We buy California strawberries all year long – and in winter, strawberries from Florida – and they are all quite good. Strawberries are unique among berries. They can be cultivated in a broad range of soils and climates so they are harvested fresh, somewhere, every month of the year. Several years ago when we visited Prince Edward Island, the strawberry season hit in July.
The really good news is that these scarlet gems, considered the most perfect fruit, are currently locally grown and overflowing at farmstands and farmers markets. They are deliciously sweet and I’ve been gorging on them like candy, piling them into my cold cereal bowl in the morning and puréeing them into a sauce. Their sweet juice fills the mouth with the most satisfying flavors. Best of all, they are a good source of vitamin C, and eight strawberries have only 50 calories and practically zero fat.
So join the band of berry pickers at farmstands or pick them up in quart-size baskets at your local famers markets. Use local berries within a day or so of purchase as perishability is a problem. Keep them cool and dry, and do not wash any berries until ready to use. Here are a few ways to enjoy the delicious flavors of local strawberries in their fleeting season.
STRAWBERRY AND SPINACH SALAD WITH HONEY VINAIGRETTE
To toast sesame seeds place them dry in a small non-stick skillet and move pan slowly over low heat
for a few minutes until seeds are lightly colored.
Serves 4 to 5
1 1/2 cups hulled and thickly sliced strawberries
1/2 pound fresh spinach leaves, washed and drained
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon honey
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Toasted sesame seed garnish, optional
1. Prepare the berries and the spinach leaves for the salad.
2. In a mixing bowl combine the balsamic and rice wine vinegar, honey, mustard, salt and pepper to taste and stir to mix. Can be prepared ahead.
3. Toss spinach with the dressing. Add strawberries and carefully fold into the spinach. Divide equally onto 4 to 5 plates and garnish with toasted sesame seeds.
STRAWBERRIES IN SIMPLE SYRUP
With so many strawberries hitting the East End at this time of the year,
I will stew a batch to serve over pound cake, yogurt or ice cream.
For 1 1/2 pounds strawberries I yielded about 1 1/2 cups.
1 1/2 pounds fresh strawberries, hulled and rinsed
1 1/2 cups cold water
1/2 cup sugar
1. Halve the strawberries and set aside.
2. Place water and sugar in a medium-size saucepan and bring to the edge of a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Adjust heat to medium-low and simmer the liquid until slightly syrupy, about 10 to 12 minutes. Add the strawberries. Stir into the liquid and with cover ajar; simmer for 6 to 8 minutes. Strawberries should be tender to the touch of a spoon or fork when done. If there is a fair amount of liquid left in the pan, remove the strawberries with a slotted spoon and continue to cook the syrup until slightly thickened. Can’t give you a time on this, just watch carefully (sugar burns) and stir until desired consistency. Return the strawberries to the syrup, transfer to a suitable container and refrigerate until ready to use. They’ll keep!
STRAWBERRY RHUBARB CRISP
Rhubarb, with its characteristic tart flavor, is a vegetable that parades as a fruit,
and is in perfect harmony with sweet ripe local strawberries.
Serves 6 to 8
For the filling
1 1/2 pounds rhubarb, trimmed and sliced (leaves discarded)
1 pint strawberries, rinsed, hulled and quartered
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
For the streusel topping
1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup light or dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 stick unsalted butter, cubed
Crème fraîche or vanilla ice cream, optional
1. In a mixing bowl, combine rhubarb, strawberries, sugar and vanilla. Toss gently to mix and allow to macerate for 30 minutes for flavors to meld. Add cinnamon and flour and toss gently to mix well. Set aside.
2. In bowl of electric mixer set on low or in a mixing bowl, mix the streusel ingredients just until blended and crumbly. Streusel mixture can be prepared several days ahead. Refrigerate in a suitable container.
Preheat oven to 350° F.
3. When ready to bake, place the strawberry rhubarb filling in a large shallow baking dish. Cover the fruit mixture generously with the streusel and bake for 20 to 30 minutes until juices are bubbly and top is a bit crusty. Serve warm with a dollop of crème fraîche or vanilla ice cream, if desired.
Note: The dish can be prepared ahead and reheated before serving.