Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Cherries Roasted in Red Wine & Sea Salt
As featured on WBUR Boston NPR's Public Radio Kitchen.
I think of cherries as the year's first big flavor. Scarlet, shiny and brash, cherries banish the quiet green flavors of spring. They only appeared at the market about a week ago here, which means they’re nowhere near their tangy-sweet height yet. Don’t get me wrong though. Early season or not, a bag of cherries is undeniably appealing, and therein lies the challenge to making this recipe. Cherry season is short, and when they show up, chances are I haven't had a locally grown cherry in eleven months. That's a long time.
Add to that the fact that I've lived in this neighborhood for long enough that I can’t seem to walk a block without seeing someone I know. That's rare for New York, and I like it a lot, but it also can make it highly difficult to negotiate the two minute stroll home from the greenmarket without losing half my cherries. People can't resist. Their eyebrows shoot up. Their mouths form round "ohs" of delight. "Is it cherry season already?" they ask breathlessly, smiling into my shopping bags.
Take Saturday morning. I snapped up three pounds (we'd have a bowl of them on the counter, I thought dreamily, plus some for the vanilla gelato I'd made, and maybe a clafoutis), and stopped to speak with my friend Luke at his River Garden stand. We nibbled goodnaturedly as we talked, and I left him with an extra handful before heading out of the market, over a narrow cobblestone street, and exchanging pleasantries and another fistful with the owner of a local wine store. Waving goodbye, I walked straight into a good (but chatty) friend, along with her husband and 2 year old son. When it became clear we had much catching up to do, we decided to retire to a nearby coffee place. I'd been sharing politely all the while - she's pregnant, it's bad form not to share your cherries with pregnant people - but I turned away for a moment to retrieve my cappuccino, trustingly stowing my cherries under the bar, only to return to this:
Shameless. A free-for-all. Does that look like three pounds of cherries to you? But it’s summer, and what’s the point of having something as intrinsically jolly as a bagful of the year’s first cherries if you can't share them with your friends? Plus I managed somehow to arrive home with enough left for dessert that night.
I roast my early-season cherries as I’ve eaten them in Tuscany, most memorably prepared by Chef Fabio Picchi: with a healthy dose of red wine, plenty of fruity olive oil, and a good sprinkling of sea salt. Their gentle sweetness intensifies, and the wine and cherry juice meld into a rich, jammy syrup that works as well with fresh ricotta or goat cheese as it does with ice cream. Don’t pit your cherries here – much as with eau de vie, you want that gentle almond flavor that the cherry stones impart during the cooking process. Just be sure to buy more than you think you’ll need. There’s no accounting for what may remain by the time you get home, but just think how happy your friends will be.
Cherries, pits in and stems still on if possible
extra virgin olive oil
a glass or two of red wine
Preheat the oven to 350 F (180 C, Gas Mark 4).
Rinse and pat dry your cherries. Spread them out in a single layer over a sheet pan with sides. Toss with a generous glug of olive oil and then spread back out again. Splash over a generous amount of red wine and sprinkle with sea salt. Roast in the middle of the oven until the juices start to thicken and caramelize slightly – 30 to 45 minutes. Serve warm, preferably with good gelato or ice cream.