One of the best things about this time of year is that it is when strawberries become more readily available. I don't know if strawberries are actually my favourite berries - I would probably reserve that accolade for either raspberries or blueberries - but I do love strawberries. They just always seem kinda summery - their arrival on the shelves always seems to herald the onset of warmer weather. They are also suggestive of lollies, and, as such, manage to feel both naughty and treat-y and also virtuous...
They are a beautiful looking fruit - the tiny seeds on the outside of the rich, red berries. I love the texture of properly ripe strawberries - the firmness, and then the way they yield to your bite. I love their bright, sharp flavour - an almost citrusy bite that perfectly pairs with their sweetness.
My favourite way to eat strawberries is probably straight up - halved, tops cut off and served with icecream (Zany Zeus' delectable feijoa icecream is getting a workout at Chez Omni at the moment), or with cream (I like the Chantilly cream variant - whipped with vanilla essence and icing sugar). For the most part I don't reckon it ought to be necessary to add sugar to strawberries - if they aren't sweet enough, they probably aren't ripe enough.
Another favourite of mine is to soak the berries in freshly squeezed orange juice - this accentuates the citrusy qualities in the berry, and adds an interesting depth of flavour. I also like fresh mint with strawberries - it bolsters the freshness of the flavour (actually, I like fresh mint with a lot of things).
They are a traditional topping for the great Kiwi pavlova, and, equally, they are delicious on a strawberry tart or cheesecake. I'm not all that keen on cooked strawberries - I don't reckon strawberry jam is that much cop, though it is a good way to use up overripe fruit (let nothing go to waste, etc). Otherwise, I reckon cooking strawberries takes away much of what is so good about them - don't do it, unless you have to!
There are also less conventional uses of strawberries. They are surprisingly delicious with both balsamic vinegar and black pepper. And also with fresh basil - kind of unique flavours, and all quite delicious. I have just been reading about a Danish restaurant called Geranium which serves a savoury dish featuring green strawberries paired with strong, salty cheese and white asparagus (the Danes do seem to be rather leading the way with "new" cuisine at the moment - see also Noma). Strawberries also match nicely with salty feta cheese - try it, surprisingly good.
If my favourite berries are blueberries and raspberries, what could be better than a mixture of strawberries, raspberries and blueberries?! Dressed with some orange juice and fresh mint - whammo, berry fruit salad!
Given that the price of strawberries seems to always go through the roof at Christmas time, I reckon now is as good as any time to get stuck into strawberries. Whether you go traditionalist with a pav or cheesecake, or whether you pair them with basil, or cheese, or balsamic vinegar, or pepper, I reckon strawberries are always a warm welcome to summer days, barbecues and al fresco dining.
Do you love strawberries? How do you like to eat them? Any other outrageous or unusual pairings to go with them? Anyone else share my dislike of cooked strawberries? Has anyone gone down the savoury route with strawberries, a la Geranium's salad?
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Photo by 3268Zauber