strawberry fields forever

Strawberries are one of my favourite fruits. The local season is starting now and continues throughout summer. Visit a weekend farmers market or make a trip to a berry farm to experience the flavour of perfectly ripe local strawberries.

There are several varieties of strawberries grown commercially, so it’s worth a chat with your grocer to note the name of the ones you like (as it’s not always on the punnet).

When selecting strawberries, remember that bigger isn’t necessarily better. Small strawberries are equally as sweet and juicy as large ones. The perfect strawberry should be fully coloured (with no white or green), firm, bright, plump and shiny. The cap (calyx) should be green and fresh looking.

To store strawberries, remove from the punnet and place in a large container lined with absorbent paper. Store in the fridge, loosely covered. Wash berries, then remove calyx just prior to serving. For maximum flavour, serve strawberries at room temperature.

When making jam, use fruit that is a bit under ripe to help the jam set. Strawberry jam is notorious for not setting, as the berries are low in pectin. However, I found that making a small quantity worked well.

For a special dessert, the rhubarb and strawberry crostata is one of my favourite recipes. I think it’s best made with small sized strawberries. Not only is it quick and easy to make, it looks impressive.

And for a twist on the classic combination of strawberries and cream, whiz up some strawberry puree and make the strawberry fool.

With their glossy red skins and sweet, heady fragrance, ripe and juicy strawberries are a special treat to enjoy.

 

 

Strawberry vanilla jam

photo Marina Oliphant

I have been making large batches of strawberry jam for years and have always encountered problems with it setting. However, I now believe that the secret to strawberry jam is to make it in small quantities.

2 punnets (500g) strawberries

1 ½ (one and a half) cups sugar

1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped

3 tbsp lemon juice

Hull strawberries and cut in half.

Place in a heavy based saucepan with vanilla bean and lemon juice and cook gently for a few minutes until warmed through and the fruit is softened.

Add sugar and stir to dissolve. When sugar has dissolved, increase heat and boil rapidly for 10 – 15 minutes or until setting point is reached. Stir jam to prevent it from sticking to the base of the pan.

Check for setting point by placing a teaspoon of jam on a cold saucer and placing it in the freezer for 2 minutes. The jam is ready if a skin forms when you push it gently with your finger and the jam separates into two parts when you run your finger through it. If the jam has not set, return to the heat and check again after a few minutes.

When setting point is reached, remove jam from heat, remove vanilla pod and carefully pour jam into hot sterilised jars. Refrigerate jam when opened.

 

Makes approximately 2 x 250ml jars.

 

If your jam does not set, it may be that your strawberries were too ripe. Don’t worry, your jam will still be delicious! Homemade strawberry jam does not always have a firm set. However, if you like your jam this way, you can always use a jam setting agent which is available at the supermarket. Jamsetta is very good. You can add it to jam that has not set and it will ensure that it sets. It is important not to overcook your jam as it will affect the flavour.

 

Rhubarb and strawberry crostata

photo Marina Oliphant

This is a simple free form tart, which doesn’t require a tin.  Simply turn in the edges to enclose the filling. The custard powder mixes with the fruit juices to make an instant sauce. Use small strawberries for this recipe, as they do not seem as watery as the large ones.

Guy Mirabella has kindly given permission to print this recipe from his book ‘Eat Ate’.

sour cream pastry

200g chilled butter, chopped

250g plain flour

125ml sour cream

1 egg yolk

filling

6 rhubarb stalks, sliced into 2-3cm pieces

500g strawberries, hulled

¾ (three quarters) cup caster sugar

2 tbsp custard powder

grated zest of 1 lemon

mascarpone

450g mascarpone

grated zest 1 lemon

1 tbsp icing sugar

 

To make the pastry, pulse the butter and flour in a food processor until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the sour cream and pulse until the dough just forms a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine all the filling ingredients in a large bowl and toss well. In a separate bowl, stir together the mascarpone, lemon zest and sugar.

Preheat the oven to 200C. On a floured surface, roll the pastry out to a rough circle around 5mm thick and 35cm wide. Place on a tray lined with baking paper. Pile the filling into the centre of the pastry and spread it out, leaving about a 5cm edge. Turn the edges over the filling and brush them with the egg yolk. Bake the crostata in the oven until the pastry is golden, around 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Serve straight from the oven topped with the sweet mascarpone.

 

Serves 8-10.

 

Strawberry fool

photo Marina Oliphant

The perfect combination of strawberries and cream, with the tangy addition of good quality yoghurt.

500g strawberries, hulled

3 tbsp icing sugar, or to taste

250ml thickened cream

250ml Greek yoghurt

8 coconut macaroons, crumbled

 

In a food processor, blitz half the strawberries with icing sugar to make a puree.

Slice the remaining strawberries and set aside.

Whip cream until stiff peaks form. Add yoghurt and beat until thick. Fold in strawberry puree and sliced strawberries.

Pour into serving glasses and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Sprinkle with crumbled macaroons before serving.

 

Serves 4.

 

 

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