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It’s the perfect time for strawberries

June 8, 2018

Despite the odd mix of recent weather - from hot and humid to cold and rainy - it's the perfect time of year for strawberries. If you've only eaten berries purchased in plastic clamshell boxes at the supermarket, the months of May and June are when you should treat yourself to local strawberries. Typically, they're not as large as grocery store berries, but they're packed with more juicy flavor than the ones shipped in from California.

One benefit associated with organically grown strawberries is the absence of chemicals used in most large-scale commercial farming operations. Several studies (in Italy, where the slow food movement began, and in the United States) have shown that organic growing techniques resulted in better-quality berries without negative environmental or consumer impact.

Since strawberries are considered one of the worst foods for pesticide contamination (researchers have identified more than 50 different chemical compounds in agribusiness strawberries) this is definitely a place where it is wise to invest in the organic option. You'll be making a better health choice and enjoy the superior berries.

Here in Southern Delaware, there are dozens of farmers markets and U-pick fields where you can find plump, red strawberries. Roadside farm stands also feature local berries, and Lloyd's Market in Lewes has rows and rows of green cardboard boxes filled to the brim with beautiful specimens.

Since strawberries are so fragile, you'll need to eat them very soon after you bring them home. Don't rinse them until you're ready to use them, but spread them out on a paper towel on your counter so the berries at the bottom and corners of the container don't get bruised.

Once you have your berries, the recipe options are almost endless: sliced onto cereal, mixed into yogurt, blended into soup, whipped into smoothies or frozen into ice pops.

An interesting approach to cooking with strawberries involves combining sweet and savory flavors, as in the recipe for spaghetti with strawberries. Tart, acidic tomato puree is mixed with halved strawberries and Balsamic vinegar to create a layered sauce for al dente pasta.

Another sweet and savory combination is brie cheese melted onto baguette slices and topped with strawberries and a drizzle of honey. Crisp bread layered with warm, melting cheese and the bright notes of sweet berries makes a lovely appetizer. Roasted strawberries are also a delicious addition to salads or grain bowls. I've included a recipe for a one-dish meal featuring quinoa. You can keep this vegetarian or add cooked chicken strips for additional protein. Enjoy the best of strawberry season!

Strawberry Shortcake Pie

For the strawberry shortcake in the photo, we spread a large, thin sponge cake with a layer of whipped cream and arranged berries on top. I had mixed results with the decorative edging of whipped cream, but the taste was perfect. This also works with individual sponge cake rounds.

Roasted Strawberries

2 C strawberries
1 t maple syrup
1 T Balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 375 F. Rinse and stem the berries. Whisk together maple syrup and Balsamic vinegar in a mixing bowl. Add strawberries and toss gently to coat. Arrange berries in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and roast until softened, about 12 to 15 minutes. Yield: 1 1/2 C

Couscous with Roasted Strawberries

1 C dry couscous
1 1/2 C vegetable stock
1/4 C slivered almonds
1 C chickpeas
1 1/2 C roasted strawberries
1 T olive oil
2 T Balsamic vinegar
1 T lemon juice
1/4 C shredded basil
1/4 C chopped mint leaves
salt and pepper, to taste*

Bring stock to a boil in a small saucepan. Pour in couscous, remove from heat and cover tightly.

Allow couscous to steam until liquid is absorbed, about 5 to 10 minutes. Toast almonds in a dry skillet until lightly browned and fragrant, about 5 minutes; set aside. Transfer couscous to a serving bowl. Add toasted almonds, chickpeas and roasted strawberries; toss gently to combine.

In a glass measuring cup, whisk together oil, vinegar, lemon juice, basil and mint.

Pour dressing over couscous mixture and toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. *Note: if you prefer, substitute a seasoned salt mixture from Borsari or a blend like Herbamare.

Spaghetti with Strawberries

1 lb dry spaghetti
1/4 C olive oil
1 lb strawberries
2 T Balsamic vinegar
1 C tomato purée
1/2 C reserved pasta water
salt & pepper, to taste

Cook the pasta according to package directions for al dente. Rinse, stem and halve the berries.

While pasta is cooking, combine the olive oil and half the strawberries in a deep skillet over medium heat.

Cook, stirring often, until the berries begin to release their juices. Add Balsamic vinegar and continue cooking until liquid is reduced by half. Stir in the tomato purée, pasta water and remaining strawberries. Continue to cook until sauce has thickened, about 5 minutes. Add cooked spaghetti to the pan and toss with the sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Strawberries & Brie

1 small baguette
6 oz brie cheese
8 sliced strawberries
1 T honey
3 fresh basil leaves, shredded

Preheat oven to 350 F. Thinly slice the baguette on the diagonal. Arrange slices on a rimmed baking sheet in a single layer. Bake until lightly toasted, about 5 minutes.

Remove from oven and flip over each slice of bread. Thinly slice cheese and cover each baguette slice. Bake until cheese begins to melt, about 5 minutes. Remove from oven and top each piece with strawberry slices, a drizzle of honey and shredded basil. Yield: 12 pieces.