Jerry Traunfeld, acclaimed herb guru and chef formerly of The Herbfarm in Woodinville, and now of Poppy in Capitol Hill, has a couple cookbooks that are always bouncing around on my bookshelf… mainly because they get used so often that they have yet to find a comfortable resting place. For a chef who was known for creating elaborate nine-course masterpieces at the Herbfarm, his books are incredibly approachable for the home cook and often include a number of delicious dishes that are totally feasible on a weeknight. I apparently talk about his recipes enough that recently, when I said “He” in reference to a chef (without giving any preamble), Beryl simply assumed I was referring to Traunfeld. I’m a fan.
When the cherries exploded in the farmers markets this year, I was looking forward to preparing a dish from Traunfeld’s The Herbal Kitchen that uses fresh tart cherries. The problem was, I couldn’t find them anywhere! I went to the University and Ballard Farmers’ markets and they were filled with gorgeous bing and Rainier cherries… but no tart cherries to be seen. PCC and QFC were of no help either. Do these things go straight into cans or something? I’d love to get my hands on some so if anyone knows a reliable source, let me know in the comments.
The dish I had in mind was goat cheese handkerchiefs with cherries and sage: basically a large open ravioli like thing (a fresh pasta sheet boiled and then folded around a cheese mixture) with sour cherries briefly cooked with honey and sage. Feeling decadent, and lacking sour cherries, I decided to give it a shot with the Rainier cherries that I found at the market, as well as some fresh goat and ricotta cheeses from River Valley Ranch. It worked wonderfully, although I am still very much hoping to try this dish with tart cherries as well.
You can sometimes find sheets of fresh pasta at supermarkets or food shops, but if you have the time, you can’t beat homemade pasta. You can follow this recipe for fresh egg pasta and roll it out very thin with a rolling pin or a pasta machine. Traunfeld recommends pairing this dish with a riesling, which worked well for us. I chose a slightly drier riesling because of the sweeter cherries I was using. This makes a lovely romantic appetizer or light main course and can be halved if you only want two servings.
Goat Cheese Handkerchiefs with Cherries and Sage
Adapted from the Herbal Kitchen
2 oz soft mild goat cheese (1/2 cup)
½ cup whole milk ricotta
½ cup hot water
3½ Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup very small sage leaves, or larger leaves cut into thin strips
12 oz tart cherries, pitted and halved if large (or Rainier cherries)
1½ Tbsp mild honey
¼ tsp kosher salt
Eight 4-inch squares of fresh pasta
Heat your oven to very low and then turn it off. Crumble the goat cheese into a bowl, add the ricotta, and put it in the oven to warm. Combine the hot water and ½ tablespoon of the butter in a shallow dish and place it in the oven as well (this will hold the pasta once it’s cooked). Bring a pot of salted water to boil for the pasta.
Melt 1 tablespoon of butter with the sage in a skillet over medium heat, stirring until the sage wilts and turns a darker green color, about 2 minutes. Add the cherries, honey, and salt, and toss over heat until the cherry skins pop and release some juice, about 3 minutes more. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and stir over heat, until it melts into the sauce. Remove from heat.
Boil the pasta squares until tender but still firm, just a couple minutes. Lift them gently from the water (I used a kitchen spider) and reserve in the baking dish with warm water and butter.
To assemble the dish, take four of the pasta squares and lay them out on parchment paper or a baking sheet. Gently spread about a tablespoon of the warm cheese mixture in the center of each square and fold in half on the diagonal. Transfer the filled triangles in pairs to warm dinner plates, and repeat filling the second batch of pasta. Spoon the cherries and sauce over the pasta and serve immediately.