Cherries – I could eat them by the bowlful, one after another, their sweet, juicy flesh and beautiful, burgundy hue announcing the start of summer. What a pleasant surprise it was to find them at the Greenmarket last weekend, the very first cherries of the season. Like most other produce this year, they were about two weeks early (according to the farmer), and thank goodness for that. I’ll take fresh cherries any day, not to mention I was particularly eager to make Suzanne Goin’s Roman Cherry Tart with Almond Crust which, she later tweeted me, is one of her favorites.
So, I snatched up a box of cherries, brought it home, and got to work — pitting cherries, toasting almonds, sifting flour, mixing, stirring, baking — until, a few hours later, I had the perfect summer tart. It was simple and beautiful, allowing the cherries, the star of the recipe, to shine. She serves her Roman Cherry Tart with an almond ice cream and, though I didn’t make it myself, I’m sure it would make for an even more delectable dessert.
Roman Cherry tart with Almond Crust (from Sunday Suppers at Lucques)
Heaping 1/2 cup raw almonds
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup plus 5 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp kosher salt
8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1/4 tsp pure almond extract
1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 vanilla bean
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp cornstarch
2 1/4 lbs Bing cherries, pitted
2 tbsp grappa or brandy
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Toast the almonds on a baking sheet about 10 minutes, until they darken slightly and smell nutty. When the nuts have cooled, place them in a food processor with the sugar and pulse to a coarse meal. Add the flour and salt and pulse again to combine. Transfer to a mixing bowl, and pour in the melted butter, almond and vanilla extracts, and 1 tbsp ice-cold water. Using a wooden spoon, mi until just combined, adding more ice-cold water if necessary to help bring the dough together (I used 2 tbsp of ice-cold water).
Use your fingers to press the dough into a buttered 9-inch fluted tart pan, pressing the sides first and then the bottom, to form an even crust. Chill at least an hour, or preferably overnight.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prick the bottom of the tart shell with a fork, and line it with a piece of parchment paper. Fill the lined tart shell with beans or pie weights, and bake 20 minutes, until it begins to brown lightly around the edges. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack. Once it cools, life the paper and beans out of the tart.
Meanwhile, split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and, using a pairing knife, scrape the seeds and pulp into a medium saucepan. Add the vanilla pod, sugar, and 1/4 cup water. Over medium heat, cook the mixture, without stirring, until it’s caramelized to an amber color. Once it begins to brown, you can swirl the pot a little to get the caramel to color evenly.
While the sugar is caramelizing, stir 1 tbsp water into the cornstarch (this is called a “slurry” and will help thicken the fruit juices).
When the sugar is an amber brown, add the cherries, and swirl the pan again. Add the grappa, turn the flame down, and let the cherries simmer a few minutes, until they have softened. (The caramel will seize up and harden at first; don’t worry, it will remelt.) Strain the cherries over a bowl, return the liquid to the pot, and bring it to a boil over medium-high heat. Whisk the cornstarch slurry into the liquid and bring it back to a boil once again, stirring often. Cook a few more minutes, until thickened. Transfer the cherries to the bowl, pour the liquid over them, and stir to combine. Let cool completely.
Fill the shell with the sweet cherry compote to just below the level of the rim. Return the tart to the oven and bake 1 hour, until the cherries darken to a deep ruby red. Let the tart cool 15 minutes before cutting.
Note: Suzanne Goin serves this tart with almond ice cream. I encourage you to make that too! See her cookbook for the recipe.