A summer affair with strawberries

Short and Sweet

by Peggy Paul Casella

Large, watery, cone-shaped strawberries are available any time at the grocery store, but if you want the real thing—fragrant, red all the way through, with juices that dribble down your chin—you have to wait for that sweet spot in the year, when late spring meets early summer. Strawberries have one of the shortest growing seasons in our region, spanning from mid-May to mid-June (late June if we’re lucky). They belong to the rose family of plants and are the only fruit that bears its seeds on the outside. (If we’re being technical, those seeds that get caught in your teeth are the actual fruit of the strawberry plant; the fleshy part is nothing more than an engorged receptacle, similar to the white cone that remains on the stem when you pick a raspberry.)

Look for plump, shiny, deep-red strawberries with green stems still intact, and pass on those that are dull, wet-looking or pale green in spots. Always be sure to check the bottom of the container for mold, too, as strawberries are extremely perishable, especially when packed closely together.

USES: Add them to agua fresca, lemonade, sangria, and other beverages and cocktails. Stir them into pancake and waffle batter. Buzz them into smoothies and shakes. Slice them for parfaits and sweet and savory salads. Chop them finely for salsas and gazpacho. Cook them down to make jellies and preserves. Churn them into ice cream or purée and freeze for granita. Bake them into cakes, muffins, scones, clafoutis, crumbles, cobblers and other desserts.

Strawberry Jalapeño Salsa
Makes about 2 ½ cups

Ingredients:

  • 1 pint strawberries, hulled and finely diced
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely diced
  • 3 spring onions, white and light green parts only, finely sliced (1⁄2 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives
  • Zest and juice of 1 lime
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

  1. In a medium bowl, mix together the strawberries, jalapeño, spring onions, chives, lime zest and juice, and salt. Add a few grinds of black pepper, toss well, then taste and add more salt or lime juice as desired.
  2. If you’re not using it right away, transfer the salsa to an airtight container and keep it in the fridge for up to 3 days.

Peggy Paul Casella is a cookbook editor, writer, urban vegetable gardener, produce peddler and author of the blog Thursday Night Pizza.