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A&E >  Food

Taste summer with a sweet cherry on top

Cherry season in the Pacific Northwest is sweet – and maddeningly short-lived.

Thanks to Mother Nature, though, this year’s crop is slated to be plump and plentiful, perfect for making an abundance of classic summertime treats like cherry pies, cobblers and clafoutis.

Ripe, raw and red Northwest cherries are juicy little jewels, rich in vitamin C and potassium, and naturally sweet. One cup has nearly 18 grams of sugar – and only about 87 calories.

I recently pitted and halved a pound of Northwest cherries the old-fashioned way: with a knife. Luckily, I didn’t draw any blood.

But the experience helped me to really understand that old saying; it truly was the pits. I’m told you can remove them with a paper clip. But, after almost an hour of slicing and dicing and gouging, I am putting a cherry pitter on the top of my must-have kitchen-gadget list. I’m sure it will save me time, maybe even some cuts and tears.

Once – finally – halved and pitted, I used the cherries to top a simple mix of spinach and quinoa for a sweet and nutty, protein-packed summer salad. I made a couple of versions, with and without blueberries, avocados, cucumbers and cayenne – and enjoyed each one.

The rest of the cherries went into a spiced compote for topping a Dutch baby, one of those puffy German pancakes. The same sauce would also be good atop vanilla bean ice cream, crepes, other pancakes, waffles, French toast, yogurt, cheesecake, meringue cookies or Pavlova – and even savory dishes like lamb, pork or beef.

Dutch Baby Pancake with Warm Cherry Compote

From “Fruitful” by Brian Nicholson and Sarah Huck

For the compote:

1 pound sweet cherries, pitted and halved

1/3 cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice

1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

For the Dutch baby:

4 large eggs

3/4 whole milk

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Pinch fine sea salt

1/4 cup unsalted butter

To make the compote: In a medium pot over medium heat, combine the cherries, sugar and 2 teaspoons of water. Simmer until the cherries are soft and the sauce thickens slightly, 10 to 15 minutes, then whisk in the lime juice and nutmeg. Cover the pot and keep the compote warm over low heat.

To make the Dutch baby: Preheat oven to 475 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, flour, vanilla and salt until few lumps remain. Place butter in a 9-inch cast-iron skillet and transfer the skillet to the oven. Wait until the butter is melted and bubbling, about 7 minutes, then remove the skillet from the oven and pour in the batter. Return the skillet to the oven and bake until the pancake is puffed and golden, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove skillet from the oven and cut the Dutch baby into slices. Serve immediately, topped with cherry compote and cinnamon-scented whipped cream, if desired.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Cinnamon-Scented Whipped Cream

1 cup heavy cream, cold

5 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Pinch nutmeg

Splash vanilla extract

Whisk cream on a medium-high speed until peaks start to form. Add sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla. Continue to whisk until stiff peaks form.

Spinach-Quinoa Salad with Cherries and Almonds and Lemon-Tahini Dressing

Adapted from, July/August 2006

For the salad:

2 cups spinach leaves

1 1/2 cups cooked and cooled quinoa

1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped into 1/2-inch cubes (about 1 1/2 cups) (optional)

1 cup blueberries (optional)

2 cups fresh cherries, pitted and halved

1 avocado, peeled, seeded and chopped into 1/2-inch cubes (about 1 1/2 cups) (optional)

1/2 cup almonds

For the dressing:

1/2 cup tahini

1/2 cup water

Juice from 1 lemon (about 2 to 3 tablespoons)

2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

To make the salad: Arrange 8 or 10 spinach leaves on a plate, then repeat for additional servings. In a large mixing bowl, gently toss together quinoa, chickpeas, cucumber, blueberries and cherries. Place several spoonfuls atop plated spinach. Top with diced avocado and almonds.

To make the dressing: In a small mixing bowl, whisk together all dressing ingredients, seasoning to taste. Drizzle over salad.

Note: If preferred, to thoroughly coat quinoa mixture, toss it with the dressing before placing it atop the spinach, then add the avocado and almonds

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

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