Strawberries are the stars of the season | Food and cooking

Now, right now, strawberries are their strawberriest.

Ripe, luscious and dripping with juice, strawberries are nature’s way of welcoming us back to another bountiful season of planting and harvesting. They are like a little gift — an amuse bouche, if you will — to thank us for our patience during a long and barren winter.

And as is so often the case at many fine restaurants, the amuse bouche turns out to be the best part of the meal.

Inspired by the little red nuggets of culinary gold, I set out to make six recipes in which strawberries were the star. They include an hors d’oeuvre and a salad dressing, a baked good and two drinks (one boozy, one not) and a dessert.

Ordinarily, I would save the dessert for last, but I want to tell you about it first because I am so excited about it. It is a restaurant-quality dish (not surprisingly, it was created by a restaurant chef) and it will leave you the toast of your family, friends and guests. It’s that good.

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It’s also a bit of work, to be honest. But each part of the dish is easy to make, and you can do most of it the day before. And then, when you are ready to serve it, all you have left is to whip up a simple sauce. And then flambée it.

Strawberry Flambée Over Lemon Ricotta-Filled Crêpes is the kind of dessert that will give you a lifelong reputation as an exceptional cook. And all you have to do is master three simple parts.


First, you make the crepes, which are just a thin batter (flour, milk, eggs, melted butter) cooked briefly on a hot pan. Next, you stir together a filling for the crepes (ricotta cheese, sugar, vanilla and the zest of a lemon and an orange).

Finally, you make a sauce by heating together strawberries, sugar, orange juice, butter and Grand Marnier. When the alcohol is hot, light a match to it and watch the flames dance in delight. It should be impressive, but in the version I made the flames were a little hard to see.

It doesn’t matter. The taste was amazing.

If you prefer your strawberry dishes to be fast and easy, I recommend using the fruit to make drinks. Hardly anything on earth is more refreshing.

Strawberry agua fresca is just a sweetened strawberry-flavored water, and it is delightful. It doesn’t take long to make, but you do have to let it sit for a few hours. If you know it is going to be hot later in the day, or the next day, I can’t think of anything more cooling.

Strawberry Agua Fresca

It’s the sort of drink that will make you want to mow the grass in the hot sun just so you can come inside and drink a tall glass of it.

If an adult beverage is more your style, nothing is more summery than a frozen strawberry daiquiri.

You just need rum, of course, and strawberries, plus an extra-sweet simple syrup (it takes perhaps two minutes to make) and a significant splash of lime juice to bring just the right slap of tart citrus to the sweet drink.

Strawberry Daiquiri

Add a handful of ice cubes, throw it all in the blender and you will have a lightly boozy slushie to remember.

I have a homemade salad dressing that I adore, but it would be a waste of the season in the spring and early summer not to make a dressing with strawberries.

The one I made was bright and full of the flavor of strawberries. Along with the berries and olive oil — and salt and pepper, of course — it only requires the sweet-tart combination of honey and apple cider vinegar.


Strawberry Vinaigrette

The dressing tastes fresh and pure, and it is a superb way to use strawberries that are just a little overripe. Best of all, it comes together in a matter of minutes.

You probably already know how well strawberries pair with balsamic vinegar; sometimes I just mix the two and serve it over vanilla ice cream for an unexpectedly elegant dessert. But they also can be combined for a notable hors d’oeuvre, especially when paired with creamy goat cheese and deliciously crisp charred bread.

The secret to Strawberry Goat Cheese Bruschetta is that the balsamic vinegar is cooked until it is reduced by about half, which makes it extra good because it is syrupy and intense in flavor.

Strawberry Goat Cheese Bruschetta

The reduced vinegar is mixed with diced strawberries and spooned on top of tangy goat cheese, which has been spread on thin slices of grilled or broiled French or Italian bread. I used a grill pan for mine; it’s a skillet with raised lines that mimic the effect of a grill when cooking on a stove.

A light sprinkling of fresh thyme leaves is all the bruschetta needs to tie the flavors together.

My final dish is a baked good that is actually low in calories. Healthy Strawberry Oatmeal Bars are made with butter, brown sugar and whole wheat flour — along with old-fashioned rolled oats and strawberries — and yet they only have about 100 calories apiece.


Healthy Strawberry Oatmeal Bars

Until you add a vanilla glaze. The glaze is optional, but you’re going to want to add it. Yum.