, in which the nectarines are thinly coated with a bit of cream and sprinkled with chopped hazelnuts, before going into the oven for a bit of flavor-deepening, flesh-softening, roasting action.
*Now that I think about it, maybe this would be a fun idea for a food blog meme, short and sweet — if you were a condiment, a kitchen gadget, a spice, a herb, a pantry staple, a food chemistry phenomenon, a dish, a cookie, what would you be? Hm. I’ll have to think about this.
Gratin de Nectarines à la Noisette
– 10 ripe nectarines (it is often difficult to find just ripe nectarines at the store, so try to buy them a few days in advance, it will give them time to soften in your fruit basket)
– 2 egg yolks
– 1/4 C maple syrup
– 1/4 C heavy cream
– 1/4 C hazelnuts
(Serves 6 to 8.)
Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F).
Toast the hazelnuts in a dry skillet, let cool, and chop roughly. Set aside.
Rinse and dry the nectarines. Cut them in one-inch chunks and set aside in a large oven-proof dish.
In a medium mixing-bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, maple syrup and heavy cream. Pour this mixture over the nectarines, toss to coat, and spread evenly in the dish. Sprinkle with the chopped hazelnuts.
Put into the oven to bake for twenty minutes, until the nectarines have softened. Put the oven in the grill position and grill the nectarines for five minutes.
Let cool for a few minutes on the counter and serve just warm or at room temperature, on its own or with a scoop of ice-cream.