Every visit to the produce department should begin by asking the most senior manager you can find: “What’s good?” Last week, Dale Rodgers, produce manager at the Publix on Longboat Key, answered emphatically: “Strawberries! They are coming from only 70 miles away. They are tasty, and they are cheap!” The Florida strawberry season has two peaks: the one everybody knows about in March and an earlier one in late December/early January. Why wait? Use these 10 ideas as a variety of ways to devour these tasty, ruby red fruits.
1. Strawberries with raspberry sauce. Use small berries whole; halve or quarter larger ones. Remove hulls. Arrange in a champagne coupe or stemmed sherbet glass. Puree a package of frozen raspberries and pour over strawberries.
2. Strawberries in red wine. Stem berries and dry. Layer whole berries in a glass bowl, sifting sugar over each layer. Let macerate two to three hours at room temperature; add a half bottle of good red wine and toss carefully with hands. Add more sugar to taste, fresh lime juice (about 1/2 lime per pint of berries) and, if you have it, a bit of pulp from a vanilla bean.
3. Summer-in-winter salad. Combine sliced strawberries, thinly sliced red onions and torn romaine. Add a handful of slivered almonds. Make a dressing of mayonnaise thinned with raspberry vinegar; add poppy seeds (optional).
4. Instant shortcake. Top slices of store-bought angel food or pound cake with sliced strawberries (optionally combined with little sugar). Add a scoop of ice cream and top with more sliced berries and whipped cream or topping.
5. Mary Frances’ strawberry stacked cake. Bake a yellow cake mix in a 9-inch-by-13-inch pan. When cool, cut into two layers lengthwise, then halve crosswise so you have four equal rectangles. Build this in layers on the plate from which you will serve; top each piece with sliced, sugared berries. Let the cake soak up the berry juice and top with whipped cream to serve.
6. Strawberry soup. For four to six servings, combine a quart of fresh orange juice with two cups of plain, low-fat yogurt and two cups of buttermilk or sour cream. Whisk together with a tablespoon of honey, two tablespoons of lemon or lime juice and a dash of cinnamon. Chill. To serve, divide one-and-a-half pints fresh berries between bowls. Pour soup over and garnish with fresh mint.
7. Strawberries and brown sugar. The crystalline form of brown sugar makes this a different experience than the more conventional confectioner’s sugar. For each serving, center a small plate with a mound of light brown sugar. Wash berries and pat dry; leave hulls on. Arrange berries around sugar and serve.
8. Strawberry sorbet. Combine two cups sugar and two cups water in a saucepan over medium heat and cook until sugar is completely dissolved, stirring occasionally and brushing sugar crystals on sides of pan back down into liquid. Set aside to cool. Puree four pints of strawberries in food processor. Add cooled syrup, 1/4 cup fresh lemon, lime or orange juice and process to combine. Freeze in your ice cream maker. If you don’t have one, sorbet can be frozen in ice cube trays until almost solid then processed to break up crystals and frozen again. Allow to soften slightly before serving.
9. French toast with strawberry topping. Wash, hull and slice berries. Combine with a little sugar or honey and a squeeze of citrus juice if desired and serve atop French toast.
10. Spinach salad with strawberries and strawberry vinaigrette. Combine four ounces baby spinach leaves with four tablespoons Craisins, 1/4 cup toasted walnuts, chopped and 1/2 cup strawberries thinly sliced. For dressing, combine 1/2 cup sliced berries, two tablespoons of champagne vinegar, one tablespoon of sugar and a pinch of salt in blender or food processor and puree.
A berry good team: Thanks to Phil King, Sylvia Pastor and Lois Scheyer for their contributions to this column.
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