This is a really great time of year, food-wise, in the U.S.
Weather-wise, I’m a true-blue summer girl, but we’re entering our 6th straight day of 95+°F temps, and it’s barely July. Weird wind storms fueled by the excessive heat last Friday left millions in this region and along the eastern seaboard without electricity all sweltering weekend, while the western half of the country seems to be ablaze, quite literally (folks in Colorado and Utah, I’m thinking of you).
The word for the summer of 2012 might just be Fire.
Pass the heavily-iced iced tea, please.
But life goes on, right? We work, we shop, we feed our loved ones.
Late June is always an odd stretch, filled with both dread of its end and impatience for the first summer tomato, which, on a good year, ripens the second or third week of July. (A 4th-of-July ripe tomato was almost mine this year, but Bambi and her hungry brood happily helped themselves to those plump, juicy — but decidedly green — candidates two weeks ago. Ah, well. It’s my own fault for not hanging the netting sooner.)
Meanwhile, some of my very favorite non-local fruits are at peak season, so while my heart is at the farmers’ market — always — I’m also scouring the big box groceries for cherries and avocados and pineapples. (Blueberry season just ended here — three quarts are tucked in the freezer, a completely unprecedented show of forethought in SoupAddict’s world, let me tell you.)
For now, fresh cherries have my heart, and I go through a bag a week, either baked into desserts or gnawed right off the stem.
Or, a combo of both, as in today’s recipe: rum and vanilla infused fresh cherries that live to be served over ice cream on days like these, when heat and fire rule over all.
The irony of intentionally setting something on fire in my own kitchen was not lost on me. But, when Mr. Thomas Keller says to blaze up the rum, I’m not going to argue. It’s amazingly beautiful, but oddly difficult to capture on camera, where the best shot, above, caught just one measly lick of flame, when in fact the entire pan was engulfed in an eerie Halloween glow.
With little time to loiter in the kitchen during the long, bright days of summer, fresh food prepared with a simple treatment but unexpected twist is right up my alley.
Happy 4th, Everyone. Be safe, and extinguish those fireworks. I think we’re full up on fire this year.
Potted cherries with rum and vanilla bean
adapted from Thomas Keller’s “Ad Hoc at Home”
Keller’s sweetly simple recipe keeps the cherry stems intact for a down-home presentation, but being one who doesn’t like to pluck at things in my food once plated — tails-on shrimp? uh-uh, no thank you — I removed the stems along with the pits. Keller also calls this a “compote” — true, to its definition — but do note that the cherries are not cooked here, in case the word brings to mind stewed fruit.
I served this with vanilla bean frozen yogurt — lots of the rum sauce spooned over it, of course — and topped lightly with a quick streusel mix of almond flour, turbinado sugar and melted butter. Kind of a lightened-up version of cherry pie. With rum.
1/3 cup rum
1 cup granulated sugar (I used raw sugar)
1 cup water
1 vanilla bean, cut in two and split*
1 pound cherries (I used Rainier, as did Keller)
Bring the rum to a boil in a small pan over medium-high heat. Carefully light the rum on fire using a long match (or by tilting the pan to the side, if using a gas burner).
When the flames die off, remove the pan from the heat and add the sugar and water. Scrape the vanilla seeds from the beans into the pan, and add the pods. Return the pan to the heat and simmer until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and allow to steep for about a half hour.
While the syrup rests, remove the pits and stems of the cherries. Tuck any flaps around the hole left by the pit back into place. Spoon the cherries into one large or two medium canning jars (or other suitable containers).
Tuck the vanilla bean pods into the jars, then pour in the syrup. Cover with a lid and allow to the syrup to finish cooling. Keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
*Keller’s recipe calls for two vanilla beans. Vanilla beans are lovely and expensive, and el cheapo me chose not to devote two to this recipe. As my bag of cherries was under a pound, nothing seemed the worse for wear.