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Summer is for cherries

Now is the time to enjoy the tart flavorful goodness of summer's sour cherries.

The season for sour cherry is fleeting, so Gourmet magazine created a few recipes for their August issue to help enjoy a tangy sour cherry while at their peak.

Zanne Stewart, the executive food editor at Gourmet magazine, visits

The Early Show Tuesday to share recipes for Lamb Chops with Cherry Balsamic Sauce and Mint; Cherries in Spiced Wine Syrup; and Sour Cherry Crostata.

Cherry varieties fall into three categories: sweet, sour and dual purpose. Gourmet magazine's feature article focused on sour cherries for its recipes.

Stewart explains sour cherries are too tart to eat raw and must be cooked. Fresh sour cherries contains about six times the Vitamin A as fresh sweet cherries, but all fresh cherries are good sources of Vitamin C. Given the shortness of the peak season, sour cherries are often preserved to be used year-round. The advent of cherry pitter has made preserving sour cherries easier. If a cherry pitter is not on hand, an olive pitter could work just as well.

Sour cherries are prized for their juicy acidity, which makes them better for cooking than their cousin, the sweet cherry. Lamb is young meat that can stand up to the tart richness of this type of fruit. Stewart says the cherry sauce itself awakens the natural flavor of the meat, it doesn't overwhelm.

She says tart cherries are also great for desserts such as pies, main courses, salads, side dishes and beverages. The two main types of sour cherry are morello and amarelle cherries.

During cooking, adding sugar to cherries draws the juices out of the fruit and sweetens them enough to balance the tartness.

Stewarts says you should remember sour cherries are too tart to eat out of hand, best when cooked, the are very juicy, rich in vitamins, great for dessert, great in meat sauces, their flavor exceeds that of sweet cherries, the fruit has great texture and respond well to sugar.

Chef's Note: If one desires frozen sour cherries, the key is not to thaw them in advance. Frozen cherries will hold their shape and texture better through the macerating and thawing process after the sugar is added.

Recipes

Lamb Chops with Cherry Balsamic Sauce and Mint
Serves 4

Active time: 20 minutes
Start to finish: 30 minutes (or 2 hours if using frozen cherries)

1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen (not thawed) pitted sour cherries (1/2 pound)
1 tablespoon sugar
8 (3/4-inch-thick) rib lamb chops (2 pounds total), trimmed of excess fat
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup thinly sliced shallot (4 ounces)
1/2 cup beef broth
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint

Stir fresh cherries together with sugar and macerate while browning chops. If using frozen cherries, stir with any juices and sugar and thaw, about 1 1/2 hours.

Pat lamb dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Sauté 4 chops, turning over once, about 6 minutes total for medium-rare. Transfer to a plate and loosely cover with foil. Cook and transfer remaining 4 chops in same manner.

Pour off fat from skillet and add remaining tablespoon oil. Heat until hot but not smoking. Sauté shallot, stirring, until golden brown (about 3 minutes). Add cherries with juices, broth and vinegar. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally and scraping up brown bits, then reduce heat and simmer for about 3 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add butter and 2 tablespoons mint, stirring just until butter is melted.

Spoon sauce over chops and sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons mint.

Cherries in Spiced Wine Syrup
Serves 4
Active time: 20 minutes
Start to finish: 3 hours

1 Turkish or ½ California bay leaf
4 whole cloves
4 black peppercorns
3 (3-by 1/2 -inch) strips fresh lemon zest
1 1/2 cups red Zinfandel
1/2 cup kirsch or other cherry flavored brandy
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
3 cups fresh or frozen (not thawed) pitted sour cherries (1 pound)
1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise

Special equipment: kitchen string; a 4-inch square of cheesecloth; a 1-quart jar with lid.

Tie bay leaf, cloves, peppercorns and zest together in a cheesecloth bag. Combine Zinfandel, kirsch, water, sugar and cheesecloth bag in a 4-quart heavy saucepan and bring to a boil. Add fresh frozen cherries with any juices, cinnamon stick, and vanilla bean and simmer, uncovered, until cherries are tender but still hold their shape (3 to 4 minutes).

Drain cherries in a sieve set over a bowl. Return cooking liquid to pan along with vanilla bean, cinnamon stick, and cheesecloth bag and boil until reduced to about 11/4 cups (about 12 minutes). Cool liquid slightly and discard vanilla bean, cinnamon stick and cheesecloth bag. Transfer cherries and cooled liquid to jar and chill, covered at least 2 hours to allow flavors to develop.

Spoon these cherries over ice cream or pound cake, or serve them topped with whipped cream and biscotti.

Cooks' note: Cherries can be kept in jar, chilled, up to 1 month.

Sour Cherry Crostata
Serves 8
Active time: 1 1/2 hours
Start to finish: 5 hours

This beautiful tart features a pastry the Italians call pasta frolla. The texture of the dough is more like cookie dough than traditional French-style pastry. Stewart says the lattice crust is surprisingly easy to make because it doesn't require weaving the strips.

Instructions for pastry:
11/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons finely grated fresh lemon zest

Special equipment: a 9-by 1 -inch fluted round tart pan with removable rim

Beat together butter and 1/3 cup sugar with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy (about 3 minutes). Reserve 1 tablespoon beaten egg, chilled, for egg wash and beat remaining egg into butter mixture, then add vanilla, beating well. Reduce speed to low and mix in flour, salt and zest until mixture just forms a dough.

Halve dough and form each half into a 5-to 6-inch disk. Wrap disks in plastic wrap and chill until firm (at least 30 minutes).

Instructions for filling:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
5 1/4 cups fresh or frozen (not thawed) sour cherries (1 3/4 pound), pitted
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons cold water
3 tablespoons cornstarch

Heat butter in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over moderate heat until foam subsides. Add fresh or frozen cherries with any juices and sugar and simmer, stirring, until sugar is dissolved (Cherries will exude juices). Continue to simmer until cherries are tender but not falling apart (about 8 minutes). Stir together water and cornstarch to form a thick paste. Stir into simmering filling and boil, stirring frequently (2 minutes). Cool filling quickly by spreading it in a shallow baking pan and chilling until lukewarm (15 minutes).

Assemble and Bake Crostata
Roll out 1 piece of dough (keep remaining piece chilled) between 2 sheets of wax paper into a 12-inch round. Remove top sheet of paper and invert dough into tart pan. Trim overhang to 1/2 inch and fold inward, then press against side of pan to reinforce edge. Chill tart shell. Roll out remaining dough in same manner and remove top sheet of paper. Cut dough into 10 (1-inch-wide) strips and slide dough, still on wax paper, onto a baking sheet. Chill strips until firm (about 5 minutes).

Put a foil-lined large baking sheet in middle of oven and preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Spread filling in chilled tart shell and arrange 5 strips 1 inch apart across filling, pressing ends onto edge of tart shell. Arrange remaining 5 strips 1 inch apart diagonally across first strips to form a lattice with diamond-shaped spaces. Trim edges of all strips flush with edge of pan. Brush lattice top with reserved beaten egg and sprinkle crostata with remaining tablespoon sugar.

Bake crostata in pan on baking sheet in oven until pastry is golden and filling is bubbling, about 1 hour. (If lattice and edges look too brown after 30 minutes, loosely cover with foil.) Cool crostata completely in pan on a rack, 1 1/2 to 2 hours, to allow juices to thicken.

Chef's Note: Crostata is best the day it is made but can be made 1 day ahead and kept, covered with foil, at room temperature.