Fresh fruit, the highlight of summer, buried underneath butter, sugar and flour? Sorry, but that seems a crime to me. On the other hand, if you're having friends over for dinner, a simple cup of fresh fruit seems too spartan.

What I offer is a compromise: a fruit salad tossed with a simple sugar syrup. The syrup's sweetness highlights the fruit without overpowering it, and the clear, light sheen of the syrup gives it a glossiness.

The simple syrup is made by simmering sugar and water just until syrupy, about three minutes maximum. I infuse the syrup with lemon, which goes well with any combination of seasonal berries, melons and stone fruits. But you can add mint, fresh ginger, whole spices, even pureed peaches. The syrup can be made in minutes but must be chilled for several hours until just prior to serving, when it is tossed with the fruit.

One of my favorite presentations is to assemble the salad in a tall, clear serving dish, adding the fruits in distinct layers. But the straightforward jumble of syrup-glazed fruits is also impressive, either by itself or as an accompaniment for sorbet, butter cookies or sliced pound cake.

Summer Fruit Salad

6 servings

This colorful fruit salad has a glossy sheen that comes from a lemon-infused sugar syrup. Since the type and quality of fruit vary during summer, feel free to choose a mix of fruit according to availability and personal taste. You need a total of about 7 cups.

For the lemon syrup:

Zest from 3/4 lemon, cut into matchstick-size strips

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons water

2/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons granulated sugar

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

For the fruit:

11/4 cups pitted ripe cherries

1 cup melon, cut into chunks (cantaloupe, honeydew or seedless watermelon)

1 cup pitted and sliced peaches, plums or nectarines

1 cup (1/2 pint) ripe red raspberries, picked over

1 cup (1/2 pint) blueberries, picked over

1 cup (1/2 pint) blackberries, picked over

3/4 cup seedless grapes, whole, halved or a combination of both

Mint sprigs (optional garnish)

For the syrup: Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Have ready a bowl of ice water. Blanch the lemon zest for 1 minute. Strain the zest and place it in the ice water to stop the cooking. Drain the zest.

In a medium pan over low heat, combine the water, sugar and lemon juice, cover and heat until the sugar dissolves. Uncover the pan, bring to a boil, add the lemon zest and simmer gently until very slightly thickened, 2 to 3 minutes. Pour the syrup into a heatproof bowl and set aside to cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate until chilled through, at least 2 hours. (May refrigerate for up to 2 days.)

To assemble: Place the fruit in a large bowl. Pour the chilled syrup over the fruit and toss gently to coat. Spoon the fruit mixture onto a platter and, if desired, garnish with mint. Serve immediately.

Per serving: 229 calories, 2 gm protein, 57 gm carbohydrates, 1 gm fat, 0 mg cholesterol, trace saturated fat, 506 mg sodium, 7 gm dietary fiber

Variations:

Mint Coarsely chop 1/4 cup tightly packed mint leaves. Place the mint leaves in the saucepan along with the water, sugar and lemon juice (reserve the blanched lemon zest). Prepare the syrup as described, simmering until thickened slightly. Strain the syrup, discarding the leaves. Return the syrup to the washed and dried saucepan, add the lemon zest and simmer for 2 minutes. Cool and store as directed.

Spice Place 1 cinnamon stick, 6 whole allspice berries and 6 whole cloves in the saucepan along with the water, sugar and lemon juice (reserve the blanched lemon zest). Prepare the syrup as described, simmering until thickened slightly. Strain the syrup, discarding the spices. Return the syrup to the washed and dried saucepan, add the lemon zest and simmer for 2 minutes. Cool and store as directed.

Ginger Place 8 to 10 thin slices, peeled fresh ginger root in the saucepan along with the water, sugar and lemon juice (reserve the blanched lemon zest). Prepare the syrup as described, simmering until thickened slightly. Strain out and discard the ginger. Return the syrup to the washed and dried saucepan, add the lemon zest and simmer for 2 minutes.

Lemon liqueur Add 3 tablespoons lemon liqueur, such as limoncello, to the syrup mixture along with the blanched lemon zest and simmer for 2 minutes.

Orange liqueur and lemon liqueur Add 3 tablespoons orange liqueur, such as Grand Marnier or Cointreau, and 2 tablespoons lemon liqueur, such as limoncello, to the syrup mixture along with the blanched lemon zest and simmer for 2 minutes.

Peach or nectarine puree Just before assembling the fruit salad, peel, halve and pit 1 very ripe peach or nectarine. In a food processor, puree the peach and 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice. Stir the puree into the cooled syrup. Assemble the salad as directed.

Orange flower water Stir 1/2 teaspoon bottled orange flower water into the thickened, warmed syrup as soon as it is removed from the heat.

Rose flower water Stir 1/2 teaspoon bottled rose flower water into the thickened, warmed syrup as soon as it is removed from the heat.

Lisa Yockelson is the author of "Baking by Flavor" (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2002).

GLOSSY AND GLAMOROUS: The perfect way to show off summer fruit in all its fresh glory -- no crust, just a sheer and simple sugar syrup.