I live in a neighborhood of gardeners, and it’s common for us to share our bounty. I’m not just talking drive-by zucchini drop-offs in the dark of night, either. None of us seem to grow exactly the same things, but all of us wind up, sooner or later, with more than we can consume on our own, and those over-the-fence swaps are one a great way to share the wealth and catch up on the neighbors.
One neighbor grows Queen Anne cherries, and maybe it’s the tree’s location or her tender, loving care, but she consistently gets ripe cherries before they come to the market. I was unpacking the car on Saturday after returning from a trip to Ashland when she hollered over from her porch: “Want some cherries?”
Queen Annes are those dappled red-and-yellow cherries, sweet and juicy, not quite as packed with cherry flavor as the darker varieties, and thus, I think less suited for baking or cooked sauces. But they’re great for nibbling (I brought a little bag to work for lunch today) and lovely in uncooked dishes that show off their flavor and vivid colors.
This cherry salsa is just such a dish, with the flavors of basil, lime and chiles providing a zippy contrast to the sweetness of the fruit. It’s a fantastic accompaniment to fish, pork or – as I had it on Sunday – roast chicken. And very easy to make, especially if you happen to own a cherry pitter. (You can buy fancy ones from Williams-Sonoma, OXO or KitchenAid, but my cheap plastic Norpro model has served me well for years). I like it pretty hot, but you can tone the heat up or down by adjusting the amount and variety of peppers you use.
1 pound cherries, pitted
2 Tbsp fresh basil, chopped
1/2 small onion, or 1 large shallot, chopped
1 or more hot peppers (jalapeño or your choice), seeded and minced.*
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
Black pepper and salt to taste
*I used three tiny, incendiary red peppers of unknown lineage, given by another gardening friend last year and ensconced in my freezer ever since. Peppers freeze remarkably well; just clean and chop them quickly before they go limp from thawing.
Throw everything but the salt and pepper into a food processor and pulse just until the cherries are coarsely chopped and all the ingredients are blended. Turn out into a non-reactive dish, taste and adjust seasoning. Refrigerate; served chilled as a side dish to meat, fish or poultry, or as a dip for blue-corn chips.