PARIS -- If there's one berry that can make me swoon with crazy delight, it's the strawberry.
I resist -- oh, sweet temptation! -- to buy the first ones that appear in the grocery store, knowing full well that their white tops signal a not-quite-ready-to-be-picked berry, one that will be more sour than sweet. Impatiently, I wait a week or two, maybe more. Only then, when I can smell the berry's unmistakable sweet scent, do I put them in my basket, the season's first juicy treasures.
I know strawberries.
My grandfather had a strawberry patch as big as the eye could see on his farm outside of Ardmore, Okla. Every spring, we'd load up all of the cleaned and saved Borden milk cartons from the winter into our Buick station wagon, and we'd drive to Ardmore and pick berries until our backs ached and our fingers turned red. Because there were always more berries than any of us could eat, we'd line the cartons up on my grandparents' front porch in town, so neighbors could come by and pick up as many as they wanted.
Then we'd go inside and eat bowls of berries with cream. Perfect.
Keeping it simple is the key to the ultimate strawberry happiness. I like strawberries with a light dusting of sugar, or with a bit of marsala wine. Here in France, strawberries are often served with fresh, cracked pepper (try it -- it's amazing).
So with the less-is-more idea in mind, here are a few recipes that intensify the strawberry-ness without competing with the berry's innate fabulousness. Strawberry scones make a great Sunday brunch and need nothing more than a bit of whipped cream. Strawberry granita is one of the purest ways to enjoy strawberries -- and one of the easiest. Kids and grown-ups alike will love this dessert, especially as the weather gets warmer.
The arugula strawberry salad with pine nuts and shaved parmesan may seem like an unlikely mix, but it works perfectly -- the peppery arugula is a perfect contrast to the sweet strawberry; the salty, crunchy shavings of fresh parmesan add another note; and the balsamic vinegar works its magic on every component in the bowl, bringing it all together harmoniously. Finally, Eton mess is a silly-sounding dessert that's a take on the strawberries-and-cream classic, with the addition of broken meringues, traditionally served at the Eton-Winchester cricket match.
With roots in Oklahoma, and generations before that in Scotland, I'm sure my family would approve.
May you have a very strawberry spring, wherever you are.
Arugula-strawberry salad with pine nuts and shaved parmesan
This salad definitely has the "wow" factor -- it's crunchy, sweet, salty, peppery and creamy.
4 ounces arugula
3 ounces pine nuts, toasted
8 ounces strawberries, tops removed, sliced
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (I like a little more.)
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
Parmesan cheese, shaved
In a large bowl, toss arugula, pine nuts and strawberries with vinegar and olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Top with parmesan.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 173 calories, 15 grams fat, 7 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams protein, no cholesterol, 6 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber, 75 percent of calories from fat.
If you love biscuits (and who doesn't?), you'll love scones. They're light, fluffy and have chunks of sweet strawberries. You may add strawberry jam if you'd like, but I eat these simply with cream.
Makes 8-10 scones
2 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
4 tablespoons butter, cold
2 large eggs
1/3 cup cream
1 teaspoon lemon zest
8 ounces strawberries, dusted with additional flour
For whipped cream:
8 ounces cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in food processor bowl and pulse one or two times.
2. Add pats of very cold butter and pulse 3 or 4 times, or until you see large and small pebble pieces of butter throughout.
3. With the motor running, add eggs one at a time, cream and lemon zest.
4. Turn dough out onto a floured board, smashing it down a bit so it's a large, flat disc (about 1/2-inch thick). Put flour-dusted strawberries on dough and very gently fold other half of dough on top. Press down so the dough comes together, but not so much that the strawberries get smashed. Key here is to have a light touch and not to overwork the dough. Pat dough into a 1-inch thick circle and cut into 8 triangles (see note). Place on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet, and bake for 15 minutes, or until they begin to brown.
5. Make whipped cream: Pour cream in a clean, dry bowl and whip on medium speed. When cream begins to thicken, add sugar and vanilla and whip until it holds soft peaks.
Serve scones immediately with whipped cream.
Note: Use a pizza cutter to slice the dough. It's super-easy.
Nutritional analysis per serving, based on 8: 331 calories, 17 grams fat, 39 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams protein, 103 milligrams cholesterol, 329 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber, 46 percent of calories from fat.
One of the easiest desserts you'll ever make and one of the most delicious. Hold on to this recipe for the Fourth of July -- it'll cool off any 100-degree day.
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
16 ounces strawberries, rinsed, tops removed
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1. Make simple syrup: Heat sugar and water in a heavy pan on low. When sugar dissolves, remove pan and bring to room temperature. Set aside.
2. Put strawberries and lemon zest in a blender and pulse two or three times, just until the strawberries begin to make a puree (I like to have chunks of strawberries in my granitas, so I don't overblend). Taste and add as much simple syrup as needed (when strawberries are sweet and ripe, you may not need much, if any).
3. Pour strawberry mixture into a freezer-safe container with a lid. Every few hours, with a fork, scrape back the top. After about 6 hours, you should have enough scraped ice for granitas.
Nutritional analysis per serving, based on 10: 52 calories, trace fat, 13 grams carbohydrates, trace protein, no cholesterol, 1 milligram sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 2 percent of calories from fat.
Cowgirl tip: Make these the morning of your dinner party and just remember to keep scraping the icy strawberries all day long. Easy!
Don't let the goofy name fool you -- this dessert is crazy-good, and one that you'll want to make again and again.
12 ounces strawberries, sliced with tops removed
Whipped cream (see scone recipe, right)
8 lemon meringue cookies (recipe follows)
3 ounces pistachios, roasted and crushed
Divide sliced strawberries among four bowls with a dollop or two of whipped cream, and crunch up 3 or 4 meringue cookies in each bowl. You may want to do this in layers so you get a bit of cookie, strawberry and cream in each bite. Sprinkle with pistachios for an extra shot of color.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 285 calories, 20 grams fat, 25 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams protein, 50 milligrams cholesterol, 30 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber, 60 percent of calories from fat.
Lemon meringue cookies
I added the lemon zest especially for the strawberries, but you can leave it out and have plain old vanilla ones, or add chocolate chips or whatever else suits your fancy.
Makes about 60 2-inch cookies
4 egg whites
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla
Zest of one lemon
1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Whip egg whites for a minute or two, until they become frothy. As they start to thicken, slowly add powdered sugar. Then, add vanilla and zest. Beat until whites hold fluffy peaks.
2. On a parchment-lined cookie sheet, spoon about 2 tablespoons of meringue per cookie, about 2 inches apart.
3. Cook for 10 minutes, then turn oven to 200 degrees and cook for an additional hour. Remove from oven and let cool completely, for at least an hour.
Nutritional analysis per cookie: 17 calories, trace fat, 4 grams carbohydrates, trace protein, no cholesterol, 4 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber, 0 percent of calories from fat.