Hazelnut and Nectarine Gratin Recipe

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 a point to this! — 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, 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.

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Hazelnut and Nectarine Gratin Recipe

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Serves 6 to 8.

Hazelnut and Nectarine Gratin Recipe


  • 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 large egg yolks
  • 60 ml (1/4 cup) maple syrup
  • 60 ml (1/4 cup) heavy cream
  • 30 grams (1/4 cup) hazelnuts


  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F).
  2. Toast the hazelnuts in a dry skillet, let cool, and chop roughly. Set aside.
  3. Rinse and dry the nectarines. Cut them in one-inch chunks and set aside in a large oven-proof dish.
  4. 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.
  5. Put into the oven to bake for 20 minutes, until the nectarines have softened. Put the oven in the grill position and grill the nectarines for 5 minutes.
  6. 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.
  • Perhaps, “If you were a vegetable……?” Because there are so many to choose from, and they are of such different sorts. Part II could be, “How would you be prepared?”

  • well there are no prizes for guessing which fruit I would be!! A ripe, juicy, blood plum each and every time!

    As dear Suzanne Vega would say

    “See how the flesh
    presses the skin,
    It must be bursting
    with secrets within,
    I’ve seen the rest, yes
    and that is the one for me”


  • As for me, as long as I can remember my favorite summer fruit was the “brugnon”, but it seems as it doesn’t exist any more!
    Why did it disappear, and be replaced by “nectarine”?…even if it’s gorgeous too, it’s not the same!

  • Patsy

    Ah, how lovely: pie-ness without having to make pastry. Bless those gratins! I’ve been looking for the perfect, easy dessert during a very busy summer and you gave it to me. Merci!

  • anna

    condiment: moutarde a l’ancienne
    kitchen gadget: puree stick
    spice: fennel pollen
    herb: rosemary
    pantry staple: pasta
    food chemistry phenomenon: baked alaska
    cookie: ginger-molasses

  • sam

    I will never forget my first ever bite of a yellow nectarine, aged 14, in Landes, France. (In the UK at that point we could only get peaches)
    I love them too. They don’t taste so good in California, I tell you. I have been disappointed with all the ones I’ve tried at the Farmers market. Too much sweetness and none of that flavour.
    Btw – the English play that game too. My favourite question of anyone is – if you were a dessert what would you be?

  • Alisa

    me? i’m think’n artichoke, cumquat, spaghetti squash.

    am acutely aware that these analogies may change according to mood. :)

  • How much fat is there in French heavy cream? Are you using something for this dish that is close to American heavy or whipping cream, or is it richer?

  • sam

    PS there are plenty of politicians I can think of who could be described as a “spotted dick” ;)

  • That dessert does sound delicious, I often do something vaguely similar on the stove for just myself and the roommate when I want something dessert-y but not too fattening. (Not using the cream makes it pretty low fat).

    But I have a question – do you really core nectarines ‘lovingly’? No matter how much I like a fruit or the dish they are going into, I can’t imagine describing the act of coring has something I’d do lovingly. Just wondering, thats all.

  • Celine – Ah yes, the brugnon! A cross between plum and peach where the nectarine is a cross between apricot and peach, I believe. I have read that brugnons progressively disappeared from stores because they are more fragile and don’t travel as well than the nectarine…

    Sam – Well, if *you* were a dessert what would you be? I think I’d be my mom’s tarte aux fraises.

    Pyewacket – The regular crème fraîche is 40% fat — you could use a reduced fat version I guess, but it may curdle a bit.

    Deanna – Funny this should surprise you! I love handling fruits and vegetables, and always prep my fruit with loving care, making sure I don’t squish or bruise them — and in the case of nectarines, gently twist-pulling the stone from the flesh to detach it…

  • Meg

    Celine and Clotilde, I have seen brugnons at the Galeries Gourmand at Porte Maillot – maybe it’s the start of a come-back?

  • sam

    Clotilde – I can just imagine you as A Tarte au Fraises – small, sweet and perfectly formed.

    Me – I think I would be a Raspberry Pavalova – hard but also soft. A little tart but sweet too. Light but not without substance. Uneven around the edges, but structured in layers. A slightly haphazard appearance but designed for good effect.

    What do you reckon?


  • suzy

    As yummy as the nectarine dessert sounds, I’m still interested in Stephan’s loubia and cousous! Willing to share?

  • Meg – Good to know, thanks for the tip!

    Sam – Loved the explanation of why you’re a raspberry pavlova. Most convincing!

    Suzy – I will ask Stéphan, but I know there is no recipe — he’s more of a “throw a little bit of this, and a little bit of that, oh maybe a bit more” kind of cook — so it’s going to be difficult. However, next time he cooks that kind of dish I can try to watch and make notes!

  • john

    The nectarine isn’t a cross (though Mel Brooks’ 2000 year old man thought it was–“half a peach, half a plum, that’s a hell of a fruit”) but a very close relative of the peach.

    “The genetic profile of peaches and nectarines differs by only a single gene, the one that makes peaches fuzzy, and nectarines are properly classified as a subspecies of peach, Prunus persica var. Nucipersica.”–Alice Waters, “Chez Panisse Fruit”

  • John – Hm. I had found the info on a few websites in French (for instance: http://www.e-sante.fr/guide/article_2260_125.htm ). Just goes to show, yet again, that you can’t believe everything that’s written out there!

  • Shelli

    I’ve recently fallen in love with pluots, a cross between an apricot and a plum. Sweet, but not as messy-juicy as a plum– you know, when you take a bite and are left with only the skin because the flesh of the plum has liquefied and dripped down your chin.

  • john

    Hi Clotilde–I got the message “objet introuvable” when I clicked on that link. On reflection I probably shouldn’t have asserted categorically that the nectarine isn’t a cross, though Alice Waters is usually pretty reliable.

    L’enquête continue…

  • Cynthia

    According to Alan Davidson in A Connoisseur’s Guide and Cookbook, the nectarine is “a true peach, not a cross between a peach and a plum as some suppose.”

  • Cynthia

    To be more specific, the botanic name for a peach is Prunus persica and the botanic name for nectarine is Prunus persica var. nectarina.

  • joan

    How well I remember such a game ~ years back. Elio, married to my sister-in-law, said he’d be roularden on Gabrielle’s plate! My Oh My!

    As for me ~ fruit? the summeriest of cherries…

  • Nectarines are definately my favourite stone fruit too :)

  • Christy

    I love the nectarine most of all the fruits – and that’s saying something because I feel like I can often gauge my moods by what’s in season – cherries : energetic, pears : mellow, nectarines: happy, happy, happy.

    What makes me sad, and ultimately more appreciative, is that nectarines aren’t available as jam, preserves, etc., So, I eat, eat, eat them while they are in season and fully ripe, knowing that all too soon I’ll end up with a grainy fruit and that will be the end until the next summer.

    Thanks for sharing a recipe – I’m going to try it although I’m not sure that anything can rival the nectarine in its’ simplest form.

  • Becca

    thank you for such a marvelously simple but delicious recipe!

  • Becca

    Thought I should tell you that I have now made the gratin several times and thought it was so amazingly good that I’ve dedicated an entire post to encourage my family and friends to rush to your site and get this recipe … thank you for making summer that much more enjoyable for me!

  • tilo

    If I were a fruit I could only be a mango…..

  • Which fruit – I’m torn between a perfectly ripe peach (fuzz and all) and a truly ripe fig. Fresh figs that are actually ripe are so hard to come by where I am (Lexington KY, USA). After so many disappointments with dry fiberous figs, when a good one comes along it’s soft syrupy flesh should be celebrated!

  • Phyllis E. Morton

    found this site thru French word of the day

  • Bumblebee

    I went nectarine picking yesterday, and was looking for a way to use some of the fruit I picked. This recipe looks perfect!

  • Mrexplainall

    coolest recipe for nectarines so far

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