3 Words

3 Words: Swap In Berries

When it’s just not hot enough for tomatoes, consider blackberry marinara

Photos: Kerri Conan

Here in the Pacific Northwest, berries, cherries, and even stone fruit have a much longer season than tomatoes. This took some getting used to, especially since my general rule is to favor local in-season produce. Now three summers in, I’m learning to go to sauce — and other typical tomato recipes — with the fruit we have.

Turns out blackberries make a surprisingly fresh marinara. I’d written about using them on pizza before, where they brought a strange and wonderful sweet tartness to pie. But this was the first time I’d tried them with pasta.

I started by softening chopped shallots and garlic in lots of olive oil, then tossed in a couple of pints of berries, which behaved exactly like halved cherry tomatoes or chopped heirloom slicers, only without the sometimes-sort-of-tough skins.

Within minutes, the fruit started melting into a sauce. The seeds were more noticeable than tomato seeds but added a pleasant bitter nuttiness.

That’s whole wheat fusilli tossed in the sauce, along with a mix of Parmesan and asiago, black pepper, and a fair amount of chopped fresh oregano from our garden. (Basil or parsley would have been good, too.) The cheese brought the right sharpness, but next time I’ll try starting by browning a little hot sausage or pancetta. Cashew butter would deliver an excellent vegan option.

Balsamic strawberries — with plenty of black pepper and maybe some ricotta or goat cheese — have been a thing for a while. Bing cherries are even better to macerate this way. They’re not as sweet as Rainiers and stay firmer, more like cherry tomatoes. Pit them by smashing down with the flat side of a wide blade; the fruit remains almost intact.

Splash on some balsamic vinegar, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and give it a stir. Then pop them in the fridge for up to several hours.

Later, I added olive oil to the accumulated juices to make a dressing for a salad. You could also drizzle a spoonful on simply cooked salmon, chicken, or pork.

Now I can’t stop. Show me a bowl of fruit, especially if it’s too over-the-top to eat raw, and I treat ’em like tomatoes. That’s how these farmers market apricots found their way into a skillet of quick-braised cabbage and dill.

Cookbook developer, longtime Mark Bittman colleague, home economics advocate.

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