June 26, 2013

The Maine Ingredient: Fresh strawberries make it official: Summer!

Let the strawberry binge begin! The ruby nuggets of sweet, juicy flavor are a perfect testimony to the joys of eating locally.

click image to enlarge

Eaten straight from the garden, garnishing a drink or topping a salad or dessert, fresh Maine strawberries say “summer,” and they’re nearing the peak of ripeness now.

Courtesy photo by Elizabeth Poisson

There is nothing that compares to a period of strawberry abstinence to whet the appetite for a full-fledged gorging on strawberries.

Picked fresh and eaten directly in the garden so that the warmth of the sun seems to swirl in your mouth, strawberries ensure that eating locally couldn't be more heavenly or more rewarding.

I have this very vivid memory of the first time one of my daughters ate strawberries. The day was sunny, the strawberries were just emerging in the garden and I picked the first of the season for her to try. As she chewed, her body became animated and then her fingers splayed in extreme excitement, almost shaking to have the next berry, as if to say, "Where have you been all my life!" When she'd finally had enough, her strawberry-smeared face and hair had taken the brunt of her enthusiasm and her face was recognizable only thanks to her blue eyes. Funny, I feel like that every time strawberries come back into season.

Whether eaten straight from the garden, fresh in a drink, a salad or a dessert, or baked as in pound cake, strawberries are one of those quintessential fruits that herald the true beginning of summer. They don't lie. They'll only burst with color and flavor when the weather turns warm and sunny. And what a beautiful treat they are.

STRAWBERRY AND WHITE LEMON BALSAMIC TONIC

I'm a huge fan of Fever Tree tonic water. Its bubbles are smaller with a little more tang and quinine flavor than some others. The tonic is just lovely balanced with the bright, sweet strawberries and the white lemon balsamic. In the summertime especially, I use white balsamic in every instance where I would use lime or lemon. Tonic and lime is one of my favorite summer refreshers and super special with this white balsamic. The balsamics that I use are from Fiore and they offer huge bursts of guaranteed flavor.

Feel free to add a shot of gin.

1 tall drinking glass

Enough ice to fill the glass 2/3 full

11/2 teaspoons Fiore Sicilian Lemon White Balsamic (or other lemon balsamic)

1 8-ounce bottle of tonic water

2 strawberries, thinly sliced

Add the ice to the glass and drizzle the balsamic over the ice. Tip the glass to the side and pour the tonic water down the inside of the glass to reduce the amount of foam generated. Add the strawberries and stir once or twice with a long spoon. Find an Adirondack chair. Sit. Enjoy.

Serves one, but make as many as you like!

 

STRAWBERRY, WALNUT AND KALE SALAD

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 pound baby kale, rinsed and dried

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

11/2 cups thinly sliced strawberries

1 cup walnuts

Rub the kale with olive oil and salt and pepper. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and toss. Sprinkle with strawberries and walnuts and serve immediately.

Serves four.

 

STRAWBERRY, BLACK PEPPER AND ORANGE POUND CAKE

CAKE:

11/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 cup sugar

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons freshly grated orange zest

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup milk

11/2 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and cut into quarters

GLAZE:

3 tablespoons fresh orange juice

1/3 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease one loaf pan. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar, adding the eggs one at a time, and mixing well after each. Add the orange zest and black pepper.

Add the dry ingredients, alternating with the milk (about one third at a time), and mix into the sugar/egg mixture, ending with dry ingredients. Fold in the strawberries and spoon the batter into the pan. Bake 1 hour and 15 minutes, until the pound cake springs back when lightly pressed in the center. Leave the cake in the pan.

When the cake is out of the oven bring the glaze ingredients to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Pierce the top of the hot cake several times with a toothpick and pour the orange mixture over the cake. Cool completely, and remove from the pan.

Makes one loaf of pound cake.

Anne Mahle of Rockland is the author of "At Home, At Sea." She can be reached at chefannie@mainewindjammer.com

 

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