Posts tagged ‘strawberries’

Warning: This post contains decadence

Two-bite berryLate though it may be, strawberry season is finally upon us. And the strawberry lovers rejoice, and little chins drip red with sweet juice, and pint jars are sterilized for the making of jam.

I bought a half-flat of Seascape strawberries at the market this past weekend, with notions of making something special for a going-away barbecue I threw for some friends who are moving to the Virgin Islands. But it was a party, and there was socializing to do, so I wound up just rinsing them and passing around the green pasteboard cartons, to the delight of my guests. And perhaps it’s a sign that after 30 years the Willamette Valley is truly home, but I found myself feeling sorry that my friends would be moving to a Caribbean island where strawberries have to be shipped in from the mainland, and cost more than gasoline.

The berries didn’t all get eaten, though. And on Sunday night, with my visiting sister to egg me on, I used the last of them in a dish that had been tickling my imagination since I first read about it a few weeks back: Deep-fried strawberries.

Hush, now. I know what you’re thinking. This is not some grease-sodden variation of deep-fried Twinkies on a stick. This is pure, delicate strawberry indulgence, wrapped in a crisp-tender, egg batter that reminds me of my mother’s Sunday morning popovers. It’s a little fiddly, but the results are fabulous.

Trust me on this.

Deep-fried strawberriesDeep-fried Strawberries (with Honey Whipped Cream)

1 pint ripe strawberries, rinsed, hulled and patted dry.

Batter:

  • Oil for frying
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup white wine (I used a nice Oregon Pinot Gris)
  • 1 Tbsp vegetable oil of your choice (not olive oil)
  • Powdered sugar
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1Tsp honey

Method:

I don’t deep fry often enough to own an appliance for that purpose; I use my wok, because the slope of the bottom makes it easy to get the depth of oil required for frying without using quarts of the stuff. You can also use a heavy-bottomed saucepan.

Pour oil into the vessel of your choice to a depth of about three inches, and heat gradually to 300-350 degrees. A candy thermometer, the sort that clips to the side of the pan, comes in handy here. High heat is necessary to quick-seal the surface of the batter, which is what keeps it from absorbing too much grease.

Set a roasting or cake-cooling rack on a cookie sheet drain the berries after frying, or else several layers of paper towels.

Mix the batter: Combine dry ingredients in a bowl, then in a separate bowl (I use my Pyrex measuring cup) whisk together the egg, wine and oil until well blended. Whisk that into the dry ingredients until thoroughly blended; the batter will be fairly thick and not runny.

Dip the berries into the batter and swirl to cover throughly. I found a wooden barbecue skewer worked best for this. Transfer a few battered berries at a time to the hot oil and fry for about 60 seconds, turning once to brown evenly. As soon as the batter begins to brown, remove the berries from the oil and place on rack to drain off excess oil. Once all the berries are cooked and drained, arrange on plates and sprinkle lightly with powdered sugar. For extra indulgence, whip cream with honey until soft peaks form, and serve as a dip for the berries.

These are best eaten still warm, but not piping hot (as I discovered when I burned my palate on the first one). A pint ought to feed 3-4 people, but my sister and I ate them all, just the two of us, because we could.

The eggy-ness of the batter surprised me, but it makes sense: When subjected to high heat, the berries begin to give up their juice; the egg creates a sticky and somewhat water resistant batter; when it hits the oil it seals around the berries, containing their liquid. A different style of batter – tempura, for instance – would melt under the juice and dissolve into mush

June 23, 2008 at 9:11 pm 1 comment

Two things to do with strawberries

I managed not to eat them all straight from the pasteboard box, and as promised, here are some nifty things to do with really good strawberries. You know the ones I mean: Red and tender all the way to the heart, so fragrant they smell up your whole refrigerator, and sweet as a May morning. If you can’t get fresh, local berries, my condolences. Don’t bother with these recipes, or (for the panna cotta) substitute good preserves. Anything but those hard, red-on-the-outside, white-on-the-inside excuses for strawberries most supermarkets stock. They’re marginally acceptable when piled on shortcake and smothered in whipped cream, but not for any recipe that’s meant to show off the delicate strawberry flavor and fragrance.

The first dish was yesterday’s lunch, inspired in part by a desire to finish off the wonderful spinach I’d bought the week before. The second is a happy coincidence: I’m providing food props for a local theater production, and among them is “creme caramel” – but I’ve been substituting panna cotta, because its gelatin-and-cream base is more refrigerator-stable than the egg custard of real creme caramel. I had a couple of extras, so …

Salad with strawberries

Spinach salad with strawberries and balsamic vinegar

Ingredients:

Spinach
Ripe strawberries, sliced
A few spears of fresh asparagus, the smaller the better
Good balsamic vinegar
Freshly ground pink peppercorns
Sea salt

Method:

Tear greens into bite-sized pieces and spread on a plate. Arrange a few spears of asparagus, lightly steamed or roasted, on the greens. Top with a few sliced strawberries (I got cute and made strawberry fans by slicing from the tip not quite to the stem and then fanning out the pieces). Drizzle with a balsamic vinegar – less is better than more, here. Sprinkle with ground pepper and a tiny bit of sea salt.

If you’re not the kind of person who keeps pink peppercorns on hand, fresh-ground black pepper is good, too, but the pink variety has a subtle, floral flavor that goes wonderfully with berries and other fruit.

Panna cotta Panna cotta with caramel and strawberries

My recipe for this luxurious Italian dessert is adapted from one by Lynne Rosetto Kasper, host of the wonderful public radio cooking show, The Splendid Table. Hers makes enough for a big dinner party, so I’ve jiggered the proportions, and I’ve upped the gelatin-to-cream ratio just a bit to make them easier to unmold.

Ingredients:

1 tsp unflavored gelatin (that’s about half an envelope)
2 Tbsp cold water
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-dairy sour cream. Make sure to get the kind that lists “cultured cream” as its only ingredient. You don’t want agar or other thickeners in this. (Or ever, really).
Caramel sauce (make your own if you want, but I use Mrs. Richardson’s Butterscotch Caramel Sauce, which is to die for)
Strawberries, hulled

Method:

Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water in a small bowl. Let it stand for 5 minutes.

In a small saucepan combine the cream, sugar, salt and vanilla and warm over medium-high heat. Do not allow it to boil. Stir in the gelatin until thoroughly dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes.

Put the sour cream in a medium bowl. Gently whisk in the warm cream until smooth and thoroughly combined.

Rinse a half-dozen small ramekins, pyrex custard cups, or coffee cups with cold water. Place a spoonful of caramel sauce in the bottom of each, and then fill with the cream mixture. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours (can be made a day ahead of time, and if covered with plastic wrap once it’s chilled, it holds up well for a couple of days in the fridge).

When ready to serve, run a knife around the edge of the panna cotta, place a dessert plate on top of the ramekin and invert. It should plop right out onto the plate; if not, carefully run the knife up the side and gently pry it loose. Make sure to get all the caramel sauce out of the ramekin and onto the custard (a spoon may be needed). Top with ripe strawberries. Makes six small desserts.

I’ve got house guests coming this evening, and plan to ply them with berries and panna cotta. I don’t think they’ll mind

May 4, 2008 at 11:19 am 2 comments

Berries!

Look what I found at the Albany Farmers’ Market today:

First strawberries of the season

The first strawberries of the season, courtesy of Rick Steffens Farm in Silverton – who also brought asparagus, cauliflower and onions to the market this weekend. A good sign that despite the cool weather, foodcrops are coming along, and we should see more and more delicious things each week.

If I don’t gobble them all up just as they are, I may have a recipe or two. Stay tuned.

May 3, 2008 at 2:54 pm 2 comments


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