Recipe: Summer Cherries with Red Wine, Vanilla, and Cassis
As a teenager in the 1970s I didn’t have many hip Italian-American gal role models to turn to. I mean, I did love Connie Francis, her voice moved me, but she was not an inspiration for what I wanted to be, for the Catholic-free, Guido-free life I wanted to lead. When I discovered Laura Nyro it was love at first hearing and sight, even though she was in truth only half Italian. Everything about her was what I was looking for (except when she screeched her way up to some of those high notes; I have to admit I found that a little irritating).
I think my first taste of Laura Nyro’s music coincided, fittingly, with the blossoming of my adoration of red wine. Not my discovery of red wine—I’d been drinking it since I was a child—but my new very deep interest in it. That seemed right. She was an Italian art girl, so there was the non–Connie Francis order right there, and she sang about red wine (well, she sang about wine; she didn’t say it was red, but you knew it had to be). I could be an Italian art girl and drink a lot, and since it was red wine I fell in love with, nobody was too alarmed. That was what I was supposed to be drinking. Red wine wasn’t booze, it was nourishment.
I loved red wine and drank plenty of it, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Chianti in straw bottles, heavy Spanish wine with weekday meals, red wine that had screw tops and handles, but also serious wine, the bottles of Barolo and Amarone that Lou Mastellone, the liquor salesman who lived across the street, would bring to our house.
It was a turning point for me. Lots of possibilities, I knew, would grow out of the union of good music and good wine.
“Let’s go down by the grapevine, drink my Daddy’s wine, get happy.
Down by the grapevine, drink my Daddy’s wine, get happy, happy.
Oh, sweet blindness, a little magic, a little kindness.
Oh, sweet blindness, all over me.”
Laura, this recipe’s for you.
Summer Cherries with Red Wine, Vanilla, and Cassis
1 bottle fruity red wine, such as a non-oaky Sangiovese
¾ cup Cassis
¾ cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, split
2 strips lemon peel
2 pints sweet summer cherries, the stems left on
A handful of small basil sprigs for garnish
Place the red wine, Cassis, sugar, vanilla bean, and lemon peel in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Turn the heat down a touch, and let the mixture bubble until reduced by about ¾ (that should leave about a cup or a cup and a half of liquid). Let cool completely. When cooled it should have a the consistency of a loose syrup.
Put the cherries in a large bowl, and pour the red wine syrup over them. Give them a stir, and let sit for about ½ hour. When ready to serve, spoon the cherries with some of the wine syrup out into small bowls or wineglasses. Garnish with the basil sprigs.