This summer. After 2 previous smash hits comes the moment we’ve all been waiting for. Presenting the sensational conclusion to the exciting summer cherry trilogy – the Peach-Cherry Almond Torte…
Sorry, I got a little confused with all those summer movie trailers I’ve been watching. After a certain number, they get stuck in your brain, especially since all of them seem to employ the same guy for the voice-overs. Seriously, read those opening sentences again and you’ll hear his voice playing in your head.
Coming back to this torte, it does offer the best of summer’s bounty. Bright peaches are paired with ripe cherries to top a moist almond cake. Seriously, cherries and almonds should be best friends. I’m sure they already are. Every time I pit cherries (which is quite a bloody operation if you know what I mean), I look at all those discarded pits with some of the bright cherry flesh still clinging to them and I feel just a little bit sad. But in this torte, even the humble cherry pit has a role to play. Cracked and wrapped in a cheesecloth, they bubble merrily with their counterparts on the stove, tinging the cherry pulp with their hidden almond flavor. (I wanted to add whole star anise in the cheesecloth, but the store didn’t have any.) Orange zest and a little bit of orange juice brighten the flavors and cut through the sweet. And to add a touch of luxury, I stir in some Amaretto liqueur.
I’m going to interrupt my cherry triathlon for an important broadcast. Unfortunately, like a weather report that invariably forecasts rain on the weekend, it is not something you’re going to like. Because I’m going to ask you to please turn on your ovens. In summer. For 3 hours. Before you click over to something more interesting or sane like a no-cooking-required side with grilled fish or a simple salad, please hear me out. Because these tomatoes are that good. Because these tomatoes taste like they’ve died and gone to heaven. Because these tomatoes are the be-all and end-all of cooked tomatoes anywhere. Are you still reading? Good.
Apart from the inconvenience I have already mentioned, there is not much else involved as far as preparation goes. You quarter meaty tomatoes like Roma (or even plum), scoop out the juice and seeds, toss them with salt, pepper and olive oil in a large baking dish, dump the same in a hot oven and forget about it for the next 3 hours. Go and watch a movie. Or read a good book. Or take a walk in the park. And come back to a kitchen simmering with the heady aroma of slow-roasted tomatoes. They will have shriveled up to one third their size, with skin like a wrinkled prune. But on tomatoes, this is attractive, because they promise a concentration of flavor, a caramelized sweetness and a smoky earthiness that is the gift of slow roasting. Pop one in your mouth and the promise will be delivered.
I spent yesterday afternoon painting the kitchen walls. My cousin D was the brains behind this particular operation while I played the role of assistant and rank amateur. Painting 101? Scrape the excess paint off your brush so that you don’t drip paint all over your aunt’s nice, clean floors. D, who’s so good at this that she doesn’t need newspapers or any of those other amateur props, soon had to lay a lot of them on the floor for me.
I soon hit my stride and before long we were painting side by side in companionable silence. (We’ve known each other long enough that we don’t have to talk all the time.) Regina Spektor, Pearl Jam, Gaga, Dire Straits and Abba kept us company in the kitchen while the rain pattered quietly outside. There is just something so rewarding about doing things with your hands, whether it is cooking or painting. My only regret was there wasn’t any of that delicious tart or the cake I had baked left over to eat sitting cross-legged on the kitchen floor.
Rubies. Glittering, bright, red rubies. That’s what these cherries remind me of. But they are not hard and cold – they are warm and sun-kissed, and practically sparkle with life. I stare mesmerized at their beauty, hesitant to taste because I’m sure they cannot live up to the expectation. Oh, but they do! The ripe flesh gives way under the gentle bite of my teeth and the sweet juice explodes in my mouth with a bright pop. I close my eyes involuntarily letting the tiny fruit work its magic. And reach for another. And another. Until all I have left is an empty bag. So I do the only thing that can be done – I go to the farmers’ market and buy some more. Correction, a lot more – read, 3 pounds. Which is why, there are going to be 3 consecutive posts on cherries. I can’t help myself – I’m swimming in them; they just taste so good. I’m sure you’re not going to complain, are you?
There existed a time when I didn’t like cherries all that much – strange to hear after that rhapsody, but it’s true. Back home, the first cherries of the season were always mouth-puckeringly sour and thereafter, even in the bag of sweet cherries, there would always stealthily lurk some unfriendly ones ready to spoil your experience. You never knew what you were going to get – life is a box of cherries, and all that. The sour cherries would so turn me off that I think I just gave up on the fruit gradually. But these cherries are a different story – big, dark and plump, nay, fat with juice. I’ll stop before I begin to repeat myself.
I have never won any fun contests in my life. Sure, I had my fair share of wins in school and college, but I was a nerd (some of my friends are thinking “was?”) and these involved things like debates and elocution and science exhibitions. The closest I came to winning anything fun was a game of Housie (a close cousin of Bingo). I had a full house, the highest prize, but apparently so did this boy, who was much bigger and louder than I was. He walked away smugly with a trophy of a shiny Lego set. (Did I mention I was 10? Talk about holding a grudge!)
So when I discovered Food52, at first I didn’t even look at the contests. I was just so excited to find a new food website with so many creative people contributing new and wonderful recipes to try. However, a few weeks later, the banner for the week’s theme caught my eye – Strawberries. If I could eat only one fruit all my life, it would be strawberries. (No, mangoes! Well both. It’s my game.) I couldn’t stop thinking about them, the endless possibilities churning in my head. So I did the only thing that would turn me back into a sane person. I went and bought 2 pounds(!) of strawberries and proceeded to devise a recipe to showcase them.
Back where I come from, a bread is a bread – you know those things that are white or brown, come shaped in loaves, and are part of that phrase “the greatest thing since sliced bread” (which I have never understood); bread that you toasted and ate slathered with butter, mixed fruit jam (which for some reason was the only jam ever bought in my house) or if you were very, very good with that very, very special treat – Nutella (which deserves its very own honorable post).
So you can imagine the face I made when I first saw the words Banana Bread – I think it was in the index of an American book on baking. I liked bananas well enough but they had to be just so – I hated biting into ones that were even slightly unripe, and the smell of over-ripe bananas just turned me off. Growing up, I had more than a few clashes of will with my mother due to my fussy eating habits. Thankfully, for the grown-up me, my mother won them all, because if she hadn’t, I would have never got around to making banana bread, ever. (The first time I went over to that recipe, I shut the book after reading the very first ingredient – 3 very ripe bananas).