Easiest Summer Ever: Sweet-Sour Cherries With Mint and Ricotta

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A sweet-savory combo of cherries macerated in honey and vinegar, with black pepper, almonds, and mint. [Photographs: Vicky Wasik]

I have such mixed feelings about summer. On the one hand, it's glorious. This is the season of days at the beach, picnics in the park, cookouts, long stretches of daylight, and some of the best produce of the year. In a lot of places, though, including my hometown of New York City, it's also oppressively hot and humid—just last night, I waddled home in uncomfortably sopping wet clothes after a sweltering salsa dance class. So if there's one thing I love about this time of year, it's a recipe that involves zero heat and next to no effort. That's why we're bringing you the Easiest Summer Ever, a collection of seasonal recipes that are all beautifully simple. We're talking no more than four main ingredients (not including pantry staples, like oil and salt).

I wanted to jump right in with cherries before their all-too-short season comes to an end. The idea: a sweet-savory preparation that's just as well suited to dessert as it is breakfast or a midday snack.

I started by pitting a pint of juicy cherries—by far the most labor-intensive part of the whole process. I took a paring knife and slid it through the flesh of the fruit, circling the pit. Then I twisted the two hemispheres apart and plucked the pit out. If you have a cherry pitter, you can use that and then slice each cherry in half with a knife afterward.

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I tossed the pitted, halved cherries with a mixture of honey, red wine vinegar, and a very generous shower of freshly ground black pepper. The resulting flavor mixture is the sweet-sour combination that Italians call agrodolce.

I like the black pepper in the mix as well because, as a spice, it mirrors the sweet-savory duality of the sauce—it has some qualities of sweeter spices, like cinnamon or allspice, along with a hot funk that makes it work in just about any savory application (thus its presence in so much of the food we cook and eat).

Sticking with that Italian inspiration, I decided to serve this with good, fresh ricotta cheese. But beware: Mass-market ricotta will not work here. You definitely want to seek out the high-quality stuff—Calabro is our favorite supermarket-available brand, or head to a specialty market or dairy.

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For a finishing touch, I added some mint for freshness and a topping of crushed Marcona almonds. These have an oilier texture than other almonds, making them more tender, almost like macadamia nuts. (In fact, if you don't have Marconas, macadamias would be a good substitute here.)

If you have some flaky finishing salt, like Maldon, this is a great time to break it out and sprinkle it on top.

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And, if you have some really good bread, this would also make an excellent topping for toasts. But, of course, "really good bread" would count as a fifth ingredient, so let's just call that an unofficial suggestion to make your Easiest Summer Ever even better.