Save Your Cherry Pits!
Because this dessert is sublime and probably won't kill you
I enjoy taking a purposefully minimalist Mark recipe and using it as a template to make something complicated, just for the sheer fun of it — and because I can. The process usually starts with a trip to Chino Farms or Specialty Produce to see what looks the most beautiful, taking it home, smoking a bit of a sativa, flipping through How to Cook Everything (I'm partial to the 20th anniversary edition), and daydreaming about how I want to prepare my haul. Lately, that haul has consisted of any and every variety of cherry I can find: rainier, black, bing, skylar rae, sweet memories. I actually squealed when I saw that “strawberry cherries” are a thing. I love getting a bit of each kind and tasting them side-by-side to get a better understanding of the flavor differences —you know, for science. But mostly as an excuse to eat lots of cherries.
There's nothing more luxurious to me than being able to inhale fistfuls of cold cherries without being encumbered by the pits. So, if you enjoy cherries in any capacity, you should get a cherry pitter. It is well worth the investment. I'm not usually a fan of a single-function kitchen tool — the egg slicer, the avocado scooper, the banana keeper— but a cherry pitter pulls its weight in the kitchen. Also, it's kinda fun? I'm a fan of zoning out and doing tedious kitchen activities (remember that “smoking a bit of sativa” bit I mentioned earlier?), so I find pitting cherries with a pitter to be deeply satisfying.
If purchasing a cherry pitter is not in your purview, The Internet is full of tricks using household items to get the job done. You can use a metal straw or a chopstick to push the pit through. I find this technique to be a little messy, and the fruit can get bruised from too much handling, especially if the cherries are a bit softer, but it'll work.
In my view, though, a better option is a paring knife and a little patience: cut each cherry in half and pluck out the pit, similar to pitting a peach. When I want to keep the cherries in perfect halves for “we eat with our eyes first” reasons (like this ombre cherry tart), this is my preferred pitting method.
If you're making a jam or a sauce, and the end-shape of the cherry doesn't matter, using your fingers to rip the cherries in half and pull out the pit also works.
Save the Pits!
In Alice Waters' Chez Panisse Fruit cookbook, she mentions cracking open stone fruit pits to extract the noyaux, the kernel in the center of the pit. Noyaux contains amygdalin, which when consumed raw can convert to cyanide and we don't want to die, so it's important to cook the noyaux before consuming. Alice says to roast the pits at 350°F for about 15 minutes, then use a nutcracker or a hammer to crack open the pits and extract the noyaux. For good measure, cook the noyaux for a few more minutes after they've been extracted to ensure all the amygdalin has been deactivated.
I made Mark's panna cotta recipe with the noyaux, omitting the vanilla and infusing the heavy cream for 10 minutes before discarding the kernels and continuing on with the recipe. The flavor is sweet almond at first, followed by a subtle bitter note that noyaux is known for. I used the pitted fresh cherries to make the raw version of Mark's Fruit Sauce: Recipes for both below.
Extracting the pits then roasting them, cracking them open to pluck out the tiny kernel inside is one of those seemingly insane culinary tasks (who ever thought of this, anyway?) that is its own reward. And of course, there’s that precious bitter almond flavor reward, too.
Noyaux Panna Cotta with Cherry Sauce
Makes: 4 to 6 servings
Time: About 30 minutes, plus time to chill