While the weather has been red-hot, I find myself drawn to red food. Fresh produce such as red bell peppers, tomatoes and strawberries catch my eye.
While the weather has been red hot, I find myself drawn to red food.
Fresh produce, such as red bell peppers, tomatoes and strawberries, catch my eye. I snap them up at the farmers market as if by cooking with them and serving them to friends and family I can, somehow, deal with this summer’s extraordinary heat.
I’m not complaining: I understand that I’m fortunate to live outside a drought area.
Last week, I made a meal that seemed to highlight the red. I started with stuffed cherry tomatoes. Then a salad with a fresh tomato vinaigrette. And a paella practically overwhelmed with fresh vegetables, but prominently featuring red bell peppers. For dessert, I chose strawberries.
In my heart, I was longing for the bright, clean air of autumn, so I constructed a crisp, a heartland dessert that usually features substantial fruits, such as pears or apples. I wanted to use strawberries in this. After all, it is still summer, and farm stands pile them in baskets out front, hoping they will sell before they wilt.
But strawberries alone would just wilt into the casserole, so I needed a fruit with some heft to pair with them. The rhubarb that figures so highly in springtime pies is long gone, so I decided to try pears. I peeled and chopped them, remembering to keep them in a bowl of acidulated water, then drain when ready to use. Acidulated water is just cold water with a little bit of citrus juice added. It doesn’t matter whether it is lemon, lime or grapefruit, whatever is on hand. It keeps the fruit from turning gray.
The strawberries should be washed, then dried on paper towels, then hulled and cut in half just before mixing. They will tint the pears pink, but that’s OK. It looks like more strawberries in the filling.
The finished product, spooned out into dessert dishes or glasses, kind of screams for a topping. While vanilla ice cream works, it might be the time of year to change it up. A little tartness like Greek yogurt sweetened with a tiny bit of honey, or crème fraiche.
Crème fraiche, a Frenchified, slightly sweeter version of sour cream, is available at most grocery stores in a specialty refrigerated section. Some cooks make their own. It’s fairly easy to mix some whipping cream with sour cream or buttermilk and let it sit until thickened. I wouldn’t recommend the kitchen counter — ever — although it is the time-tested method. The refrigerator version takes longer, turns out slightly wetter, but is so much safer.
There’s no reason not to top this with a chocolate dipped strawberry. Chocolatiers will object to my method, but it does the trick for me. I melt half of a large bag of plain old semi-sweet chocolate bits together with a couple of tablespoons of butter over a double boiler. Keep your eye on it and stir from time to time. Then I let it cool slightly. It will be nice and shiny, if I have the patience to do it right.
While the chocolate cools, I unroll a sheet of aluminum foil and place it shiny side down on a baking sheet. By now the chocolate should be ready, still warm and liquid, but not so hot as to cook the strawberries. Holding them by the hull — the leaves — I dip washed, dried strawberries into the chocolate as deeply as I want, twirling to cover.
Then I gently put them onto the covered baking sheet. That’s it. Now they go into the refrigerator until ready to eat. The chocolate will firm up in the fridge. I can make as many as I have chocolate until it gets too thick. Then I save the rest in the refrigerator, covered tightly, and use it later, re-melted with heavy cream for hot-fudge sundaes.
One more “red” idea, and this one needs no cooking: a red fruit bowl. When I’m lazy but still want something that makes an impact, I pile up an assortment of plums, strawberries, cherries, apples, grapes — anything red or near red, like purple plums with red highlights — into a basket. Cool in the refrigerator before setting it on the table. Everyone can choose their favorites.
Makes 6 to 8 servings
2 pints strawberries berries, hulled and halved
3 ripe pears, e.g. Bosc, Bartlett, peeled, halved, cored, chopped
1/2 cup golden raisins, soaked in hot water to cover, 30 minutes, then drained
1/2 cup granulated sugar
grated zest of 1 orange, about 2 teaspoons
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in small bits
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter 2-quart baking dish.
2. Toss together the strawberries, pears, drained raisins, granulated sugar, orange zest, and vanilla. Set aside and make the topping below.
3. Process together just to combine, the oats, brown sugar, nuts, flour, cinnamon and salt. Add butter; pulse until mixture starts to hold together.
4. Spoon fruit mixture into prepared baking dish; cover evenly with topping, pressing lightly to compact. Bake until fruit is bubbly, top browned, about 50 minutes. Serve warm.
Makes 2 cups
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup sour cream
Whisk both ingredients together in a small non-aluminum bowl. Transfer to a glass jar; cover, and refrigerate overnight. Stir once again, and refrigerate overnight a second time. The mixture will be more liquid than purchased crème fraiche, but it will have the flavor.
Linda Bassett is the author of “From Apple Pie to Pad Thai: Neighborhood Cooking North of Boston.” Reach her by e-mail at KitchenCall@aol.com. Read Linda’s blog at LindABCooks.wordpress.com. Follow Linda for quick recipes on Twitter at @Kitchencall.