Get your strawberries while they’re ripe.
Unlike the trucked-in berries available at supermarkets, which are bred first and foremost to survive the long trip from Florida, California or Mexico, local strawberries are bred for sweetness and flavor. But unlike supermarket berries, which are picked well before they ripen so they don’t go bad in transit, local berries are picked when they’re ready to eat.
If flavor and ripeness aren’t enough, consider this: Commercially grown strawberries appear perennially on environmentalists’ lists of foods most heavily contaminated with pesticides. In contrast, local berries are grown by small farmers, many of whom raise their crops organically.
The best local berries are small, an indication they haven’t been pumped up by fertilizers. They also are fragrant and ruby red all the way through, because they’ve been picked when ripe. Don’t wash them until you are ready to eat them. These berries are like little sponges, and will soak up water and then begin to rot soon thereafter.
I keep my berries on the countertop and eat them within a day or two. They can be refrigerated to keep longer but will lose some of their delightful juiciness when chilled. If you can’t eat your berries immediately, it’s better to freeze them for later use. Just wash and drain them, cut off the stems and place them in a zipper-lock bag in the coldest part of your freezer. If you think ahead, you’ll be able to enjoy some of the local crop in a strawberry pie in the middle of winter.
Right now, however, pie is the furthest thing from my mind. When strawberries are this flavorful and juicy, I don’t bother cooking them. I serve them on top of ice cream or ricotta cheese, with panna cotta, and in a sweet and savory salsa that’s great with grilled fish. Here are some of the simple ways I plan to eat them over the next week or two:
STRAWBERRIES WITH SWEETENED RICOTTA AND BALSAMIC-BLACK PEPPER SYRUP
Use leftover syrup on top of ice cream or frozen yogurt.
1 cup balsamic vinegar
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon cracked black peppercorns
1 ½ cups strawberries, stemmed and sliced
2 cups full-fat ricotta cheese
1. Combine vinegar, ½ cup sugar and peppercorns in a small saucepan; bring to a boil over medium heat. Simmer, adjusting heat as necessary, until reduced by half. Strain into a bowl or small measuring cup and let cool to room temperature.
2. Combine ricotta and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar in a medium bowl. Divide among 4 dessert bowls. Spoon strawberries over ricotta, drizzle with syrup and serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.
STRAWBERRY, MASCARPONE AND AMARETTI PARFAITS
1 cup mascarpone
1 tablespoon Amaretto or other almond liqueur