Monday, July 6, 2009

A Wise Peach

Today is my brother’s birthday, and I would like to dedicate this post to him. It is only fitting that I share a recipe that is a riff on one of Peter’s most exquisite cocktails, a creation that I call The Wise Peach.

I was nearly four when Peter was born, and it was pretty much love at first sight from the moment I saw my baby brother in the hospital nursery. We were constant playmates, being the only two kids in the family, and I always marveled at my little brother’s visual talents, even from the earliest age. Peter’s daily ritual as a three-year-old was to cover the entire kitchen floor with jigsaw puzzles, fitting pieces together with lightning speed and leaving me behind in the dust whenever I joined him. At Christmas the next year, he was given a coloring book with tracing paper in it, a book so compelling that he completely ignored the rest of the gift opening as he worked his way through the book. Shortly after that, he began to tear through reams of tracing paper, copying everything he could get his little hands on. I always thought that must have provided excellent training, for when he finally began to draw free hand, we were all amazed at the prodigious skill he already possessed at such a young age.

Fast-forwarding a number of years, my sunny little brother has grown up into someone of great wisdom and depth, not to mention being a thought-provoking artist. It does my heart no end of good to see him happily creating and being recognized for his talent and his hard work. With several upcoming shows in the works, he is busy painting and drawing this summer, creating his multi-layered architectural landscapes that I love so much.

Peter is not only a virtuoso with a pen and a paintbrush, he is also a true artist with a cocktail shaker in his hands, and I am continually blown away by his liquid creations. While I can clearly trace the development of his visual artistic abilities, I’m not sure how he learned to compose cocktails of such perfect balance but his instincts have always been impeccable, right from the very first martini he ever made me. As he does similarly in his drawings, he also creates layers of unexpected flavors and depth in a single glass. He often infuses his drinks with fresh herbs and muddled fruits, and you happily learn to expect the unexpected when Peter is mixing you a drink.

When Peter was bartending at The Temple Bar, a swanky downtown cocktail lounge, he created several unusual cocktails for their menu. My favorite of these was called The Arbitrator, a serious concoction made from gin, peach puree and fresh sage leaves. It may sound like a strange combination, but stay with me here. Velvety sage leaves have a texture similar to the skin of a peach, and its flavor echoes the herbaceous notes of the gin. This is a drink that will make you sit up and pay attention, holding your interest down to the last drop.

I always think of peaches as particularly happy fruits, for you can practically taste the sunshine in each bite. They don’t call for much fussing when they’re in season, as it is a true pleasure to sink your teeth into a perfectly ripe peach, the golden juice dribbling down your chin. (Of course I wouldn’t complain if these summery peaches were turned into a pristine little tart or topped with streusel to make a fabulous peach crisp, but that is a recipe for another time!) In the cocktail department, fresh peach puree is frequently paired with sparkling wine to make a Bellini, an effervescent drink usually served at brunch. Bellinis mirror the peach’s inherent personality: happy, bubbly and just as lovely-as-can-be.

But by blending the peach puree with gin, it becomes infinitely more interesting. Gin is fragrant with botanicals, adding an interesting layer of subtext to the peach puree. The addition of velvety sage leaves makes it downright sexy. It’s like wearing a pretty white eyelet sundress with fabulous racy lingerie underneath. All is not what it seems on the surface!

Since peaches are in season right now, I’m happy to be able to share this recipe with you. I know Peter makes it slightly differently, but this is how I make it when he’s not here to create his cocktail magic for me. And while there were many years of chocolate birthday cakes together, it seems more appropriate to raise a glass of this green-flecked peachy goodness to him this evening. Happy birthday to my very sage brother!

My brother and me on July 5th once upon a rather long time ago...

Inspired by Peter Owen’s cocktail, The Arbitrator, at the Temple Bar in New York.

This is my take on one of Peter’s original creations. Sage leaves have a velvety quality that matches the lusciousness of the peach puree, and the gin gives it a sassy kick. I’ve given quantities to make more peach puree than you will need for the two cocktails that this recipe yields, as I’m assuming you’ll want to make at least another round! You can also use any remaining puree to make a peach spritzer by adding sparkling water to it, or drizzle a few spoonfuls of the peach puree into a glass of prosecco for a Bellini.

2 ounces Simple Syrup, divided (see recipe below)

1 large ripe peach or 2 smaller peaches, halved, pitted, and peeled
the freshly squeezed juice from 1 lime
4 ounces gin
3 large fresh sage leaves, plus more for garnish
1 cup ice cubes

Make the Simple Syrup according to the directions below and let chill to room temperature before using.

Chill two martini glasses by filling them with ice water. Set aside as you prepare the cocktail.

Cut the peach into bite-sized chunks. (You should have about 1 cup of peach pieces.) Put the peach pieces with the lime juice and 1 ounce of the Simple Syrup in a blender. Puree until very smooth. You will have about 1 cup of peach puree, but you will only need half of it for this recipe.

Place the sage and the remaining ounce of simple syrup in a large cocktail shaker. Muddle the leaves with the end of a long wooden spoon to release their aroma. Add the gin, a ½ cup of the peach puree, and the ice cubes. Cover tightly and shake vigorously for 30 shakes.

Empty the ice water out of the now-chilled martini glasses. Rub a sage leaf around the inside rim of the glass to release an extra dose of sage essence. Strain the drink into the two glasses, and garnish each cocktail with a small sage leaf.

Makes 2 cocktails.

To make Simple Syrup:
Stir together ½ cup sugar and ½ cup water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir and cook until the sugar has dissolved, then let it cool until ready to use. Makes approximately ¾ cup.

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