All of a sudden, in the twilight, she made out a bed of strawberries, and the longing of her childhood burst forth. “Strawberries! Strawberries! There are some here: I can feel them! ... A plate, Zoe. Come and pick strawberries.” — Nana by Emile Zola 1840-1902.
If there is one fruit that simply screams “bite me!” it would have to be the strawberry. With its wonderful perfume and succulent ripe red flesh, the strawberry is often seen as the ultimate fruit of love and romance. Throughout history, the blushing berries have been valued for their therapeutic properties and were even thought to be a love potion — probably due to their rose-like fragrance. Think back to that seductive Hollywood scene when the rich and dashingly handsome Edward (Richard Gere) orders strawberries and champagne from room service for “Pretty Woman” Vivian (Julia Roberts).
Strawberries marry well with champagne, but one of the best ways to bring out their flavour is to serve them with a splash of good balsamic vinegar. In her book, Maggie’s Farm, Maggie Beer suggests one to two tablespoons of balsamic to a 250g punnet of strawberries. Maggie says this is particularly useful when the strawberries are less than perfectly ripe. You can also mash them with a touch of sugar and a teaspoon of Grand Marnier, then spoon into champagne flutes and top with iced sparkling wine. Yummy!
Strawberries were on special at our local greengrocer last weekend and the berries are ripe, plump and bursting with flavour. If only you could smell my kitchen! The exquisite scent of sweet strawberries hangs heavy in the air. I'm about to make my favourite strawberry jam. I also love whipping strawberries into a fresh thickshake and using them on top of meringue. Peter adds strawberry slices to his morning muesli with a spoonful of yoghurt and honey. What a great start to the day!
A fabulous Spring salad created by Anton Shaw, head chef of Belluci's in the Canberra suburb of Dickson, is one of my favourite lunchtime dishes at this time of the year. Anton's salad is made using the freshest asparagus, oak leaf lettuce, snow pea sprouts, roasted red capsicum, smoked chicken breast and a tangy dressing. The final but perhaps most important ingredient is a punnet of strawberries: a taste of the unexpected that adds a new dimension to the salad.
SALAD OF SMOKED CHICKEN, ASPARAGUS, ROASTED CAPSICUM & STRAWBERRIES
1 smoked chicken breast
1 red capsicum
1 bunch asparagus
1 small oakleaf lettuce
a small sprig of snowpea sprouts
1 punnet strawberries
45mls sweet raspberry vinegar
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
To make the salad, slice the chicken breast and set it aside to chill. Wash and dry the capsicum and slice it into four, lengthways, and remove and discard the pith and seeds. Place the capsicum onto a grill tray skin-side upwards and roast, turning until the skin blisters and blackens. Plunge into a basin of cold water quickly, then pat dry then carefully peel off and discard the blistered skin. Alternatively, pop the capsicum into a plastic bag and seal briefly. Peel and discard the blackened skin. Slice the capsicum flesh into strips and set aside to chill.
Snap off and discard the woody ends from the asparagus. Cut each spear into three pieces. Place into a small saucepan with a little cold water. Bring very quickly to the boil, remove from heat, drain and freshen with cold water. Drain and set aside to chill. Wash the lettuce leaves and dry carefully in a salad spinner or pat dry with paper towels. Rinse the snow pea sprouts, trim the ends. Drain well and set aside. Wash and hull the strawberries. Slice in half. Set aside. Now, make the dressing. Combine the dressing ingredients in a small screw top jar. Shake well to combine.
To assemble the salad, arrange all of the ingredients except the smoked chicken in an attractive salad bowl. Combine 50mls good olive oil, 45mls sweet raspberry vinegar, a little sea salt and some freshly ground pepper in a small screw top jar. Shake well to combine. Drizzle the dressing over the salad. Arrange the slices of smoked chicken into the salad and serve it immediately. This recipe will serve four.
JOAN'S STRAWBERRY JAM
A family member has always prepared her strawberry jam in the microwave oven. This is her recipe. From time to time I’ve added passionfruit and a squeeze of lime juice. It’s simply delicious with freshly baked scones or bread. This recipe makes around 2 cups of jam.
500g fresh strawberries, washed and hulled
1/4 cup lemon juice plus a little finely grated lemon zest
2 cups raw sugar
pulp of 2 passionfruit if you would like to add extra flavour
Combine the strawberries and the lemon juice and zest in a large microwave-proof bowl. Cook on high for 4 minutes. At this stage the fruit will be soft. Add the sugar (and passionfruit pulp if using) and stir to combine. Cook on high for a further 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the jam will jell when tested on a chilled plate. Allow to cool slightly before ladling into hot sterilised jam jars. Seal when completely cold.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.