Although strawberries are now in the store all year round, and I always shamelessly treat myself in March to a bowl of the first, very expensive but deliciously perfumed Lambadas from the greenhouse, the real season starts around Mother’s Day. In a bowl on the tray next to the biscuit and cup of tea served in bed, on the cake with coffee or in dessert, Mother’s Day calls for strawberries, short.
Speaking of rusks and breakfasts, do you know what might be the best strawberry recipe on earth? Mash strawberries. Sprinkle with granulated sugar. Mix, but not too well – you want to keep tasting the sugar crystals, feeling and hearing them crunch between your teeth. Spread rusk with butter. And then put that strawberry puree on top.
In a way, strawberries have this in common with their seasonal asparagus: they are so delicious on their own that you hardly need to do anything with them. That sometimes, especially at the beginning of the season, you don’t want to do too much with it. And that if you do decide to do something with it, usually on the conservative side. You can never go wrong with strawberries and cream, just like you always go well with asparagus and butter.
At the same time, for fruits that need so little, strawberries can have quite a lot. I hit it The taste bible by Niki Segnit in a special way. She praises the combination of strawberries with almond, with pineapple, with anise, with chocolate, grape, raspberry, hazelnut, cinnamon, coconut, cucumber, melon, mint, peach, rhubarb, orange, tomato, vanilla, white chocolate and soft cheese.
Segnit writes funny things about it, by the way, such as: “Strawberries taste a bit like cotton candy. Cinnamon loves sugar and fruits. Together they smell musty but seductively like an expired fairground.” She then gives a recipe that is very similar to my mashed strawberry rusk in terms of homeliness: butter two slices of white bread, spread one slice of bread generously on the unspread side with strawberry jam and the other slice of bread with plenty of cinnamon and more butter, put the two on top of each other. Bake with the butter side out and in a sandwich maker until golden brown and crispy. Tadaaa, a toastie fair.
What Segnit does not mention is how happy strawberries become after marinating for a while in balsamic vinegar. And how senang they feel in the company of pepper. In Thailand I once ate a strawberry soup topped with bunches of fresh green peppercorns coated in caramel. Unforgettable. But ordinary white and black pepper, dried pink pepper berries (which, admittedly, are not real pepper) and even chili peppers can make a perfect combination. In one of the River Café cookbooks, there is a recipe for strawberries with a red wine sorbet that also includes orange zest, cloves and white pepper and they are really great flavors together.
How crazy are we going to make it today? That’s better than expected. But you might be a little shocked by strawberries with balsamic, pink pepper and feta cream. Isn’t that a bridge too far? Well, I’d be lying if I wrote here that you don’t taste that feta at all, because you do taste it. But the taste is quite softened by the mascarpone and whipped cream. And when you taste that slightly savory, thick cream together with the sweet and sour of the marinated strawberries and those crispy, aromatic, slightly spicy pink pepper berries, well, try it yourself.
Strawberries with balsamic, pink pepper and feta cream
Forgive this possessive pronoun, but ‘my’ Turkish supermarket sells two types of fresh feta: square blocks of soft, creamy cheese and thick round discs of a much firmer, slightly crumbly type. The latter is the kind that you usually also buy prepackaged. The first kind, the creamier version, is best suited for this recipe. But if you can’t find it, you can also use crumbly feta.
Dessert for 4 persons:
500 g strawberries, sliced;
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar;
2 tbsp sugar;
100 g creamy feta;
100 g mascarpone;
80 ml whipping cream;
1.5 – 2 tsp pink peppercorns.
spade in a bowl toss the strawberry slices with the balsamic vinegar and sugar. Let it marinate for 1 hour (2 hours is also allowed, but don’t make it too long). Crumble the feta over a bowl. Add the mascarpone and whipped cream and beat with an electric mixer for 3 – 4 minutes to a thick, airy cream. Crush the pink peppercorns in a mortar, but without crushing them. They can be quite coarse.
spade a generous spoonful of feta cream on 4 dessert plates each. Spread the cream a little with the back of the spoon, if necessary, so that a nice smear is created.
divide the marinated strawberries over the cream. Spoon over a little of the marinade and sprinkle with pink pepper.
Prue Leith’s avocado with strawberry vinaigrette
As a bonus, a recipe that I came across both in Niki Segnit’s taste bible and in Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book. It originally came from Prue Leith, a South African-British chef who you might know as a jury member of The Great British Bake Off. Avocado and strawberries, that sounds a bit again weird. But of course I tried it and okay, I don’t think I would want to eat this every day, but it does work. Just because of that gorgeous pink sauce against the soft green of the avocado, this recipe deserves a shot.
Starter 4 persons:
250 g strawberries;
100 ml of olive oil;
100 ml sunflower oil;
sugar to taste;
3 ripe avocados;
25 g slivered almonds, toasted.
uncrown the strawberries and puree them in a food processor or blender. Gradually add the two types of oil while the machine is running. Taste and season the dressing with salt, freshly ground pepper and a pinch of sugar if desired. Peel the avocados, cut them in half and remove the pit. Squeeze some lemon juice over it to prevent discoloration. Slice the avocado halves or, as Prue Leith does, into pretty fans. Sprinkle with lemon again.
Divide the avocado among 4 plates and generously spoon strawberry vinaigrette over it. Sprinkle with toasted almonds. And, my own addition: grind some extra coarse pepper over it.