Impress your date with a rich duck and cherry ragù. This month’s featured On The Table recipe is fresh and hearty, featuring basil and Northern Michigan cherries.

Like many in this region, we live adjacent to a cherry farm. Every July, our neighbor invites us to pick cherries just as soon as he is done shaking the trees. At his encouragement, my kids grab the biggest bucket they can find. My stipulation? They can only pick as many as they are willing to help pit—a process that can drag on for a few days. Anything we can’t use fresh goes into the freezer, offering a welcome taste of summer all winter long.

Cherry and duck ragu plate.

While our frozen stash typically winds up in after-school smoothies, one particularly wintery thing I like to cook is this rich, complex duck and cherry ragù. Duck and cherries are a time-honored food pairing. For this recipe, I marry the French technique of duck confit with my Italian great-grandmother’s dark, meaty spaghetti sauce. Don’t have a stash of cherries in your freezer? The folks at Michigan Farm to Freezer did all that pitting for you.

While brining duck legs and rendering their fat isn’t hard, it does take time. But what better way to spend a few winter days than tending a long, slow simmer? Hot tip: Valentine’s Day is on a Monday this year. Grab some duck legs on your way home from work on Friday and I promise your sweetheart will be impressed all weekend long.

Related Read: Searching for more meal inspiration? View our full collection of On The Table recipes.

Duck and Cherry Ragù Recipe & Directions

Makes 5 cups

  • 2 skin-on duck leg quarters, about 11⁄2 pounds, thawed
  • 1⁄4 cup coarse salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 4 sprigs fresh oregano
  • 2 6-ounce cans tomato paste
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 cups frozen cherries, sliced
  • 1 28-ounce can whole, peeled tomatoes
  • Pappardelle noodles
  • Fresh basil
  • Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
Two plates of Cherry and duck ragu

1. Working over a storage container just large enough to hold both duck legs, massage salt into the drumstick and then roll the flap of fat around the leg to hold the interior salt in place before salting the outer skin as well. Snugly place the salted legs into the container and top with a few grindings of black pepper, garlic, thyme and oregano. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

2. In the morning, brush the salt off the duck with a paper towel, reserving the garlic and herbs. Set the leg quarters, skin side down, into the bottom of a Dutch oven and cook on the stove over medium-low heat until enough fat is rendered to begin pooling in the bottom of the pan—about 7 minutes. Without preheating it, turn the oven on to 250 degrees and transfer the pot, uncovered, to the oven. Cook the duck until the meat is pulling away from the leg bone and the skin is crispy—about 2 1⁄2 hours.

3. Set the duck on a plate to rest. Pour the duck fat into a measuring cup, putting 1⁄2 cup of fat back into the Dutch oven and reserving additional fat for another use. Place the Dutch oven on the stove over medium heat, add the tomato paste to the duck fat and cook for 10 minutes, stirring from time to time. Add the onion and cook until translucent—about 5 minutes. Mince the reserved garlic and add it to the pot. Stir in the cherries and the can of tomatoes with their juices, reduce the heat to low and partially cover.

4. Using your fingers, remove the duck meat from the bone. Discard the skin and smaller bones but reserve the 2 large leg bones. Pull the duck meat into bite-size pieces, producing about 2 cups of meat. Place the meat and the 2 large bones into the Dutch oven and stir to combine, breaking apart the tomatoes with the side of a wooden spoon. Pull the reserved herb leaves from their stems and add the leaves to the pot. Cover and simmer for at least 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

5. Once the ragù is dark in color and the flavors have melded into a rich, complex sauce, remove from the heat and discard the bones. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste, remembering the salty duck brine that is already in the pot. While the sauce rests, cook the pappardelle according to the package, toss the drained noodles in the ragù and serve topped with torn basil and grated Parmesan.

Two plates and cheese with cherry and duck ragu

Stacey Brugeman is a Leelanau County-based food and beverage writer and editor. Her work has appeared in Food & Wine, Saveur, Travel + Leisure, Eater and Denver’s 5280, where she served as Restaurant Critic. Follow her on Instagram @staceybrugeman.

Photo(s) by Dave Weidner