Seasonal Eats: Cherry Season is Upon Us!

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Fresh Cherries at the Farmer's Market (Heather Parlato/LAist)

If you love cherries, good news is finally here: it's cherry season! I found these lovely specimens at the farmers' market to be colorful, sweet and delicious, and so declared this week cherry week. While it's hard to argue with eating them raw, one after the other, plenty of people will try, so I've collected the best of a range of options for your cherry enjoyment.

The breakdown: cherries are stone fruits, related to plums, apricots and peaches. They provide food for caterpillars of moths and butterflies that range from strange-looking to quite beautiful (this will have to do for the unexpected cherry trivia portion of this article). They contain the red pigment anthocyanin, a potent antioxidant, and they're a great source of dietary fiber and Vitamin C with a glycemic load of 7.

I love it when a food is so good on its own, that all you have to do is wash and eat it to get the best it has to offer. I'd like to end right here and say "buy them and eat them!" and be done with it, but that's too easy. Some quick, fresh preparations that are just one step away include this refreshing cherry lemonade, which you can also freeze into pops if you like. Add cherries to salad, as in mesclun and cherry salad with warm goat cheese or try cherry Waldorf salad. This winter fruit salad with star anise sounds lovely, and could be adapted for springtime fruits as well.

Working with condiments is a great way to get a little cherry flavor into the rest of your food. This cherry compote showcases cherries over rosemary and balsamic vinegar for a tasty addition to many dishes. A cherry chutney adds a pungent ginger and five-spice flavor to your food. Homemade, from-scratch cherry mustard sounds like a great addition to sandwiches and grilled meats & veggies. Or, go sweet with this very simple sweet cherry and lemon conserve.

Before we go to the inevitable dessert section, there are some great ways to use cherries in your savory dishes. Make a cherry sauce for roasted meats, or add mashed cherries to your reduction after a roast, as in lamb chops with cherry balsamic sauce. Work them into your tuna and chicken salads for a nice zing in each bite. While I'd really love to include Persian sour cherry saffron rice, it often calls for canned sour cherries, but if you can substitute fresh, that will make it seasonal. Same with this pasta calling for frozen cherries, cherry, basil, orzo pasta would be delicious with fresh fruit.

Without further ado ... sweets! Live it up with an old-fashioned cherry vanilla pie, or if you love coconut, try cherry pie with coconut crumb topping. For as many cheesecakes as there are, this one stood out to me, cherry cheesecake with chocolate almond crust. This cherry almond coffee cake sounds like a nice treat anytime, while orange cherry cake sounds like an excellent pairing of springtime flavors. Finally, let cherries shine in a cherry tart tatin.

Moving further down the dessert aisle, we have some great cookies, like these cherry-almond arancini or these chocolate chip, cherry and walnut rugelach. Savor the pairing of tart diary with ricotta and cherry strudel or try these sweet-and-sour cherry turnovers with goat cheese cream. Finally, go all out with cherry clafoutis.

For the warming season, frozen desserts are a great way to cool off. Sweeten up some Greek yogurt and freeze for frozen yogurt with roasted cherry compote. Pucker up to this concentrated sweet cherry sorbetto, or get rich with this vanilla-laden cherry gelato.

I decided to experiment with some pie-alternatives i've been working on, and whipped up a low-carb, low-sugar, gluten-free roasted cherry cottage cheesecake. While it's not for everyone (such as the coconut-averse or the sweet-tooth afflicted), cottage cheese whips up into a topping not at all unlike cheesecake, and this recipe can have you in & out of the kitchen in less than an hour. An added benefit: your gluten-free friends will love you forever.

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Roasted Cherry Cottage Cheesecake (Heather Parlato/LAist)

Roasted Cherry Cottage Cheesecake

cherries:

42 cherries

1 tb canola oil

1 tb vanilla extract

1 tb balsamic vinegar

1 tb red wine

crust:

1/2 cup almond meal

1/2 cup shredded coconut

2 tb coconut oil (or butter, if preferred)

1 egg white

cottage cheese:

2 cups cottage cheese

1 tb vanilla extract

1 tb honey

2 tbs milk, as needed


Place fresh cherries in a small roasting pan, toss & coat with the canola oil, vanilla extract, balsamic vinegar and red wine (or a variation of whatever you prefer). Roast at 325 for 30 minutes.

Once the cherries have been set to roast, add all the crust ingredients to a medium-sized bowl and mash with a fork or whisk to incorporate completely. once the mix becomes granular, use your hands. When the mix is evenly incorporated, press into a pie dish to cover the bottom and sides. This crust is very forgiving, just pinch and push it around until the inside of the dish is covered. Put it in the oven with the cherries and bake 15 minutes (at 325).

Remove the cherries from the oven and separate the fruit flesh from the pits. This can easily be done with a knife and fork. Place them evenly in the bottom of the pie crust.

Add all the cottage cheese. vanilla and honey to a blender and blend until smooth, adding milk only as needed if the mix is too thick to continue blending. You may make ahead and chill until you're ready to use, otherwise pour it over the cherry-filled pie crust and chill to set. Garnish with some fresh cherries, and enjoy!