Ripe, sweet-smelling strawberries are amazing. They are so beautiful that you can compose a still life scene worthy of painting just by putting them out on a nice plate or in a favorite bowl. They are simple to prepare as party food, great in fruit salad and a wonderful, edible garnish for a brunch food from eggs to pancakes to French toast. If you buy them carefully, keep them well and serve them graciously, you can make strawberries an elegant part of any meal.
Added bonus – strawberries are healthy. They do not contain fat or sodium and are a significant source of Vitamin C. In fact, 8 medium sized strawberries have only 50 calories and contain 160% of the average daily requirement of Vitamin C.
Buying strawberries – Size doesn’t matter, but color, condition and smell do. I find small strawberries are often tastiest, while others may prefer larger berries. Regardless of size, chose shiny, red berries. Unlike some fruits, strawberries will not ripen at home and do not last more than a few days, even under proper storage conditions. Do not buy them at the beginning of the week with white at their tops, thinking that they will ripen and be perfect for the upcoming weekend; they will just get moldy and you will have to throw them out. Check for stems that are bright green and perky. A brownish, limp stem is a sign that the berry is past its prime.
Use your nose. The good ones smell sweet. If a strawberry looks pretty, but does not smell lovely, then it is not going to taste like much. If you’ve ever bought strawberries that were artificially ripened and had absolutely no smell, you know what I mean. When strawberries are packed in clear plastic “clamshell” containers, turn the box over to see if the berries at the bottom are in good shape (not moldy or mushy). Don’t be shy about checking to make sure you are getting ripe, high quality berries.
Storing strawberries at home – Strawberries do not last more than a few hours at room temperature. Refrigerate them unwashed, preferably in a plastic container where they can be loose (not crammed together) in a single layer. If you wash strawberries before storing them, they will deteriorate almost immediately, so don’t do it.
Preparing strawberries – Wash berries gently just before using them. Then twist or cut off the green stem. If some of your berries are not in the best condition, you can still turn them into a delicious syrup by cutting away the bad parts and any white part in the middle of the berry, chopping the rest into small pieces,
then mashing those pieces into a pulp and mixing it with a small amount of sugar or orange juice.
If you want to impress a gourmet friend, tell them you have macerated strawberries. It is just a fancy word for mash or smoosh, but you may get big points for having such a high falutin word in your cooking vocabulary. You can pour the mixture over the good berries or use it as a dipping sauce with a bit of yogurt or sour cream.
Simple serving ideas –
- Strawberries dipped in balsamic vinegar - I know it sounds crazy, but try it. And then thank my son Liam, who brought the idea home from Italy where he first tried it. The better the quality of the balsamic vinegar, the better this unlikely combination tastes. Italian balsamic vinegar from the Modena region is the best to use for this purpose.
- Strawberries and sour cream with brown sugar – I can’t remember how I first learned of this combination. Mix a small amount of light brown sugar into several tablespoons of sour cream. My proportions are 1 teaspoon of light brown sugar to 3 tablespoons of sour cream. If you prefer a sweeter mixture, add a bit more sugar. Dip the small end of a strawberry into the mixture. Heavenly.
- Strawberry parfait – Layer strawberries, Greek-style plain yogurt, and lemon curd in a pretty glass to make a no-fuss parfait. I use Greek-style (low-fat) yogurt because it is thicker than other yogurts and has more calcium than most other types. Lemon curd is a tart but also slightly sweet, creamy pudding-like mixture of lemons, egg, butter and sugar. Home-made lemon curd is delicious, but rather complicated to prepare. You can buy perfectly fine lemon curd from stores that have gourmet jam or British products.) For one parfait, I use:
- ¼ cup yogurt,
- ¼ cup lemon curd, and
- ¼ cup chopped strawberries with a half strawberry on top.
If the yogurt and lemon curd combination is too tart for your taste, stir a tablespoon of sugar into the yogurt. Even using store-bought lemon curd, the cost for one parfait is only about $2 and it is an impressive dessert that does not require any baking or other advance preparation.
|Strawberries||$0.50||$2.50 for 16 oz (1 lb) container/$.15 per oz|
|Yogurt (Greek-style)||$0.32||$5.79 for 35.3 oz container/$.16 per oz|
|Lemon curd||$0.32||$4.19 for 10 oz jar/$.42 per oz|
Hope you enjoy strawberry season!