'Tis the season, in temperate zones, for strawberries fresh from the patch. They are best picked and eaten whole, still moist with the morning dew and warmed slightly by the sun.
Serve more later with shortcake and cream. Add strawberry vinaigrette to greens. Freeze some for smoothies, make jam with others.
Whether you choose to pick them yourself or buy them from a roadside stand, the cap and stem should be intact, and the berries should be plump and bright red with a natural shine. They do not ripen after they leave the vine.
If you don't plan to use them immediately, growers say, store the berries in the refrigerator, loosely covered and unwashed. When you are ready to prepare them, rinse with caps still attached under a gentle spray of cool water; pat dry with a paper towel. The caps prevent water from breaking down the texture and flavor inside the berries. To remove the caps after washing, give them a light twist or use the point of a sharp paring knife.
For the most flavor, serve strawberries at room temperature.
Gouda and Strawberry Salad
6 cups romaine, spinach or radicchio greens
8 ounces Gouda cheese, sliced in wedges
2 cups sliced juicy strawberries
1/2 cup toasted ground pecans
Arrange greens on four salad plates. Arrange cheese wedges and strawberries alternately on greens (use 2 ounces cheese and 1/2 cup strawberries per plate). Add dressing and top with pecans.
For the vinaigrette:
1/2 cup seedless strawberry jam or strawberry preserves
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup red wine, vinegar or strawberry or raspberry vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl. Place in a jar with lid and chill until ready to use.
Recipe from: American Dairy Association
Since the season for locally grown strawberries is short, usually June through mid-July, many cooks pull out family recipes for shortcake to savor the memories along with the flavor.
Ellen Wright, in her book ''Bridgehampton Weekends'' (William Morrow, $30) splits baking powder biscuits and tops them with sugared berries thinly sliced and unsweetened whipped cream.
Noted author Jeanne Lemlin bakes an almond-flavored shortcake and sweetens both the sliced berries and the whipped cream. This is her recipe, as noted in ''Simple Vegetarian Pleasures'' (Quill, $15). The book, just out in paperback, was published as a hardcover in 1998.
Quick Strawberry Shortcake
2 pints strawberries, hulled and thinly sliced
1/4 to 1/3 cup sugar, depending on the sweetness of the berries
For the shortcake:
1 2/3 cups unbleached flour
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into bits
1 large egg
2/3 cup buttermilk or yogurt thinned with a little milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
For the topping:
3/4 cup chilled heavy cream
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Combine the strawberries and sugar in a large bowl and set aside for at least 1 hour to extract the juices. If longer than an hour, cover and chill.
Preheat oven to 400 F. Generously butter an 8-by-8-inch baking pan.
In a large bowl, thoroughly combine the flour, 1/3 cup sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Drop in the butter, toss to coat it with the flour, then rub it between your fingertips until pea-size crumbs form.
In a medium bowl, beat the egg. Beat in the buttermilk and the vanilla and almond extracts. Scrape this mixture into the flour mixture, then stir it quickly with a fork just until the flour is evenly moistened. Don't overbeat it. Scrape the dough into the prepared pan and smooth over the top. Sprinkle on the remaining tablespoon of sugar. Bake about 17 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center of the shortcake comes out clean, and the top is golden. Cool completely on a wire rack.
Meanwhile, whip the cream with the sugar and vanilla until thick but still somehwat soupy.
To serve, cut the biscuit into 9 squares. Freeze 4 or 5 for future use, if desired. Split each biscuit in half horizontally. Spoon some of the strawberries and syrup into the bottom of each serving dish. Place the bottom of the biscuit on the strawberries, then cover with some more strawberries and some whipped cream. Place the top of the biscuit on the berries and finish with a dollop of whipped cream on top.
Makes 4 or 5 servings.
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