Sunday, July 17, 2011
Cherry Sangria with Apple Mint & Basil
As featured on WBUR Boston NPR's Public Radio Kitchen.
The sweet cherries are hopeless this year. As recently as two weeks ago, I could be heard muttering thinly veiled complaints regarding the inferiority of the fruit early in the season. But the joke’s on me, and it turns out that that was the cherry crop’s peak for the year. We had a couple of late frosts this spring, and now there are hardly any cherries to be found at all. Sour cherries, yes. Sweet cherries, apparently an earlier blossom, not so much. Early summer suddenly seems to be slipping away, but I can’t let go of cherry season. Not quite yet.
I always seem to forget how much I love good cherries during the eleven months they’re not available. Those magnetic first flats, which usually appear in the market just as June touches July, bring it all flooding back though. Cherries are distracting, maybe even a little wanton. There’s something almost animate in the way their skins catch on one another when you roll a few in the palm of your hand. And the flavor. Tart and fresh, then earthy and sweet. There's nothing else quite like it. So the prospect of skipping a full season, of waiting another year to enjoy cherries, is a sad one.
Fortunately there is a very good way of stretching a small harvest, not to mention prodding an inferior crop to act as proper cherries should, and that is by crushing the fruit into some well-constructed summer cocktails. I like my cherry-infused drinks a little rough-and-ready, unstrained, with some herbs from the greenmarket (cool mint, peppery basil) and a few wedges of lemon to help the fruit sit up and sing. Even though making simple syrup is possibly the least demanding thing in the world, I just can’t face it. I’d rather pour a good glass of wine. So my cherry cocktails in all their incarnations employ plain old granulated sugar (not even superfine), and an enthusiastic muddle with the less friendly end of a wooden spoon.
You can use 4 ounces of cachaça instead of the wine here, swap in lime for the lemon, and you’ll have yourself a seriously good cherry caipirinha. But this version is what I make most often. It’s more delicate and tranquil - approachable in the afternoon without threatening to turn the rest of your day on its ear. It’s a sangria of sorts, though lighter and with no brandy.
Any mint will do, but I am particularly fond of the floral, mild (and almost never apple-y) apple mint some of our farmers sell this time of year. Just be sure to get up early on market day, before the few sweet cherries still to be found have been snatched up. I've noticed it’s getting a little competitive out there.
12 sweet cherries, halved and pitted
6 fresh basil leaves
6 fresh mint leaves, plus 2 extra sprigs for garnish (I like applemint, but any mint you enjoy will do)
4 tsp granulated sugar
2 ½-inch thick rounds of lemon, halved
8 oz chilled white wine
In the bottom of a cocktail shaker, muddle the cherries, basil, mint and sugar. Add the lemon slices and muddle again. Add the wine and fill the shaker with ice. Shake well and decant into two old-fashioned glasses, adding more ice if desired. Garnish with the mint sprigs and serve immediately.