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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Until you add a vanilla glaze. The glaze is optional, but you’re going to want to add it. Yum.
1 ounce rich simple syrup, see note
¾ ounce (1½ tablespoons) lime juice, freshly squeezed
4 to 5 large strawberries
Note: To make rich simple syrup, combine ½ cup sugar and ¼ cup water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring, until mixture turns clear. Cool to room temperature before using. Store in a clean jar in the refrigerator.
Add the rum, simple syrup, lime juice, strawberries and 5 or 6 ice cubes to a blender and blend until smooth. Serve in a margarita glass or wine goblet.
Per serving: 171 calories; 1g fat; no saturated fat; no cholesterol; 1g protein; 18g carbohydrate; 14g sugar; 2g fiber; 2mg sodium; 20mg calcium
1 cup strawberries, stemmed and chopped
5 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
¹⁄³ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Combine the chopped strawberries, honey, apple cider vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper in a food processor or blender and puree until very smooth, about 2 minutes. Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
Per serving: 104 calories; 9g fat; 1g saturated fat; 0mg cholesterol; <1g protein; 6g carbohydrate; 5g sugar; <1g fiber; 300mg sodium; 5mg calcium
Recipe from Southern Living
Strawberry Agua Fresca
4 cups strawberries, sliced
8 cups cold water, divided
1 lime, cut into 10 rounds for garnish, optional
10 mint sprigs for garnish, optional
1. In a medium bowl, mix together sliced strawberries, sugar and 1 cup of the water. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4 hours.
2. Pour strawberry mixture into a blender. Blend on high until smooth. Pour this mixture through a strainer set over a large mixing bowl. Discard the pulp and seeds.
3. Add the remaining 7 cups cold water to the pureed strawberries, and mix well. Serve immediately over ice or refrigerate for several hours to chill. Garnish with lime rounds or mint leaves.
Per serving: 207 calories; 1g fat; no saturated fat; no cholesterol; 1g protein; 54g carbohydrate; 47g sugar; 3g fiber; 3mg sodium; 30mg calcium
Healthy Strawberry Oatmeal Bars
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
¾ cup whole wheat flour or all-purpose flour
¹⁄³ cup light brown sugar
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 cups small-diced strawberries, divided
1 tablespoon granulated sugar, divided
For the optional vanilla glaze
½ cup powdered sugar, sifted
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon milk (any kind)
1. Place a rack in the center of your oven and preheat to 375 degrees. Line an 8-by-8-inch baking pan with parchment paper so that the paper overhangs two sides like handles.
2. In a medium bowl, combine the oats, flour, brown sugar, ginger and salt. Pour in the melted butter and stir until it forms clumps and the dry ingredients are evenly moistened. Set aside ½ cup of the crumble mixture, then press the rest into an even layer in the bottom of the prepared pan.
3. Scatter half of the strawberries over the crust. Sprinkle the cornstarch evenly over the top, then sprinkle on the lemon juice and ½ tablespoon of the granulated sugar. Scatter on the remaining berries, then the remaining ½ tablespoon sugar. Sprinkle the reserved crumbs evenly over the top; you will have some fruit showing through.
4. Bake the bars for 35 to 40 minutes, until the fruit is bubbly and the crumb topping smells toasty and looks golden. Place the pan on a wire rack to cool completely.
5. When the bars are cool, prepare the glaze: In a medium bowl, briskly whisk together the powdered sugar, vanilla and milk until smooth. Add more milk if you want a thinner consistency. Using the parchment-paper handles, lift the bars from the pan. Drizzle with glaze, slice and serve.
Per serving (including glaze): 127 calories; 5g fat; 3g saturated fat; 12mg cholesterol; 2g protein; 20g carbohydrate; 10g sugar; 2g fiber; 22mg sodium; 14mg calcium
Strawberry Goat Cheese Bruschetta
12 slices Italian or French bread
1 pound strawberries, washed and diced
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, plus more for serving
1 cup goat cheese, room temperature
1. Heat vinegar in a small skillet or saucepan over medium-low heat. Simmer until reduced by about half, 8 to 10 minutes. Allow to cool to room temperature.
2. Prepare a grill, grill pan or broiler for high heat. Brush bread slices with oil and set aside. Combine strawberries and thyme in a small bowl and set aside.
3. Grill or broil bread until browned, about 3 minutes per side (about 1 minute per side if broiled).
4. Spread goat cheese on toasted bread. Add salt, pepper and reduced vinegar to the strawberry mixture. Spoon over the goat cheese-topped bruschetta. Garnish with additional thyme.
Per serving: 348 calories; 12g fat; 6g saturated fat; 17mg cholesterol; 15g protein; 45g carbohydrate; 9g sugar; 3g fiber; 990mg sodium; 99mg calcium
Strawberry Flambée Over Lemon Ricotta-Filled Crepes
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1½ cups all-purpose flour
Cooking spray (or a little additional butter)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups strawberries, hulled
½ cup fresh orange juice
Note: This recipe makes 18 crepes in a 6-inch skillet. Using a 10-inch skillet will result in about 6 or 7 crepes. The process is the same, but use about ¹⁄³ cup of batter for each crepe, and fill each one with ¹⁄³ cup of filling.
1. For the crepes: Put the milk and eggs into a blender and blend them thoroughly for just a few seconds. With the blender running at low speed, add the salt, melted butter and flour, in that order, through the feed hole in the blender lid. Blend until smooth. Refrigerate, covered, at least 30 minutes and up to 4 hours.
2. Heat a 6-inch nonstick skillet over low heat. Spray it with the cooking spray or grease with just a little butter. Pour a couple of tablespoons of batter in the center of the skillet and swirl the skillet around to make 1 thin, even layer of batter. The goal is not to brown the crepe but to cook it just enough to flip.
3. Once the crepe gets lacy around the edges and pulls away from the skillet, about 2 minutes, use a spatula to flip the crepe over. Cook the second side for only about 30 seconds, or not at all. Transfer the crepe to a large plate and repeat with the remaining batter. Once the crepes are cooked, they can be stacked and wrapped in plastic wrap for future use.
4. For the filling: Put the ricotta, citrus zests, vanilla and sugar into a medium mixing bowl and stir until smooth. The filling may be covered in plastic and refrigerated up to one day before serving.
5. Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Lay a crepe out on a clean surface, cooked-side down. Put 2 tablespoons of the filling in the center and smooth it out with the back of a spoon. Fold the crepe in half and then half again into a quarter. Repeat the filling and folding process with the remaining crepes and filling. Set the folded crepes on a cookie sheet and keep warm in the oven.
6. For the sauce: Heat a large sauté pan over high heat until warm. Add the sugar and strawberries and cook until the sugar starts to caramelize, about 5 minutes. Add the orange juice and Grand Marnier. Using a long-handled lighter, very carefully ignite the alcohol in the pan (stand back, as the flames may shoot up). Once the flames die out, stir in the butter.
7. To serve, arrange 3 crepes on each of 6 dessert plates and spoon some strawberry sauce over the crepes.
Per serving: 570 calories; 23g fat; 14g saturated fat; 162mg cholesterol; 19g protein; 72g carbohydrate; 43g sugar; 3g fiber; 160mg sodium; 285mg calcium
Recipe from “My New Orleans: The Cookbook” by John Besh
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening, such as Crisco
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped or chocolate chips
Wash and dry strawberries, leaving stems intact. In double boiler over hot, not boiling, water, melt shortening with chocolate. Dip in berries to cover about one-half of the fruit. Place on cookie sheet and refrigerate until set.
Per serving: 110 calories; 6g fat; 3g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 1g protein; 14g carbohydrate; 14g sugar; 2g fiber; 2mg sodium; 14mg calcium
Recipe from “Glamour’s Gourmet on the Run”
Strawberry-Blueberry Crumble Bars
1 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
½ teaspoon pure vanilla or almond extract
2 cups chopped strawberries
Juice and zest of 1 small lemon
½ cup toasted slivered almonds
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with foil or parchment paper, or prepare it with butter and a dusting of flour.
2. Prepare crust/topping: On low speed, combine granulated sugar, baking powder, flour and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer outfitted with a paddle. Add lemon zest, butter chunks, egg and vanilla or almond extract. Beat on low speed until the butter is evenly distributed in pea-sized pieces and the mixture is crumbly. (It should come together when pressed between your fingers.)
3. Dump about 2/3 of the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan. Use your fingers or the bottom of a glass to evenly press the dough into the pan, making sure to fill the corners. Set aside while you prepare the filling.
5. In a large bowl, gently stir together berries, cornstarch, sugar and lemon juice and zest until well incorporated. Spread the filling over the crust, then sprinkle the remaining dough mixture over the top of the berries. Sprinkle toasted almonds evenly on top.
6. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until the top is light golden brown and fruit looks jammy. Transfer pan to a rack to cool completely before cutting into squares.
Gretchen McKay, Post-Gazette
Dough for 10-inch tart (store-bought or your favorite recipe)
¹⁄³ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
3 pints firm, fresh, red, ripe strawberries, hulled, rinsed and drained
²⁄³ cup orange marmalade
¼ cup sliced almonds, toasted, see note
Note: To toast almonds, place in a skillet over medium heat. Stir and toss frequently until almond slices become a golden brown; they burn easily, so remove to a plate as soon as any of the slices becomes a dark brown, even if others are not yet golden.
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Roll out dough into a 10-inch tart pan; trim any excess. Prick all over with a fork. Place a piece of parchment paper or aluminum foil inside the crust and weigh down with pie weights, dry beans or uncooked rice. Bake 20 minutes. Remove parchment or foil and pie weights, return to oven and bake 10 more minutes or until golden brown (cover rim with foil if it begins to burn). Remove to a wire rack and allow to cool completely.
3. Heat the milk in a small saucepan until small bubbles form around the edge. Remove from heat and cover to keep hot.
4. Put the sugar and yolks in a mixing bowl or mixer and beat with a wire whisk or whisk attachment until the mixture is a golden yellow and forms a ribbon — when the whisk is lifted from the mixture, the excess will fall back onto the surface in what briefly resembles a ribbon. Using the whisk, stir in the cornstarch.
5. Slowly pour the hot milk into the egg-and-sugar mixture, beating constantly with the whisk. Return the mixture to the saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly with the whisk. Cook for 1 minute, stirring vigorously. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. If not using immediately, cover the surface with plastic wrap to keep a skin from forming.
6. Spoon the crème patissière (the egg-sugar-milk mixture) into the tart shell and smooth it over. Arrange the strawberries, bottom-side down, close together and symmetrically over the crème patissière.
7. Spoon the marmalade into a saucepan and add the water. Cook, stirring, until the marmalade is thinned. Put it through a strainer.
8. When the marmalade is cooled but still liquid, brush the berries with it. Sprinkle the almonds all over. Cut into wedges to serve.
Per serving (based on 8): 407 calories; 18g fat; 8g saturated fat; 95mg cholesterol; 6g protein; 60g carbohydrate; 34g sugar; 4g fiber; 181mg sodium; 92mg calcium
Adapted from “Craig Claiborne’s the New New York Times Cook Book” by Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey
Warm Strawberries With Baked Meringues and Vanilla Ice Cream
2 large egg whites, room temperature
¹⁄8 teaspoon cream of tartar
½ cup superfine sugar, see note
1 pound fresh ripe strawberries, hulled
¹⁄³ cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon grated orange zest
¹⁄³ cup fresh orange juice
For the final presentation
1½ pints good-quality vanilla ice cream
½ cup cold heavy cream (or premade whipped cream)
½ pound strawberries, hulled and cut into quarters, plus 6 for garnish
Fresh mint sprigs for garnish
Note: To make superfine sugar, place granulated sugar in a blender and mix on medium to high speed for 10 seconds. Leftover superfine sugar can be stored in an airtight container indefinitely.
1. Make the meringue discs: Preheat the oven to 225 degrees. Place racks in upper and lower thirds of oven. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Using a glass, jar or bowl as your guide, draw 6 circles on each sheet, each circle about 3½ inches (or smaller) in diameter. Turn the paper over; you should still be able to see the circles.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, or in a large stainless steel bowl with a handheld beater, beat the egg whites on medium speed until they begin to foam. Add the cream of tartar and 1 tablespoon of the sugar and continue to whip the egg whites at medium-low speed until they form soft, slightly dropping peaks when the beaters are lifted out.
3. Turn the speed to medium-high and continue to whip the egg whites as you gradually add the superfine sugar 1 tablespoon at a time. Beat until the meringue is shiny and holds stiff, upright peaks when the beaters are lifted out. Take care not to overbeat.
4. Drop spoonfuls of the meringue onto the circles on the parchment and use an offset spatula to spread them into even circles ¼- to ½-inch thick.
5. Bake the meringue discs in the oven for 1½ hours. Remove one disc and test for doneness; it should be stiff and crisp in the middle. If it is moist, bake for 30 more minutes. Turn off the oven and leave the meringues inside for 1 hour more. Remove meringues from the oven and, when they are completely cool, pack them carefully (they are fragile) in an airtight container and store at room temperature until ready to use. Crisp, dry meringues will keep for several weeks in an airtight container.
6. Make the strawberry sauce: Combine the strawberries, wine, sugar, lemon juice, orange zest, orange juice and star anise in a medium, nonreactive saucepan. Over medium-high heat, bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, then reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, cover and let the ingredients steep for 10 to 15 minutes.
7. Remove and discard the star anise and transfer the mixture to a blender. Blend until smooth. Place a fine-mesh strainer over a nonreactive bowl and, using a rubber spatula, press the purée through the strainer. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.
8. For the final presentation: If whipping your own cream, whip the cream in a chilled mixing bowl with a chilled whisk or a handheld mixer with chilled beaters. Beat at medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Set aside.
9. Pour the sauce in a medium saucepan. Over medium-high heat, bring it back to a boil, lower the heat and simmer until it thickens slightly. Gently stir in the hulled, quartered berries and cook until just heated through but still firm, about 3 minutes more.
10. Place a meringue disc on each of 6 dessert plates. Top each disc with a scoop of ice cream. Spoon the sauce with the berries around the ice cream and meringue. Top with another meringue disc. Garnish with whipped cream, strawberries and mint springs. Serve immediately.
Per serving: 405 calories; 18g fat; 12g saturated fat; 93mg cholesterol; 6g protein; 56g carbohydrate; 52g sugar; 2g fiber; 80mg sodium; 130mg calcium
Adapted from “Wolfgang Puck Makes it Easy” by Wolfgang Puck
Strawberry Rhubarb Bread Pudding
1 loaf (16 ounces) honey, whole wheat or sprouted 7-grain bread
2/3 to 1 cup strawberry rhubarb preserves or reduced-sugar strawberry fruit spread or preserves
2 cups whole milk (or a combination of skim milk and half-and-half)
1 can (13.5 ounces) unsweetened coconut milk (or 1 ½ cups heavy whipping cream or oat milk or more dairy milk)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Lemony Rhubarb Compote, warmed slightly for serving, see recipe
Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, optional
1. If bread is unsliced, slice it into 1-inch thick slices. Cut bread slices into 2-inch pieces. You should have 10 to 12 cups.
2. Heavily butter a 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Put the bread pieces in the pan in an even layer. Use a small spoon to evenly distribute dollops of strawberry rhubarb preserves over the bread pieces, using 2/3 to 1 cup of preserves.
3. Whisk eggs in a large bowl until smooth. Whisk in 2 cups whole milk, 1 can unsweetened coconut milk, vanilla, salt and nutmeg. Gently pour the egg mixture over the bread, making sure to moisten everything.
4. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Remove the plastic wrap and let the dish stand at room temperature while the oven heats. Bake until puffed and golden, 40 to 45 minutes.
5. Remove from the oven and dust heavily with powdered sugar.
6. Use a spatula to serve squares of the pudding on warmed plates. Top with a generous spoonful of the Lemony Rhubarb Compote. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream if desired.
Strawberries Dusted With Cardamom Sugar
¼ cup orange liqueur, such as Grand Marnier or Cointreau
2 (16-ounce) containers strawberries, hulled, left whole
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
Fresh mint sprigs, optional
1. Pour Grand Marnier into large bowl. Add strawberries to bowl and toss to coat. Whisk sugar and cardamom in small bowl to blend. Spread cardamom sugar on small rimmed baking sheet. Using slotted spoon and working in batches, transfer strawberries to baking sheet with cardamom sugar. Roll in sugar to coat well.
2. Divide strawberries among 6 wine glasses. Pour any remaining Grand Marnier from bowl over berries. Can be prepared up to 2 hours before serving; cover and chill. Garnish with mint sprigs, if desired.
Per serving: 120 calories; 1g fat; no saturated fat; no cholesterol; 1g protein; 30g carbohydrate; 25g sugar; 3g fiber; 2mg sodium; 25mg calcium
Recipe from “The Bon Appétit Cookbook” by Barbara Fairchild
2½ cups ripe strawberries
¼ cup jam (strawberry, raspberry or currant are good)
¾ cup crème fraîche or ¾ cup sour cream or ¾ cup sour cream mixed with ¼ cup heavy cream
4 sprigs fresh mint or basil
1. Cut off the bottom and top of each berry (you should have about 1¼ cups of tops and bottoms). Slice the centers of the berries and set aside. Push the berry tops and bottoms and the jam through a food mill or mini food processor until puréed. Mix the sliced berries into the purée, and refrigerate until ready to serve.
2. At serving time, put the cookies in a plastic bag and crush them coarsely with a rolling pin. Divide the crumbs among 4 glass bowls or goblets. Spoon about half of the berry mixture on top of the cookies. Stir the crème fraîche or sour cream to loosen it and spoon on top of the berries. Top with the remaining berry mixture. Garnish each mint sprig and, if you like, pass some crème fraîche or sour cream.
Per serving: 310 calories; 20g fat; 12g saturated fat; 60mg cholesterol; 3g protein; 30g carbohydrate; 19g sugar; 2g fiber; 64mg sodium; 20mg calcium
Adapted from “Fast Food My Way” by Jacques Pepin