No Better Berry on Earth



"Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did." William Butler, a 16th-century physician, shares my view on the much beloved strawberry.

No wonder that strawberries grace the covers of most spring issues of food magazines, and that a number of restaurants declare a "Strawberry Week" in mid-May with special dishes on their menus. This year, however, due to the East Coast rains, the crop came later than usual.

Since childhood, the strawberry has delighted my senses — from a meltingly creamy scoop of strawberry ice-cream to a buttery round of shortcake, heaped with juicy strawberries and pillows of whipped cream. To this day, my favorite way of enjoying this luscious fruit is to eat it plain, taking time only to discard the hull.

Choose berries that are firm and uniform in color. Avoid those that have white "shoulders." Serve at room temperature for optimum flavor.

Sophisticated Strawberries

2 quarts ripe strawberries, hulled and quartered
1/4 to 1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp. coarsely ground black pepper
strawberry or vanilla ice-cream (optional)

One hour before serving, combine strawberries, sugar, balsamic vinegar and pepper in attractive serving bowl.

Serve as is, or scoop ice-cream into bowls and top with strawberry mixture.

Serves about 12.

Strawberry-Shortcake Ring

2 pints strawberries, hulled and halved
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

2 cups flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3 Tbsps. brown sugar
1 stick cold butter, cut into small pieces
2/3 cup milk
2 tsps. sugar
1 cup heavy cream
2 Tbsps. powdered sugar

For Strawberry Mixture: In a large bowl, combine three-fourths of the strawberries with 1/2 cup sugar and vanilla. Mash lightly with a fork and let stand about 1 hour, covered in the refrigerator.

To Make Shortcake: Preheat oven to 425°. Butter an 11×6-inch baking sheet.

Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and brown sugar. Cut in butter until mixture resembles corn meal. Stir in milk until mixture forms a dough.

Drop dough in 8 mounds onto baking sheet, letting mounds touch to form an eight-inch ring. Sprinkle with 2 teaspoons of sugar.

Bake about 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden. Transfer the shortcake ring to a cooling rack and let cool.

Cut the top quarter off the entire shortcake ring with a serrated knife. Transfer the bottom to a serving platter.

Spoon the strawberry mixture over top.

Beat cream with sugar just until soft peaks form, then fold in the 1/4 cup reserved strawberries.

Spoon the cream mixture over the strawberry mixture.

Cover with the top of the ring.

Serves 8 to 10.

Strawberry Strip

1 lb. pareve puff pastry, store-bought or homemade
3 cups strawberries, hulled and quartered
2 cups strawberries, hulled and left whole
1 egg, plus 1 yolk, lightly beaten
2 Tbsps. powdered sugar
3/4 cup strawberry preserves
1 Tbsp. pareve kirsch or raspberry liqueur

Preheat oven to 375°.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Roll the dough into a rectangle approximately 15 inches long and 10 inches wide. Place on baking sheet.

Brush the long edges with water and fold toward the center. Cut a thin strip from each side so that the border is in two separate layers.

Brush the borders with egg. Prick the center with fork and score borders with sharp knife to make a design. If dough has gotten too soft at this point, place in the freezer for a few minutes.

Bake for 25 minutes, or until golden-brown. If center puffs too much, push it down. Let cool.

Fill the center with quartered berries and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Place whole berries on top.

Melt the preserves with kirsch and strain to make a glaze. Brush the top with the glaze.

Serves about 10.

Spinach-Strawberry Salad

Dressing Ingredients:

1 Tbsp. honey
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 Tbsps. fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsps. balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil

8 cups baby spinach
1/2 small red onion, sliced thin and separated into rings
2 cups strawberries, hulled and quartered
1/2 cup sliced toasted almonds
salt and pepper

In a small bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients until well-blended.

In a large bowl, combine the remaining ingredients.

Toss with dressing, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 6 to 8.

Louise Fiszer is a California cooking teacher and food writer. E-mail her at: [email protected].


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