Friday, May 2, 2014

The Berry Best Berries

May is the month of the Strawberry! Everywhere I look, another community in Southern California is celebrating this luscious red fruit (see bottom of post for a listing of some of them). Strawberries should be on everyone's shopping list right now, and in California this is easy. Did you know that California supplies nearly 90% of the nation's strawberries?

For maximum flavor and to help support your local farmer, buy your berries at the farmer's market. For a fun thing to do with kids sometime, some farms offer "u-pick" opportunities. In fact, it can be fun for adults as well. A farm we have in our area offers tractor-led wagon rides through their fields where sampling of the produce is actually encouraged. There we got to taste freshly-picked, sun-kissed berries. It was a little warm from the sun, bursting with juice and with such an intense flavor, it far surpassed any berry I could have purchased from my local supermarket. It was incredible.

Strawberries are great in so many things, but one of my favorite ways to eat them is simply sliced and sprinkled with just a little bit of sugar to get the juices flowing. I let them sit out at room temperature for about half an hour and then top them with a little whipped cream. It's delicious and light.

Another way I like to eat them is in muffins. Strawberry and Ricotta Muffins are light and fluffy and divine to eat on a Sunday morning. Muffins are fun to make: they're easy and fast and really convenient to take with you as you head out the door in the morning. But muffins are best eaten the day they are made. I've also made strawberry muffins with walnuts but this time I wanted to make them with ricotta. If you're dairy free, you can just eliminate it or try coconut yogurt instead. Enjoy!

Strawberry and Ricotta Muffins

· 2 cups medium strawberries
· 3/4 cup ricotta
· 2 large eggs
· 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
· 10 Tbsp. butter melted and cooled, divided
· 2/3 cup sugar
· 1 tsp. lemon zest
· 2 cups flour (I use cake flour for a lighter texture)*
· 2 tsp. baking powder
· 1/2 tsp. salt
· 1/4 tsp. baking soda

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Gently wash, hull, and cut strawberries into quarters. 

2. Brush a 12-mold muffin tin with 2 Tbsp. melted butter. Set aside.

3. In a bowl, whisk together ricotta, eggs, and vanilla. Stir in remaining butter.

4. In a large bowl, use your fingertips to rub together sugar and lime zest until sugar is moist. Mix in flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Use a spatula to gently but quickly fold ricotta mixture into dry ingredients. Don’t overwork it. The batter will be thick and heavy. Stir in strawberries and spoon batter evenly into muffin tins. Bake until tops of muffins are golden and springy to the touch, about 20-25 minutes.

*You can make your own cake flour by substituting 2 Tbsp. of flour per cup of flour with corn starch. Or if you're on a gluten-free diet, substitute your favorite GF flour blend, ideally one that contains tapioca flour. It provides a nice light texture to baked goods, along with cornstarch and white rice flour.

Makes 12 muffins.

Strawberries added to greens offers a fresh and different flavor element to salads, especially when the dressing consists of balsamic vinegar. My favorite is "fig balsamic" - slightly sweet  and perfect for a salad containing strawberries. Fruit, combined with nuts and cheese, dressed with a great vinaigrette, is perfect for a springtime lunch. Add a little sliced grilled chicken for a more substantial entree salad.

Strawberry, Hazelnut and Goat Cheese Salad

· 1/4 cup hazelnuts
· 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
· 2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
· 1 tsp. dijon-style mustard
· 1 tsp. honey
· 1 clove garlic, minced
· 1 shallot, minced
· 1/4 tsp. salt
· 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
· 1 head butter lettuce, washed and torn into bite-size pieces
· 1 cup strawberries
· 1/4 cup goat cheese, crumbled

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put hazelnuts on a sheet pan and bake until toasted, about 10 minutes. Put nuts in a clean kitchen towel and rub vigorously to remove skins. (Don’t worry if not all of the skins come off.)

2. In a small bowl, whisk oil, vinegar, mustard, honey, garlic, shallot, salt, and pepper.

3. Gently wash, hull, and cut strawberries into quarters.

4. In a large bowl, toss lettuce, strawberries, and hazelnuts with enough dressing to coat evenly. Pile high onto salad plates and top with goat cheese. Serve immediately.

Makes 6 servings.

Local Southern California Strawberry events:
Through June - Tanaka Farms Strawberry Tours, Irvine, (949) 653-2100.
California Strawberry Festival, Oxnard, (888) 288-9242.
Garden Grove Strawberry Festival, Garden Grove, (714) 638-0981.
Vista Strawberry Festival, Vista.

No comments :

Post a Comment

Print Friendly