Thursday, 8 July 2010

Summertime and strawberry pleasures

Ever since I moved to Britain and discovered the amazing quality of English strawberries, I have been praising them to everyone around the world. Sure, strawberries are a big favourite everywhere, but you've really got to taste the ones in Britain, when in season, to experience the difference. They are somehow perfect; fragrant, small, shiny little things, that fill your mouth with juicy sweetness. I love them, and every winter I can't wait for the summer to come for one more reason, so that I can have my most beloved fruit. I refuse to have them out of season, and always aim to find new varieties to try every year. My trick is to always smell them, and choose the smallest ones, those are the ones that I always find the most tasty. If they don't smell amazing, chances are they won't be, and these massive beasts that look more like golf balls than strawberries always make me suspicious that something else is going on under their skin...

After an unusually cold winter (the worst in 30 years) this summer arrived surprisingly early, and English strawberries benefited from the extra sunshine and joined us earlier than usual so I've been enjoying them for quite a while now. One of my favourite quick desserts is to clean some, throw them in a bowl with some good vanilla ice cream and smash some shop-bought mini meringues on top, drizzling chocolate syrup over everything (including, frequently, my fingers and the whole kitchen counter).

It's rare that strawberries will stay long in our fridge, but in cases when we've been away and I haven't managed to devour them all, and they've become and bit slushy and don't look to die for, it's always a good opportunity to make one of my favourite sorbets, adding a Greek sweet dessert wine that I had brought back a few years ago from the island of Santorini, which gives it a great little flavour twist.

This week I happened to come across some strawberries that were a bit "unhappy", but since they were only 60p I grabbed the opportunity to adopt them for a sorbet, along with some fresher ones for a few strawberry tarts, which are also yummy and not too difficult to make. You can make one big tart, but I prefer individual ones as we're only two people in the house, and I can make as many as I want this way. With my consumption of strawberries, I'm always two kilos heavier at the end of every summer (not from the strawberries themselves, but from what I make with them!), so I try to cut down by making a few portions, and this recipe works equally well for one big tart or with the ingredients divided into two.

As I'm writing this, it's one of the hottest days I can remember, and the smell of jasmine is coming in through the window from our tiny 2x2 garden. Despite its tininess it contains a gigantic magnolia tree, half a plum tree (the rest belongs to the next door neighbours), a massive jasmine bushy mess, a rose tree and some bamboo. So I'm starting to consider what kind of dessert I can make with jasmine flowers, I've thought of a few combinations but if you've got any tested ideas send them along. It's so huge, and there's so many flowers it's a pity to let them go to waste. And then, the wait starts for the first plums and the wonderful things I can make with them...

Strawberry tarts
Source: dulcis in fundo

Makes two individual tarts (9cm in diameter)

For the pastry

  • 125g plain flour
  • 75g cold butter, cut into small chunks
  • ½ tbsp sugar
  • 1 small egg, beaten (if your eggs are too big just use the yolk only)

For the filling

  • 5 strawberries
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • ¼ cup of sugar
  • 1 cups full fat milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1½ tbsp corn flour
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • A pinch of salt

For the pastry, mix the flour with the butter and sugar in a food processor until it starts to resemble breadcrumbs. Add the egg and mix again until everything is incorporated. Shape into a ball, and flatten between two sheets of cling film, rolling it a few centimetres bigger than the size of your tart cases (it makes enough for two 9cm tart cases, and I had some leftovers, which I froze for another time). Unstick one piece of cling film from the dough and lower into the tart cases, pressing carefully and filling in the gaps. Roll the rolling pin on top of the tart cases to "cut" the surplus dough, pierce everywhere with a fork and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Line the tart cases with baking paper and fill with baking beans (or rice or normal beans). Bake for 15 minutes, then take off the paper and beans and return to the oven until browned.

While the tart cases are cooling, prepare the cream filling by blending the sugar, eggs and corn flour with a handheld mixer. Warm up the milk with the salt in a small pan until it bubbles lightly, stirring every now and then with a wooden spoon, and slowly pour a few spoonfulls of milk into the egg and sugar mix, blending constantly with the mixer. Pour the mixture back into the milk pan, and carefully and quickly stir over a low hear, until it thickens (but careful, you don't want scrambled eggs! Of course in the not-so-rare case that this happens, pour everything into a blender, and then pass through a sieve and back into the milk pan).

After a couple of minutes, pass through a sieve to ensure that no chunks have formed, add the butter and vanilla extract, stir until everything is incorporated and leave to cool. Cover with cling film, pushing it down to stick on the surface of the cream, as you don't want a "skin" to form while it's cooling, and put in the fridge until it has cooled down (about 30-40 minutes). When both the tart cases and cream are totally cooled, fill the cases, adding thinly sliced strawberries on top, in a fan shape.

Strawberry and Vin Santo sorbet
Source: dulcis in fundo

Makes about 800ml

  • 190g sugar
  • 200g water
  • 200g ripe strawberries
  • 3 big chunks of lemon peel (equal to the peel of 1/3 of a lemon)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 star anise
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • A big glug of Vin Santo (according to taste, I put 3 tbsp in mine)

Put the water, sugar, cinnamon, star anise and lemon peel in a saucepan and warm up until the sugar has melted. Boil for 1 minute and set aside to cool. After it's cooled a bit add the lemon juice, move it to a suitable container (I use a plastic measuring jug) and put it in the freezer, so it can cool quickly.

Clean the strawberries and wash thoroughly. Put in a blender and liquidise. Pass through a thin sieve, squishing out all the flesh with a spoon and scraping around until only the seeds are left. A lot of recipes skip this step and put the strawberries whole, but I think it's really worth going the extra mile, as the seedless sorbets are so much smoother and melt-in-the-mouth than the ones containing seeds.

Remove the cinnamon stick, star anise and lemon peel from the sugar syrup and add the strawberry pulp. Put in the freezer again until cool. Pour into your ice cream machine, or if you don't have one put in a freezable container (preferably metal) and freeze for 1 hour, then take out, scrape/squash with a fork and refreeze, repeating the process every half an hour or so.


Discount Medifast said...

Thanks for both of the recipes. Strawberries I think are a favorite of a lot of people, and especially this time a year when they are so nice and plump.

linguinadc said...

Wow that's just amazing and i want to try the sorbet too... maybe in another season :)

Homeandfood said...

A m a z i n g looking sorbet there, I love love love wine and strawberries.

The tart looks fabulous as well :)

Venetia said...


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