Rachel's Recipes: Cherry Picking- Visinata, Transylvanian Sour Cherry Soup, Pecan Frangipane & Cherry Tart, Sweet & Sour Pickled Cherries
In an age of seasonal blurring and muddle, the short, sharp and sweet cherry season remains a fleeting treat. Romanian sour cherries “visine” and sweet cherries “cirese” are superb in taste and flavor and deserve full attention! I use the visine in all recipes, that amazing sharpness works so well in sweet tarts, cakes and jams as well as in savory dishes, such as partnering meats.
My first encounter with “visinata”, the Romanian home made cherry liquor (macerate sour cherries and sugar for 10-14 days and top up with pure alcohol, which is widely available for this purpose, or vodka. Resisting drinking it for 2-3 months is well worth while, as it improves with age) was at a wedding in Moldova…I was still sipping it as the sun came up! My “visinata” habit has since mellowed and I now use it to flavor Tiramisus, trifles and add oomph to tarts and, for a stylish apero, why not dilute the neat stuff with prosecco or champagne and create a “visnata kir”. Scrumptious.
I have always loved Transylvanian chilled fruit soups and if you can get your head around eating them as a starter they provide a great fresh and zesty burst of taste to get the taste buds fired up at the start of a meal. Alternatively serve them as dessert with extra cream/yoghurt and some delicate almond biscuits.
For a decadent “Meggy Leves” or Sour Cherry Soup: boil 0.5 kg of pitted sour cherries in a bottle of the local wine like a Riesling or Feteasca Alba along with a bay leaf, some cinnamon, lemon zest and sugar to taste until the cherries are lightly cooked and the wine is reduced down a little – some 10-15 minutes. The flavor does improve if it is left to macerate overnight. The next day, beat 600ml of sour cream (“smantana”) and add the macerated cherries and cooking liquid so that it blends. Add a small glass of visinata for extra depth of flavor. Serve very well chilled.
Bored of gherkins partnering salami? Or simply saturated with “muraturi”? Then stand by for sweet and sour pickled cherries that take terrines, pâté and “mezeluri” into a new dimension. I first made these simply by accident and experimentation and was much pleased with the results. Later I learned that Elizabeth David herself was a fan and had praised them highly in her book, French Provincial Cooking.
Here is a simple method that I use and suggestions for spices. Boil 1 liter of apple vinegar (“otet de mere”) with 500g of sugar spiced with a mixture of bay leaves, star anise, cinnamon, cloves and whole peppercorns according to taste and mood, until the sugar is dissolved. Pit the cherries for hassle free eating later, however, the whole ones with pip tend to keep a better shape and not go “mushy” in the jar. Macerate 1kg of sour cherries in the vinegar and sugar liquid for 24 hours and then pack into clean jam jars that do not have metal lids. Best after one month and delicious at Christmas time.
Pecan Frangipane & Cherry tart
Last week I ran out of almonds and needed to substitute pecans in a frangipane and apricot tart. The result was so delicious I extended the idea to cherries. Serve this slightly warm or cold as an afternoon treat.
For a 23cm tart tin with a removable base:
100g 82% butter
100g brown sugar (white works fine just less taste)
100g blitzed pecans (take care not to over blitz and make pecan butter!)
500g of pitted sour cherries
350g plain flour
225g butter 82%
1. To make the pastry, rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs, then stir in the caster sugar. I make this in my mixer so you want the K shaped beater and the mixture needs to look “sandy” or like crumble. The clever bit – press the mixture into the tin using your hands and create a pastry case. Bake in an oven preheated to 180°C until solid - approx 12 minutes.
2. To make the frangipane cream, cream the sugar and butter together until light, fluffy and amalgamated. Add the eggs, ground pecans and flour and mix well to form a soft paste.
3. Spread the frangipane over the tart base (do not try and cover the cherries with the frangipane mix!) Dot the cherries into the mix until the tart is covered and the paste oozes between the cherries.
4. Cook at 180C for 25 -30 minutes.
By Rachel Sargent, guest writer
Rachel Sargent is the chef and owner of the London Street Bakery, which offers healthy seasonal food. More about it here.