What's in Season: Strawberries

Oh, that Tess d’Urberville! Every strawberry season, her film image haunts me, that loaded scene of a ripe, blood-red berry raised to her quivering mouth. Suddenly, my own berry in hand, my lips part and I’m standing on a country lane in billowing linen, dark hair spilling from a bonnet jauntily askew from the complicit breeze.

Okay, so what’s a little fantasy when, in reality, it’s a spoonful of Cheerios with a strawberry slice parting my lips, and I’m standing at the kitchen sink in a faded bathrobe? But Tess’s mouthful portends disaster; mine, only summer skies and a sweet culinary season.

And I’m not alone. Strawberries are the world’s most popular berry fruit, with the U.S. the largest producer. Layered with crème fraîche in parfaits, macerated in red wine in chilled soups, paired with cinnamon and maple syrup for pancakes, sliced into salads and tarts, strawberries are a heart-shaped valentine of sweetness, juice, and nutrition.

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At The Barn at Bedford Post (954 Old Post Rd, Bedford, 914-234-7800), pastry chef Jessica Minisci is totally smitten. She pairs the berries with rhubarb in Danish and tartlets, mixes them with blueberries and almond cream in crostadas, and purées them into sorbets and gelatos. “Strawberries complement lots of other flavors,” she says. “Their sweetness works well when mixed with more tart berries, and their color has such eye appeal.” There’s practical appeal, too: “They hold their shape when cooked,” she notes.

Whether you grow, buy, or pick your own strawberries (a list of farms can be found at nyfarms.info), store them layered—and unwashed—between paper towels in a plastic bag and refrigerate up to three days. When you’re ready to use them, rinse before removing the green caps to keep the berries from absorbing water. Then slice, macerate, bake, or, Tess-like, savor them whole (quivering mouth optional).

Strawberry Cheese Crostada
Courtesy of Jessica Minisci, The Barn at the Bedford Post
(10 to 12 crostadas)

2 oz cream cheese at room temperature
2 oz mascarpone cheese at room temperature
1 pint strawberries, quartered
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
zest from 1 lemon, minced

Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine cream cheese and mascarpone in mixer with paddle attachment, or stir by hand in bowl, until well mixed. Set aside. Toss quartered strawberries with sugar, vanilla, and lemon zest. Set aside.

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3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 sticks (16 Tbsp) cold butter, cut in cubes
4 oz cold cream cheese, cut in cubes
1 cup ice water

Combine flour, salt, and butter in bowl. With your fingers, break butter up into pea-sized pieces. Add cream cheese and break up. Gradually add ice water, mixing, until dough is formed.
Roll out dough on a floured surface to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut out 6-inch-diameter circles. Save scraps, re-roll, and cut again.
Place circles on a parchment-lined sheet pan.

Place 1 tablespoon of cheese filling in center of each circle and top with a handful of strawberry filling. Fold dough over berries on three sides to form a triangle shape, pinching the three corners together (if necessary, dip fingers in water in order to seal corners shut). Brush each crostada with melted butter and sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar.

4 oz butter, melted cinnamon-sugar for dusting

Bake approximately 20 minutes, until dough is golden brown. Let cool in pan.

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