The starting flag to summer has officially dropped with the first of the UK strawberries. To celebrate the end of the hungry gap and the start of the new UK growing season, here are some ideas for this most anticipated of produce.
Before I start, it is probably best to define what I mean by strawberries:
Grown in season. Anything grown starkly out of season is just an ersatz fruit. The shape and colour are where the similarities end. Enjoy them for the summer and then (unless preserved as jam) wait until next year.
Grown in soil. Sounds like a given, doesn’t it? But many strawberries are drip feed nutrients on soilless tabletops.
Grown without chemicals. Nature couldn’t have designed a better snare for chemical and pesticide residue. You can’t peel them and they don’t take kindly to a vigorous scrub, so it is no wonder they regularly appear in the so-called Dirty Dozen list of pesticide residues.
So how to eat this delicious fruit and seasonal prize?
As they are
There is little reason to mess too much with something so superlative. Scoffing them straight from the punnet shows just as much culinary discernment as the most complicated of preparations. Hold them by the green calyx and wolf them in a single bite or nibble demurely, the choice is yours.
Marry with dairy
If you fancy a partnership, they marry with dairy in most forms – cream, crème fraiche, mascarpone and curd cheese; but clotted cream must trump all others. A simple bowlful is divine, perch the two atop a scone and you step it up a gear; for something stratospherically summery bring in a chorus of summer fruits for a pillowy pavlova.
Chill them down
The sweet/sharp flavour and easily blended texture makes them ideal for ice creams, lollies, sorbets and smoothies. Be aware that cold dulls sweetness so you’ll often need some added sweetness to brighten the flavour back up. Try these ice lollies with watermelon and basil; perfect for a hot day.
Over a grill or in a crumble
Did you know you can thread strawberries on a skewer and BBQ them? It is worth doing just to see people’s reactions; a mixture of upset and intrigue. In practice, the cooking is swift, theatrical and adds a little caramelisation and contrast. If you want to apply some real heat, try popping some in a crumble. It feels like the antithesis of summery, but this recipe with rhubarb is a seasonal treat. Serve it hot, partner it with fridge-cold cream. Cold leftovers are ideal with warm custard.
I have seen many attempts to bring strawberries into the savoury realm and most are a culinary car crash. Recipes that boldly pair strawberries with the likes of beef, pork, duck and even fish, rely on the subtle skill of a high-end kitchen. Unless you have kitchen confidence, it’ll probably taste like you’ve spread jam on your sirloin. The only one that really works for me is as part of a simple summer salad where the sweetness is set against something salty. This recipe with cucumbers, halloumi and herbs is fresh, summery and balanced.