Cooking from The Farms: Strawberries

Posted on June 7, 2010

Today I add a new feature to the blog:  Cooking From The Farms.  I’ll be featuring one item of produce from my weekly CSA shares from either Cider Hill Farm of Amesbury, MA or Heron Pond Farm of Southampton, NH, telling you a little bit about the ingredient and giving you a way to prepare it in the event it ends up on your countertop as well.  I am lucky to have both farms as neighbors; I wouldn’t have been able to cook and eat as well as I have over the past several years without my local farms.


A pint of strawberries, even sun-soaked and sweet field strawberries, isn’t a lot of berries.  Enough to garnish a cake, to provide a snack for two hungry kiddies, to serve as a topping for two lunches’ worth of greek yoghurt.  I love the local strawberries, they’re yummy, but one pint disappears around here in the blink of an eye, usually with one or more unlucky family members missing out.

We eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables at home, especially now at the start of the local growing season and throughout the early fall as many of our favorite sweet treats and greens return.  In Junes, Julys, and Augusts past I have made stops at farms, farm stands, and farmers’ markets several times a week to feed our habit.

This year, to be a little more organized with fewer trips yet still stock up while supporting our local growers, I joined two CSAs (community supported agriculture), investing in a half share at each.  Two farms, I reasoned, would give me two different pick up dates during a week, two different sets of crops to gather from, and enough produce to get me through the week’s meals.

Well, between the inevitably small yield of New England’s first spring crops and the fact that one CSA’s opening week has yet to arrive, I’m not quite in that groove yet.  The half share from early bird Heron Pond was lovely and fresh – lettuce, scallions, a tomato and the pint of strawberries.  We had a wonderfully crisp salad made with the lettuce, scallion and tomato with dinner on a couple of nights; I chopped the rest of the bunch of scallions finely and stirred them into zucchini fritter batter, also wonderful.  But, and I am ashamed to admit this, no one had a single strawberry but me.

I ate every last one for my lunches on Wednesday and Thursday.  I didn’t even leave a note of apology (“This is just to say… I have eaten all the strawberries that were in the icebox…”*)  It seems I have more than a bit of my mother’s grandfather, Nana Burton’s father, in me.  Staying with his daughter and her daughters once for a stretch, he made a midnight raid on the family’s breakfast scones, polishing off every last one.

“I had a fit of hunger,” he explained in the morning when my grandmother and the girls arrived in the kitchen to an empty tin.

He explained but he never apologized. I know I must, and with more than words (“Forgive me they were delicious so sweet and so cold”*).  I’m working on the apology right now, in the best way I know how.  I already know what Heron Pond promises this week:  a half pound bag of mixed lettuces, a bunch of scallions, a tomato (more salad); a bunch of beet greens (either a white bean and greens soup or the greens simply sautéed with garlic); a bunch of garlic scapes (perhaps Dorie Greenspan’s Garlic Scape Pesto on some pasta); and one more lone pint of strawberries.

glistening

ruby red and sweet

they will

taste of sunshine

and this time

I will share

Baked Crottins with Strawberries, Greens, and Toasted Hazelnuts

Serves 4

Both sweet and savory, this preparation is equally good served as a first course or as a dessert.  Nine times out of ten, I will choose cheese for dessert after a restaurant dinner.  I love ending a meal on a savory note, saving my cake or cookie allotment for midday, with a cup of tea.

 

But with this composed salad and cheese dish, the combination of barely macerated peak-of-season berries, toasty hazelnuts, and licorice-y tarragon will give even the sweetest tooth dessert satisfaction.  The pairing of excellent-quality balsamic vinegar with strawberries is classic, however a good sherry vinegar will substitute well.  Resist red or white wine vinegars.  Here you want a vinegar infused with the smoky sweetness of wood barrel aging.

 

Crottins are little buttons of goat cheese, and will be available at a good cheese counter.  Ask for a younger crottin; an aged disk will be a little too hard, a little too sharp.

  • 2 Tbsp. canola oil
  • 2 Tbsp. hazelnut oil
  • 1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp. honey
  • pinch of salt
  • 4 crottins, each one split into two equal circles
  • 1 cup hazelnuts, toasted, skinned, cooled, and roughly crushed under a rolling pin
  • a handful or two of fresh baby greens
  • up to one loosely packed Tbsp. of washed tarragon leaves, torn or left whole
  • 1 pint ripe strawberries, washed, hulled and halved

Whisk together the first five ingredients to make the vinaigrette and set aside.

Preheat your oven to 250 degrees.

Place hazelnuts on a baking sheet lined with parchment and toast in the preheated oven until they just begin to give off their aroma and are a light golden brown.   To skin them, remove from the oven and while still warm wrap the nuts in a clean kitchen towel.  Rub them together in the towel vigorously for a few seconds to loosen the skins.  Unwrap and let cool completely, discarding skins.  Nuts won’t be completely skin-free, but close enough.

Place cooled nuts in a plastic bag and crush them with a rolling pin.  You want something halfway between large chunks and nut dust.  Place the cooled, crushed nuts in a shallow dish or plate.

While the nuts toast and cool, split your 4 crottins into halves through their middles, ending up with 8 equal circles.  Lay these in a shallow dish or plate and drizzle with one-half of the vinaigrette.  Move them around to coat on both sides.  (The cheeses can marinate for a few minutes or a few hours.)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Remove cheese disks from the oil one at a time and press both flat sides into the crushed hazelnuts, coating lightly but evenly.  Lay each piece on a baking sheet lined with foil that has been lightly sprayed with non-stick spray.  When finished, place the sheet in the oven and bake the cheese for 5 minutes or a bit more.  The cheese should be warmed through without being burned or bubbling, and will feel soft to the touch when you press the disk in its center.

While the cheese is baking, compose a few lettuce leaves in small mounds on four serving plates. Top the lettuce with two cheese disks warm from the oven and scatter with the halved strawberries, dividing them equally between the four plates.  Drizzle the berries and cheese with the remaining vinaigrette and garnish the plate with a sprinkling of toasted hazelnuts and tarragon leaves to taste.

Serve immediately with slices of baguette if desired.

©2010  Jane Ward

(*Title and lines excerpted from “This is Just To Say” by William Carlos Williams, substitution of “strawberries” for the poem’s original “plums” mine.)