Strawberries in June: They're the precursor to everything good about summer. Before the tender raspberries and blackberries, before the luscious stone fruits, even before the corn on the cob come the dainty, vibrant red strawberries of spring.
Strawberries are a plentiful source of potassium, vitamin C and phytochemicals, nutrients that may ward off cancer, heart disease and common complaints associated with aging.
HOW TO SELECT:
The oddest shaped berries can sometimes be the sweetest of the peck. However, pass over any that are white around the shoulders; they were picked prematurely and will not ripen further. Also avoid any that are soft and shriveled or sport any trace of mold; they are past their prime. Do not choose containers that leak juice; this often is an indication of bruised or overripe fruit.
HOW TO STORE:
Try not to store strawberries since they can spoil quickly. If you must, gently tip the container onto a paper towel-lined plate, spread into a single layer and refrigerate for up to three days. The cold mutes the sweet flavor, so remove the berries from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes prior to serving.
HOW TO CLEAN:
Think of berries as potential sponges. Never soak them; instead, rinse them under cool running water. Similarly, do not clean berries until as close as possible to serving time, and do not remove the hulls until after they have been cleaned.
A mere twist can remove the hull, but not the hard conical stem beneath it. A single flick of a sharp paring knife will remove both.
HOW TO PREPARE:
If strawberries are at their sweetest, why muck them up? At most, perfect strawberries need only a swipe through a dip of honey and mascarpone.
When strawberries are slightly less than stellar, start with just a wee bit of something to enhance the sweetness. A sprinkle of sugar and about 20 minutes to release the juices is the standard approach; try adding a pinch of ground cardamom. The sweet syrup that results can be spooned over ice cream, pancakes and sweet cream biscuits.
The opposite approach -- adding something tart or harsh -- emphasizes what sweetness there is in the strawberries. A drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar or a pinch of freshly cracked black pepper makes berries suitable to be served with goat cheese.
Still not satisfied with the berries' flavor? Dunk in a flute of champagne. Churn into ice cream. Plop atop a spinach salad and ladle on the poppy-seed dressing. Simmer into preserves. Bake into something, such as a strawberry-rhubarb cobbler. Whir them into a cool soup or sorbet.
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