Home Cooking > Strawberry Fare

Seventeenth-century English writer Dr. William Butler said it best: “Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did.” Butler was referring, of course, to strawberries, which make their annual and welcome “here comes summer” appearance in June.

Would it surprise you to know that strawberries are not really a fruit or a berry, but rather the enlarged receptacle of the flower? Or that the ancient Romans cultivated strawberries for medicinal purposes and treated them as an herb, a practice that lasted well into the thirteenth century?

Naturally, the best strawberries are local ones you pick or buy from farmers’ markets. I still remember going on strawberry-patch picking trips with my family every June. We sought out the Sparkle variety for its juicy sweetness. They were best for eating, making jam and turning into luscious sweet-tart pies.

If you purchase strawberries from a grocery store, shop with your senses. Pick the most fragrant and plumpest looking berries. They should be firm to the touch, be beautifully red without large white spots and have fresh green stems that are fully attached. Avoid any berries that look like they are beginning to shrivel. How many times have you found a moldy berry or two tucked in the bottom of the berry basket? Mold on berries spreads quickly. So never leave a moldy berry next to a good one.

Strawberries do not ripen after they have been harvested, so choose ones that are fully ripe. Berries should be dry and clean; medium to small berries taste better than larger ones, which tend to retain more water.

When you get berries home, remove them from the container and spread them on a paper towel-lined baking sheet or large platter so they get plenty of air circulation. Then, store them uncovered in the fruit drawer. The stems keep water from destroying the berry’s texture and flavor, so remove them only after washing. Wash the berries just before you plan to use them by rinsing under a gentle spray of cool water; pat dry with a paper towel. As with most fruits, strawberries are best eaten at room temperature. Do not make the mistake of keeping them too long or they will begin to deteriorate.

One pint of fresh strawberries equals about 3¼ cups whole berries, 2¼ cups sliced or 1²/³ cups puréed.

Strawberries are good for you and a great source of vitamin C. They are low in calories—one cup unsweetened berries has only fifty-five calories—so eat to your heart’s content. Remember, strawberry season lasts only for a mere three weeks and then we must wait for divine intervention to work its magic again next year.

Mary Ann’s Recipe for Strawberries

Glazed Strawberry Pie > serves 8

This glazed strawberry pie is one of my all-time favorites. Whole strawberries are arranged in pre-baked pie shell and held in place by a delicious strawberry glaze. The quality of the berries is what makes this a winner. Pick the most fragrant and plumpest-looking berries. They should be firm to the touch, be beautifully red without large white spots and have fresh green stems that are fully attached.

1 quart strawberries
¾ cup water
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 pre-baked and cooled
9-inch pie shell
½ cup whipping cream

1. Crush 1 cup strawberries in a small saucepan. Add the water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 3 minutes. Pour the mixture through a fine mesh strainer over a bowl. Press on the solids to extract as much juice as possible. Discard the solids. Add enough water to the juice to make 1 cup. Stir in the salt. Set aside.
2. Return the saucepan to the burner. Off the heat, combine all but 1 tablespoon of the sugar with the cornstarch. Mix well. Slowly whisk in the strained juice. Bring to a boil and cook 3 minutes, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens, darkens in color, and is clear and smooth. Keep warm.
3. Arrange the whole strawberries in the pie shell, filling it in entirely.
4. Spoon the glaze over each berry, coating each one. Chill the pie uncovered for several hours before serving.
5. When ready to serve, whip the cream with the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar. Serve a dollop on each slice.

Recipe courtesy of Mary Ann Esposito (www.ciaoitalia.com).

A New Ciao Italia Cookbook

Easy-to-cook recipes are the hallmark of Mary Ann Esposito’s newest cookbook, Ciao Italia Slow and Easy, published by St. Martin’s Press in November 2007 ($27.95, 160 pages).

In this, her tenth, book, Esposito offers casseroles, braises, lasagne and stews. Among her favorites are Lobster and Shrimp Casserole with Fennel; Stuffed Flank Steak with Olives and Cheese; Lasagna with Artichokes and Ricotta Cheese; and Polenta and Vegetable Casserole. Buon appetito!