Seductive strawberry recipes for summertime

by Lauraine Jacobs / 05 January, 2018

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Strawberry and feta salad with balsamic dressing. Photo/Rebekah Robinson; styling by Kate Arbuthnot; plate from Frolic Ceramics; NZ Riverina almonds

Strawberry and feta salad with balsamic dressing. Photo/Rebekah Robinson; styling by Kate Arbuthnot; plate from Frolic Ceramics; NZ Riverina almonds

The taste of strawberries means summer is here, so check out our recipes for strawberry, sour cream and custard puffs and strawberry and feta salad.

One of the delights of early summer, strawberries are here again, with field-grown varieties available for the next few months. If you don’t grow your own, look to buy firm, ripe fruit. Luckily, most growers pack their wares in transparent containers, and although I’m not a fan of plastic packaging, in this case it’s a blessing because the packs can be carefully turned over to check the condition of the berries on the bottom.

Remember, too, that fully sun-ripened ones have the best flavour. Strawberries are the only fruit I can think of that bear their seeds on the outside – as the berry ripens, those little seeds change from light gold to dark wine.

If berries are past their prime, simply cut off the tops, then bring the fruit to a simmer with a couple of tablespoons of water and a spoonful or two of sugar. Stew gently for 2-3 minutes, then refrigerate. These berries are delicious on breakfast muesli or served with vanilla ice-cream.

I love berries in a salad and this refreshing, sweet combination is perfect to serve as the weather warms up.

Strawberry and feta salad with balsamic dressing

1 soft, leafy red lettuce

1 small head radicchio

200g strawberries

200g creamy feta cheese

a handful of mint leaves

½ cup almonds, roasted

DRESSING

2 tbsp quality balsamic vinegar

4 tbsp avocado oil

1 tsp salt

freshly ground black pepper to taste 

Wash and dry the lettuce leaves and radicchio, then tear into bite-sized pieces. Dry well using a salad spinner or clean tea cloth.

Core the strawberries, then cut in half lengthwise. Crumble the feta into little chunks. Pick the mint leaves off the stalks.

To make the dressing, combine the ingredients in a screw-top jar, then shake well.

Pile the salad leaves and radicchio onto a flattish plate. Scatter over the strawberries, feta and almonds, then drizzle over the dressing and top with mint leaves.

Serves 4 as an entrée
Wine match: rosé

These choux pastry puffs make a lovely dessert. See below for tips on successful choux pastry-making.

Strawberry, sour cream and custard puffs. Photo/Rebekah Robinson; styling by Kate Arbuthnot

Strawberry, sour cream and custard puffs

PASTRY

250ml cold water

pinch salt

100g unsalted butter, cut into pieces

130g flour, sifted onto a piece of baking paper

4 eggs

TO FINISH

250ml sour cream

250ml custard (Dollop brand recommended)

1 punnet strawberries, sliced

icing sugar for dusting 

Heat the oven to 200°C. Grease a large oven tray with butter.

Combine the water, salt and butter in a saucepan. Bring to the boil, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, ensuring that the butter melts before the water boils.

Remove the pan from the heat as soon as the water comes to the boil, then quickly stir in the flour. Return the pan to the stovetop and stir vigorously for 15-20 seconds until the mixture forms a ball around the spoon and comes away from the sides. Remove from the heat.

Tip the mixture into a food processor. Leaving the motor running, add the eggs one at a time until the batter is well combined, shiny and thick.

Using a dessertspoon, place evenly spaced pastry balls on the oven tray (or use a piping bag to pipe even mounds of mixture onto the tray).

Place the tray in the oven and bake for 20-30 minutes until the puffs are golden brown and well dried out. Cool on a cake rack, piercing the end of each puff so the centre dries. Store in an airtight tin for up to 2 days. They may also be frozen.

To fill, gently combine the sour cream and custard in a bowl. Slice part way through each puff. Fill with a tablespoon or two of custard mixture, then add a generous slice or two of fresh strawberry. Lightly dust the tops with icing sugar by sprinkling it through a small sieve. Leftover strawberries can be served on the side.

Makes about 20 puffs
Wine match: Asti Spumante

Perfect choux pastry

  • Precisely measured ingredients are the secret of successful choux pastry. There is no room for guesswork, because the magic lies in the chemistry as the water, butter, eggs and flour combine. A little too much of one and the process will fail.
  • Choux pastry is a great cooking technique to master. You will have to work quickly, but the end result is worth the time and care. Measure all the ingredients before you start. Line the baking tray with baking paper or non-stick foil, and ensure the oven is hot.
  • Do not let the water boil before the butter has melted, as boiling water releases steam, which means some of the carefully measured water will evaporate. Sift the flour onto a piece of paper, so that it can be added as soon as the water and butter come to the boil. Then stir energetically with a wooden spoon.
  • The best way to incorporate the eggs is by placing the mixture in a food processor or electric beater, such as a Kenwood or KitchenAid. However, they can also be added using a hand whisk. Once all the eggs are mixed in, the batter should be thick and shiny and hold its shape well.
  • Shape the pastry into small or large balls or pipe it into elegant lengths for éclairs. Do not be afraid to cook choux pastry until it is really crisp and dark golden. Pastries made a day or two ahead can be crisped in a preheated 160°C oven for 5 minutes.
  • For a savoury treat, add about 80g of finely grated parmesan cheese to the batter, then form the pastry into small balls for baking. In Burgundy, these cheese puffs, or gougères, are a popular snack to accompany wine.

This article was first published in the November 4, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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