I wasn’t really expecting them. Not yet. It wasn’t just that it had been so cold and rainy for so long, although that was a big part of it. It was more that it was only the first days of June. It seemed so early. But there they were, along with that other eagerly awaited assurance, beautiful and flavorful lettuce, that the summer growing season is, after all, coming to come again this year: strawberries. Surprise!
Of course, they are not cheap. Yet. Maybe never this year unless it stops raining and warms up some more. But at $5.50 a quart, worth every penny.
Not that you’re going to make a kettle full of preserves at this price. For that, we’ll wait to see what happens with the weather and the crop—meaning, to see if the price of that quart drops to $3.00 like, happily, last year. Or even $4.00. For now, there are other delights for a single quart, including that essential for the first-of-season, eating them out-of-hand. The old standby, strawberry shortcake. Strawberry ice cream, should we get the elusive hot day (we can dream, can’t we?). Or something as simple as a strawberry syrup for plain vanilla ice cream or pound cake, or an intense strawberry butter for slathering on biscuits or thick white toast, both started by simply pushing ripe strawberries through a sieve. Biscuits and strawberry butter are, in fact, just a deconstructed version of strawberry shortcake, a variation on the theme of simple biscuit dough, fruit, and cream—in this case churned beyond the whipping stage to fresh unsalted butter. It makes for a nice, quick, springtime breakfast or afternoon treat with lemonade or iced tea.
But confronted with strawberries and lettuce, an embarrassment of June riches, what else is there to do but join them—it is June, after all—in wholly flavorful matrimony. Sitting down to these first gifts of summer is as sentimental and life affirming as eating cake at a June wedding—preferably one held, and eaten, out on a Little Compton lawn. Pour the champagne, and say a toast to a new beginning. Summer, or life. They’re both the same.
Red June Wedding Salad
3 T extra-virgin olive oil, preferably organic, unfiltered (see Note)
1 T half-and-half or light cream
3 medium-large strawberries, trimmed of stems and crown
½ tea aged balsamic vinegar (see Note)
½ tea white balsamic vinegar (see Note)
¼ tea salt
6-8 twists of the pepper mill
1 head red Boston lettuce or other red leaf lettuce, washed and dried
In a small bowl. whisk the cream into the olive oil with a small whisk until combined. Slice the strawberries in half or quarters; you should not need to core them, as those awful white cores are virtually nonexistent in local berries, which are, deliciously, red right through. Using your little whisk, press down on the berries—local berries are soft—and whisk them into the oil/cream mixture until they have almost disappeared, turning the mixture an intense pink with a few flecks of red. If you want bigger pieces of berry in your dressing, stop when it is as you like. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Tear the lettuce into big pieces and place in a bowl. Pour about half the dressing in and toss; add more dressing gradually until the lettuce is nicely coated, with little red bits clinging to the leaves, but not saturated. The dressing will keep well in the refrigerator for several days; it will thicken, but may be used as is, or thin it a little by whisking in a few drops of warm water.
Note: Both organic olive oil and old balsamic are quite viscous—my balsamic, brought back from a trip to Italy, is like a thick syrup. If you do not have either, use regular extra-virgin olive oil, and you will likely need to use more vinegar (either regular balsamic and white balsamic or all balsamic) than is called for in the recipe—maybe 2 teaspoons total. Taste as you go. I am very fond of the Casa Pareja olive oil from Spain (where all the best olive oils hail from, in my opinion); I discovered this outstanding value oil while living in Philadelphia; you can mail order it from DiBruno’s if you cannot find it where you live.