Drunken Cherries Recipe

I went to New York City last week for the Tokion Magazine 'Creativity Now' Conference. It was their first conference ever and had an ambitious line-up including Matthew Barney, Shepard Fairy, Christine Vachon, and Hello Kitty designer Yuko Shimizu. The hipster / cool kid factor was high -- as you might imagine.

So, when I wasn't at the conference, I had plenty of time to explore a few of the places I had plotted on my little fold-out map of Manhattan. The first night there I made a respectable effort to find Il Laboratorio del Gelato, but it was past 10pm, I had just stepped off the plane, and of course I got lost.

I did end up finding my number two choice which was a rice pudding parlor called Rice to Riches. They have a slick seemingly new storefront and make all different flavors, for ex: Passion Fruit, Maple, Banana, Pistachio. Yum.

But the rice pudding wasn't the highlight for me. Day two, I went to check out Otto, the enoteca / pizzeria. All you Mario Batali fans know what I'm talking about. It seemed to be in the village somewhere (at 1 5th Ave). Disclaimer: I can usually find my way to my destination, but that doesn't mean I know where I am -- the subway just adds to my sense that I am being tele-ported somewhere.

So, Otto....It was much bigger than I had imagined, with a bustling bar area up front and a couple of big rooms as you made your way back for sit down eating. To start I got a glass of wine -- for context, the menu at Otto is a single page of food options followed by three pages of Italian wines. The cheese plate I ordered was amazing. The three cheeses I chose were good - I got a ricotta, a triple creme, and I can't remember the third. I can remember the condiments that came with the cheese though, because they were stunning, scooped onto three tiny plates from big preserve jars: honey with shaved black truffles, Amarene cherries soaked until plump with brandy, and dried apricots with mustard seeds and what seemed to be red chilies.

I had a pizza margherita, and for desert had a mint gelato which tasted as if had been steeped with the mint directly from my back patio. It was perfect.

I remember there was a small cheese section in my Babbo Cookbook back home, and I was hoping the brandied cherries from Otto would be in there as an accompaniment. No such luck, but there was the recipe for these Drunken Cherries, which are made with a sweet vermouth, a bit of sugar, a vanilla bean and dried Michigan Cherries.

Cherries seem to fall into two camps: sweet and sour. I couldn't find dried Michigan cherries, but I was able to find dried sweet bing cherries, which looked enough like the picture in the book for me to go for it. I think Michigan Cherries are supposed to be sweet and plump. My cherries, didn't look as red, or as plump in the end but they were sweetish and tasty.

I essentially threw everything into a saucepan and simmered away for a while. You could smell the vermouth down the block, and god forbid anyone light a match. The instructions said to simmer until most of the vermouth liquid was absorbed, which took 30 minutes or so.

The cherries were good. The ones I had at Otto with the brandy, I liked better, and mine never plumped up the way they seemed to in the book (as you can see in the above picture mine look more like giant raisins). At Otto I could taste the cherry flavor beautifully through the brandy, whereas in this version the vermouth overpowered a bit -- we spilled a cupful of these onto a bowl of vanilla gelato, tasty, but next time I am going to try with brandy, and track down these magical Otto Amarene cherries.

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