Provide sweetness as well as nutrients to meals with nectarines

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Although these hot days may leave you wishing for the weather to turn cooler, our bounty of delicious summer fruits and veggies are a pretty amazing trade off! Our kids especially look forward to the white nectarines they sample and we buy at Thursday night Farmers’ Market and Curry Farms on Turner Road. This week, I set a few aside, for Nectarine and Berry Compote, a recipe that Mia was so excited to be able to prepare with me on a recent episode of California Bountiful TV!

Shop Smart:
While nectarines will continue to “ripen” once off the tree, avoid rock hard or green fruit, since they will get softer and juicer, but typically won’t get sweeter.  Look for fruit with smooth, colorful skin, free from soft spots, bruises or punctures, marked “freestone”, if you would like the pit to separate easily. Choose organic nectarines or talk to the grower at Farmers’ Market, as this soft-skinned fruit is also loved by insects, with some conventionally grown fruit (especially from outside the US) sprayed quite heavily. Since nectarines and peaches have thin skins and are very sweet when ripe, damaged or cut areas will tend to mold quickly, especially at room temperature. The secret to having perfectly ripe fruit in your kitchen all week long, is to buy several nectarines or peaches at different stages of ripeness. Keep ripening nectarines in a bowl/basket where air can circulate and they won’t touch each other. To speed up the process, put a few in a paper bag (do not crowd or pile them on top of each other).

Cook Smart:
Nectarines and peaches can be used interchangeably and are best with the skin to maximize nutrients. While this stone fruit is great as is, nectarines provide an element of sweetness to a variety of recipes, from salads to muffins, and appetizers to desserts. I put thick slices of nectarine on an indoor grill/panini maker for a few minutes during the California Bountiful episode, then sprinkled the grilled fruit with some cinnamon and crushed walnuts.  The result was an incredibly simple, nourishing dessert, with a flavor combination shouting “warm, peach pie!” with every bite!

My daughter and I came up with a recipe to combine two fruits she adores, nectarines and berries, so that she can enjoy a delectable, whole fruit topping for some of her breakfast favorites. If you cringe at the thought of an imitation pancake syrup (just check out the ingredient list), this recipe is for you! It is “fancy” enough to impress guests, but also easy enough to make in under 10 minutes. For parents and grandparents, this recipe could be partially or entirely delegated to a helper, which can be a major bonus! If you make a double or triple batch, freeze in small quantities and then you will have it at your fingertips!

Eat Smart:
As part of the stone fruit family, which includes apricots, plums and peaches, nectarines are one of the oldest fruits and provide B vitamins, as well as vitamins A, C and E, which can function as antioxidants, and are important for healthy skin, blood vessels, connective tissue, immune system and for preventing cancer. Nectarines contain a good ratio of potassium, iron, zinc, copper and phosphorus, while being free of sodium, cholesterol and saturated fat!

Mia’s Berry and Nectarine Compote
This sweet combination brings out the best flavors in each fruit and is my daughter’s favorite way to top our homemade waffles, French toast and pancakes! It can be stored in the fridge for several days or frozen in small containers, perfect for a weekend morning, and is also fantastic stirred into oatmeal or other hot cereal…

Ingredients
2 ripe nectarines, rinsed, patted dry and diced
1 cup (or more) of fresh berries (or thawed if frozen) – blackberries, raspberries, blueberries or a combination
1-2 tablespoons of orange juice*
1 tsp of arrowroot (or cornstarch)
Cinnamon, ground

Procedure
Dissolve the arrowroot (or cornstarch) in the juice, in the bottom of the saucepan (do this BEFORE heating the pan). Add the nectarines and berries and then heat just until boiling, so that mixture will thicken. Will keep in the fridge for several days or in the freezer for several months.

*The Nutrition Professor’s Shop Smart/Cook Smart Tip: For a small amount of orange juice on hand anytime, buy frozen concentrate (made from oranges only – no other ingredients), with a screw-cap, and remember the 3 to 1 ratio – If you need ¼ cup of orange juice for a recipe, use 1 TBSP of frozen concentrate and 3 TBSP water.

Warning: My daughter loves eating this compote so much that it has been known to inspire a case of the giggles, so you just might find yourself experiencing a little extra happiness when eating this for breakfast (or anytime of the day)!

Timaree Hagenburger, of Lodi, is a registered dietitian and certified health fitness specialist with a master’s degree in public health. She is a nutrition professor at Cosumnes River College and conducts corporate wellness work throughout the area.

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