The oh-so-brief season for local strawberries is in full swing. That fleetingness makes loading up on the lusciously colored fruit tempting, especially when you’re out picking in the fields. But then what? They keep fresh for just a few days. Well, those beautiful red berries aren’t just for dessert. When paired with the right savory flavors, strawberries can be a show stopper before dessert even gets to the table. They brighten up everything from salads to chilled soup.
Fresh salads are an obvious place for strawberries, and right now, local greens are plentiful at the farmers markets. My favorite go-to salad at the moment is a bed of fresh greens, sliced strawberries, feta cheese, grilled chicken, and an easy balsamic vinaigrette. I might add cooked bacon crumbles or nuts, but otherwise, this salad is perfection.
One surprising place for fresh strawberries is in soup: strawberry gazpacho. Gazpacho is a chilled soup traditionally made with tomatoes. I’ve seen other ingredients take the place of tomatoes, such as melon or avocado, but I hadn’t thought of strawberries. Gazpacho is acidic and a touch sweet so it makes sense that strawberries fit the bill. The soup is quite simple to make as most ingredients aren’t cooked.
Variations abound, but in general you send strawberries, cucumber, bell pepper, herbs and other seasonings through a food processor then chill the soup for several hours to allow the flavors to marry. Some recipes call for a bit of tomato or tomato juice, and jalapenos. On hot summer days, a cool gazpacho is great for lunch or a light supper.
Another surprising recipe: strawberry risotto. Fruit risotto is common in parts of Italy and strawberries are no stranger to the creamy rice dish. Traditional risotto is made with Arborio rice, onion, wine, Parmesan cheese and stock. The stock is added slowly to the rice, which, as it cooks, releases starch that creates the creaminess.
Some versions of strawberry risotto call for cooking the strawberries first with the onion so that the finished product essentially becomes a pink bowl of creamy rice. Other recipes have you stir in cut strawberries at the end with the Parmesan cheese, to produce a chunkier fruit result.
Strawberry barbecue sauce is another idea that caught my attention. A very simple recipe from Epicurious.com has just four ingredients and takes less than an hour to make. Simmer together strawberries, apple cider vinegar, chili sauce, and fresh garlic for a refreshing alternative to traditional barbecue sauces makes great use of the fruit while in season.
With both gazpacho and barbecue sauce, the strawberries essentially replace tomatoes. Why stop there? How about salsa? After dicing fresh strawberries, add minced jalapeno, cilantro, red onion, and lime juice for a deliciously awesome spin on traditional salsa. Let it sit for a few hours or overnight to let the flavors come together, then dip in tortilla chips, or serve it over grilled chicken, fish, or pork, or in a taco.
Finally, freezer jam is a fantastic way to preserve an abundance of strawberries. It’s quick, easy, and lets you enjoy fresh-tasting strawberries well past June. You’ll find many different recipes, but most call for boiling sugar, pectin and some water; then you simply add mashed berries and fill your freezer containers.
Think outside the box when it comes to jam. It makes a great addition to the dinner table as a glaze for meat or fish. Use it as a sweet component on a grilled sandwich—turkey, bacon, strawberry jam, and Gruyere cheese on sourdough; or grilled vegetable, Swiss and strawberry jam on rye. Strawberries and cheese work well together so try your jam as a topping on a cheese plate with crackers and bread.
Tip: Tweak a freezer jam recipe to preserve strawberries in a fresh-like state for a few weeks in the refrigerator. Instead of mashing the berries, cut a bunch in half (about 5–6 cups for a typical freezer jam batch that calls for 3 cups mashed). Fold them gently into the hot sugar-pectin mixture, then refrigerate. This preserves the berries in a semi-jam for a few weeks, in a quite fresh-tasting state. You could also freeze berries this way to keep them longer and fresher tasting than simply throwing them raw in the freezer.
Risotto is a bit time consuming but so rewarding! Some recipes add cream but I find this recipe just as deliciously creamy without the extra fat. After researching different styles of strawberry risotto, I simply took my favorite risotto recipe and added one cup of strawberries. The result is creamy heaven.
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 cup thinly sliced green onion, white parts only (set aside sliced greens for garnish)
1 cup Arborio rice
½ cup dry white wine
4–5 cups chicken or vegetable broth, as needed
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
1 cup strawberries, hulled and diced
Fresh basil, thinly sliced for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste
Melt 2 Tbsp. of the butter in a large heavy bottom over medium heat. Add green onion and cook until softened, 5 minutes or so. Add the rice and stir while cooking, until rice becomes translucent (about 2 minutes). Add the wine and simmer until absorbed.
Add ½ cup broth to rice mixture and simmer, stirring occasionally, until absorbed. Add another ½ cup broth the same way. Continue slowly adding broth and allowing it to absorb, taking care to stir often so the rice doesn’t stick or burn. After about 4 cups of broth is absorbed, test for doneness. Finished product should be creamy and rice should be firm but tender. This process takes about 30 minutes. If the rice is not cooked through and the mixture is dry, add more broth and continue to cook until tender.
Stir in the Parmesan cheese, strawberries, and remaining butter. Garnish with basil, green onion and additional Parmesan.