Sunday, June 22, 2008
Strawberry Season Par Excellence
Once again, the first strawberries are here, and they are de-licious. The best in years. Red-ripe through and through, not a speck of white at the shoulder, juicy, sweet, with a glossy red brightness that only the freshest berry has, and only for a the fleetingest time. While I usually eat my berries sliced with cream and a little sugar, this year they truly are so good that I have been eating them plain, held by the stem and chewed down to the little frill of a crown. This is really saying something for someone who generally prefers her fruit cooked, in the form of a pie or at least a jam.
Not that this year’s strawberries would not make up admirably well in both cases, and right now is a good time to pick quarts and quarts of them at a farm if you want to make jam. (And if you don’t, you can go to one of the many local strawberry festivals and buy it, with a little shortcake for your lunch). On the pie front, I have an old recipe that calls for pureeing strawberries and combining them with gelatin, which forms the base, to be topped with meringue. It is old fashioned, pretty, and good. My old boss Gary used to make a pie with cornstarch-thickened mashed strawberries topped first with a mixture of cream cheese and sour cream and then fresh whole strawberries. And I absolutely love a true strawberry tart with a pastry cream base and an all-butter crust.
Still, less is more this year. To showcase the berries with minimal adornment, you could simply douse them with a little aged balsamic vinegar, pepper, and mint. Or for something slightly fancier but still completely simple, try these marinated strawberries. Purchase your fresh-picked strawberries the day you want to eat them and do not refrigerate! I don’t even wash them—I just wipe away any specks of dirt with a slightly damp paper towel—but you can rinse them briefly if you must.
Strawberries in Red Wine
Make these up before you sit down to dinner, and they will be ready for your dessert. Do not refrigerate, which would damage the texture. Although 5 minutes in the freezer won’t hurt if you like a little chill. Serves 3.
1 pint perfect strawberries
1 tea lemon juice
A few thin slices of lemon rind
Scant 3 T fruity honey, such as raspberry
½ cup good-quality light red wine
Tiny pinch of salt
2 large mint leaves (optional, but nice)
½ cup heavy cream
1 tea Triple Sec or Cointreau (optional)
Wipe the strawberries clean of any dirt, and remove the stems and leaves, reserving a few tiny ones whole for garnish if you wish. In a small bowl, place the honey and stir in the lemon juice and rind. Add the strawberries; you can leave them whole if they are small, otherwise slice them in half or quarters. Toss gently and let them stand about 10 minutes; add the wine and, if using, the mint leaves and let stand another 10 minutes minimum, or up to perhaps 45 minutes. Whip the cream to a light, soft, ploppy stage, adding a little honey and the liqueur to taste, and serve it alongside or on top of the berries. Little glass or white dishes are pretty.