Fresh Washington cherries are a signature summertime treat, and when they're in season I will often buy two bags at a time as they disappear quickly in our house.
Last week, while shopping for dinner, I picked up a couple bags and thought about how to incorporate them into a main course. My mind went immediately to pork, as its tender white meat pairs so wonderfully with fresh fruit. The weather was hot and sunny that day, and I wanted whatever I was making to be quick and easy, so I decided to grill a whole pork tenderloin and serve it with a fresh cherry salsa.
For the salsa, I created a mix of fresh, pitted cherries, minced shallots, fresh cilantro, lime juice, olive oil and grilled jalapeno. The grilling process helps mitigate some of the heat in hot chile peppers, and to further reduce the heat, if desired, simply scrape the seeds out from the grilled flesh before serving.
A cherry pitter is a great tool for removing the pits, as it moves cleanly through the fruit, thus preserving its round shape. After pitting, I halved each cherry and lightly tossed them with the other ingredients to create my salsa. This should be done at least 30 minutes before serving to allow the flavors to meld together, or up to 24 hours in advance. I made a double batch and used a food processor to make a salsa dip with the leftover salsa.
Pork tenderloin is an excellent cut of meat for grilling, as it cooks quickly and requires little advance preparation.
For this meal, I wanted to balance the sweetness of the cherries so I made a citrus-spice wet rub of garlic, salt, ground chipotle, lime zest, canola oil and lime juice, which I ground into a fine paste and rubbed over the entire pork tenderloin. This step could be done just before grilling, or up to one day in advance. I like a bit of heat, so I used a heaping teaspoon of ground chipotle, but you could start with ½ teaspoon and adjust it as desired, or use smoked paprika as a mild alternative.
To cook the pork, I set our grill to medium-high heat (about 375 degrees) and waited until it was hot before placing the meat on the grill. I brushed the grill generously with canola oil just before adding the meat, to help prevent it from sticking to the grate.
If you're like me, the hardest part of grilling is resisting the urge to lift up and disturb the meat before it has been properly seared, but it's always best to wait two to three minutes before checking the meat. I cooked the tenderloin over direct heat for about 13 to 15 minutes, turning occasionally, until it reached an internal temperature of 145 degrees. Always use a meat thermometer to ensure an accurate temperature reading, and let the meat rest for five to 10 minutes before carving into slices about a quarter-inch thick.
I arranged the sliced pork on a platter and topped generously with the fresh cherry salsa. The result was deceptively stunning and delicious for such a healthy and easy dish, and my guys just devoured this great new addition to our summer grilling season.
Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Fresh Cherry Salsa
1 pork tenderloin, about 1 ¼ pounds
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 limes, zested and juiced (about 2 tablespoons)
½ to 1 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper (adjust as desired)
Canola oil (for the grill)
Fresh cherry salsa (recipe below)
Set grill to medium-high heat (about 375 degrees).
Mash the garlic and salt together using a small bowl and spoon, mortar and pestle, or place the ingredients in a plastic bag and use a meat mallet to form a paste. Transfer ingredients to a small mixing bowl if necessary, and add the lime zest, lime juice and ground chipotle; mix until well combined.
Place the pork tenderloin in a baking pan and rub the paste all over until well coated on all sides. For best results, prepare the pork at least 30 minutes before serving, or up to a day in advance.
Once the grill is hot, brush some oil on the grates and then add the pork tenderloin. Let the meat sit for at least 2 to 3 minutes on the grill before turning, and cook for about 13 to 15 minutes, turning occasionally. To check for doneness, insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part; the pork is ready once it reaches an internal temperature of 145 degrees.
Remove from grill, cover lightly with tinfoil and let rest for at least 5 to 10 minutes before carving into slices ¼-inch thick.
To serve, arrange slices on a platter and cover generously with fresh cherry salsa.
Fresh Cherry Salsa
½ pound fresh sweet cherries, pitted and halved
½ cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
¼ cup shallots, minced
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 fresh jalapeno, grilled whole and seeded (if desired), cut into ¼-inch round slices or finely chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
In a medium bowl, combine cherries, cilantro, shallots, lime juice, jalapeno and olive oil and toss lightly until well mixed. Taste and add salt and pepper as desired. Set aside for at least 30 minutes for flavors to blend.
Serve with grilled meat, or blend mixture in a food processor until coarsely chopped to make a dipping salsa. Can be prepared up to 2 days in advance.
"Home With the Lost Italian" is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello's in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 11-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at email@example.com.