Nutritious strawberries delightful alone or as centerpiece of palate-pleasing desserts

Red, ripe strawberries are synonymous with the start of summer, and they are versatile enough for in
Strawberry Cheesecake Bites, a recipe from the California Strawberry Commission, is photographed Thursday.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Strawberry Cheesecake Bites, a recipe from the California Strawberry Commission, is photographed Thursday.

Red, ripe strawberries are synonymous with the start of summer.

Sure, strawberries, be they freshly picked or purchased at the grocery store, are perfect eaten plain, but the bite-sized treasures, ranging in hue from rose to ruby, are also versatile enough for inclusion in salads, appetizers and meaty entrees.

Perhaps nothing better showcases the gems, however, than incorporating them into a palate-pleasing dessert or two.

More strawberry recipes

For more delicious strawberry recipes, visit DailyGazette.com’s food blog, Food Forum, by clicking here.

They are ideal layered in pies and tarts, incorporated into cobblers, drizzled over shortcakes and mixed with pastries, muffins, cookies and parfaits.

Paul Wigsted, a buyer and farm liaison for the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, said New York ranks seventh in strawberry production nationwide, with 1,400 acres yielding some 6 million pounds during June and July.

Statewide, 150 farms offer pick-your-own strawberries.

Local bounty

Keith Buhrmaster, president of Buhrmaster Farms, said this year’s berry crop is shaping up to be a good one.

The Glenville farm has numerous varieties growing on a span of 10 acres, now open for anyone who wants to pick their own berries. Among the varieties are Nor’easter, prized for its firm berries and strong flavor that has been likened to candy.

Then there is Jewel, which has a large fruit especially coveted for desserts and freezing.

Cabot strawberries, said Buhrmaster, are huge and flavorful — oftentimes permitting only seven or so of the sweet treats to a quart.

Ovation, so named because the cultivar marks the end of the strawberry production season, is exceptionally sweet and glossy.

Earliglow, also available, yield deep red, uniformly-colored berries known for their intense flavor. They are usually the earliest to ripen. After the first picking, though, later berries are typically quite small and lend themselves perfectly to making jams and jellies.

Allstar, meanwhile, bears large, symmetrical, very firm fruit with a mild sweetness. It is considered by some to be the most outstanding recent variety and usually ripens fully without turning a deep red.

Aside from being scrumptious, you can’t beat strawberries for nutrition. They are a terrific source of vitamin C, potassium and fiber, and they’re also high in folate, a B vitamin that is best known for its role in reducing the risk of birth defects. Even a handful of strawberries can help your health: Eight medium strawberries provide 140 percent of the daily value of vitamin C.

Technically not a berry

Botanically speaking, the strawberry is neither fruit nor berry. True berries, such as blueberries and cranberries have seeds inside. The strawberry, however, has its dry, yellow “seeds” on its exterior, each of which is actually considered a separate fruit.

The strawberry is a member of the rose family, which includes more than 2,000 species including the raspberry, apple, cherry, pear, plum and, of course, roses.

So, where does the “straw” come in? One explanation is that straw is often placed on the ground around the stems of young strawberry plants to protect them from frost and mildew. Another story attributes the prefix to the fact that strawberries ripen about the same time hay is mowed. Still another claims the specks on the berries resemble straw.

Keeping them fresh

When selecting strawberries, look for those that are plump, firm, bright and full-colored. Size is not an indication of strawberry quality.

Strawberries do not ripen after they have been picked and should be used as soon after purchase as possible (no longer than a few days) to ensure top flavor.

For optimum refrigerator shelf life, chill berries in a single layer on a tray or baking pan that is loosely covered with paper towels. Heaping berries in a bowl or container just crushes them.

Also, do not wash berries until you’re ready to use them. When they are ready to be cleaned, place berries in a colander or large strainer and rinse with a gentle spray of cool water. Never remove the caps until just before use, as they protect the berries and help seal in flavor, texture and nutrients.

To freeze for year-round eating, arrange washed and well-drained berries, with stems removed, on a baking sheet. Place them in your freezer until they’re frozen solid.

Then transfer them to plastic freezer containers or bags, leaving about 1⁄2-inch headspace and return them to the freezer.

Strawberries must be handled carefully when you’re cooking with them.

For batters and sauces, add them last, stirring or folding gently so they won’t mash or bleed. For thin batters, such as cakes and pancakes, berries may sink because of their weight. For pancakes, you can add them after you pour the batter onto the griddle.

For thick batters, such as muffins and biscuits, fold the berries into the batter.

In baked fruit desserts, expect strawberries to juice out and lose their shape, but they will still retain the same fruity flavor.

The possibilities for strawberries are endless, but the local season is short.

For a list of farms offering fresh-picked and pick-your-own fresh strawberries, visit the New York State Berry Growers’ Association Web site at http://www.hort.cornell.edu/grower/nybga/.

Strawberry Shortcake

Recipe from “The Silver Palate Cookbook: 25th Anniversary Edition.”

Unsalted butter, at room temperature, for greasing the baking sheet and topping the biscuits

2 cups self-rising flour

21⁄2 tablespoons sugar

1⁄8 teaspoon salt

8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

3⁄4 cup milk

2 tablespoons plus 11⁄2 cups heavy cream, chilled

6 cups strawberries, sliced and sugared to taste

6 perfect strawberries, for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and grease a baking sheet. Combine the flour, sugar and salt in a bowl. Add the 8 tablespoons butter and using a pastry blender or your fingers, rub it into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Pour in the milk and mix gently until a very soft dough is formed. Do not overwork.

Drop the dough in 6 equal portions onto the prepared baking sheet.

Lightly pat the dough into rounds measuring 3 to 31⁄2 inches in diameter and lightly brush the tops with the 2 tablespoons cream. Bake the biscuits on the center rack of the oven until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes.

Cool the biscuits slightly on a wire rack, split them, and spread the room temperature butter lightly over the cut surfaces.

Set the bottoms on dessert plates; spoon on the sliced strawberries and crown with the tops of the biscuits. Whip the 11⁄2 cups chilled cream and spoon a dollop onto each shortcake, then garnish with a single perfect strawberry. Serve immediately.

Makes 6 shortcakes.

Strawberry-Mascarpone Pie

Recipe from Maria Liberati, “The Basic Art of Italian Cooking.”

1 pre-made pie crust

1 pound fresh strawberries

1 teaspoon vanilla flavoring

1⁄2 cup sugar

16 ounces mascarpone cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cover pie pan with baking paper. Place in pie crust and place in oven for 15 minutes or time indicated on package.

Remove from oven and let cool.

Wash strawberries, cut half into small pieces. Leave remainder whole for garnish.

In bowl, blend together vanilla, sugar and mascarpone. Blend till creamy.

Add in strawberry pieces. Place cream in pie crust. Top with whole strawberries. Refrigerate for 1 hour before serving.

Strawberry Parfaits

Recipe from Recipezaar.com.

4 cups sliced strawberries, divided

1⁄4 cup granulated sugar

1 cup fat-free ricotta cheese

1⁄2 cup cream cheese, softened

1⁄4 cup powdered sugar

1 tablespoon water

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup amaretti cookie crumbs (about 8 cookies)

1⁄2 cup frozen reduced-calorie whipped topping, thawed

2 tablespoons slivered almonds, toasted

Place 2 cups of strawberry slices and granulated sugar in a blender or food processor, and process until smooth. Set strawberry purée aside.

Combine ricotta, cream cheese, sugar, water and vanilla) in a medium bowl; stir well with a whisk.

Spoon 2 tablespoons cookie crumbs into each of 4 parfait glasses. Top each portion with 2 tablespoons strawberry purée, 1⁄4 cup strawberry slices, and 3 tablespoons ricotta mixture; repeat the layers.

Drizzle the remaining strawberry purée over each serving. Chill for 2 hours. Top each parfait with 2 tablespoons whipped topping and 11⁄2 teaspoons almonds.

Makes 4 servings.

Strawberry Cheesecake Bites

Recipe from the California Strawberry Commission.

1 package (8 ounces) reduced-fat cream cheese, softened

1⁄3 cup powdered sugar

2 teaspoons lemon juice

1⁄2 teaspoon grated lemon peel

16 (about 1 pound) whole stemmed strawberries

8 graham cracker squares, finely crushed (about 2⁄3 cup)

In mixer bowl, beat together cream cheese, sugar, lemon juice and lemon peel until smooth and creamy; set aside.

Using paring knife or small melon baller, partially hollow out top of strawberries to a depth of 3⁄4 inch. Gently fill each with 1 tablespoon cream cheese mixture.

Roll tops into graham cracker crumbs. Arrange on serving platter.

TIPS: To prepare recipe ahead of time, fill strawberries with cream cheese mixture; cover and refrigerate up to 6 hours. Roll in graham cracker crumbs just before serving.

For a chocolate cheesecake variation, melt 1⁄2 cup semi-sweet chocolate morsels as package directs; stir into one 8-ounce package cream cheese (softened). Add 1⁄3 cup powdered sugar and 1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla extract.

Proceed as recipe directs, rolling filled strawberries into finely crushed graham crackers or chocolate wafer cookies.

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