Thursday, May 20, 2010

Strawberries....need I say more?

I have fallen head over heels for grilled strawberries. I thought the sensuous combo of chocolate and strawberries would always be my true love, but now.....what can I say other than the caramelized stripe of charred sweetness transport a strawberry into a totally different realm?
Last summer we grilled peaches. Grilled pineapple slices remain a favorite. But strawberries? Never imagined that until I tasted one at the Asheville City Market at their weekly demo and tasting booth, which featured this Saturday Knife and Fork, a new restaurant in Spruce Pine.

Recipes for grilling strawberries usually call for them to be wet, then rolled in sugar and then grilled. Many called for balsamic vinegar, so I decided to give that a try. Granted, my balsamic vinegar is not the real thing that costs as much as the price of a fancy dinner out for just one small bottle. Which means that the cheap balsamic I buy is mostly caramel-colored vinegar probably sweetened with brown sugar, which means a perfect coating for grilling strawberries!
I heated up my grill pan, since my outdoor gas grill was indisposed. I dipped the berries first in the balsamic vinegar, then rolled them first in white sugar. (I bet you could place the berries on a skewer, and roll them in sugar all at once.) The result with regular sugar and the balsamic vinegar was pretty good. When I rolled the berries in brown sugar, however, there was more caramelization going on in the grill pan, and the taste was oh so marvelous! I found that only a minute of heat on either side was more than enough.
The result? The berries pooled their sweetness into the plate. The berries are softened just a tad, with a somewhat crunchy bit of caramel on the grilled stripe. Which made me want to just stand there and fill my face rather than save any for tonight's dessert. I'm going to make a shortcake of some sort to serve them with.

From the mountains to the coastal plain, there will be a short season of strawberries this year, due to the weather. Mainly the fault is with the rain, which is not a friend for strawberries when they are ripening in the fields. In fact, I should have known better than to purchase fresh, local berries this morning, what with our recent heavy rains. They were very soft and had a watered down taste, not as intense as those who roast in the dry sun, and I wound up being able to use only half of the basket.
I remember from my 4-H days, when I planted 100 plants for my growing project. The first year, I was required to pinch off the white blossoms, which meant no berries that year. (They don't do that anymore, I understand.) The second year, I'd go out to my berry patch with my bucket and plunk myself down and eat all within reach until I was almost too sick to pick any more!
So, this gorgeous tart is one of my all time favorites. Chocolate and strawberries, what could be better? Serve a little framboise with it, and yum! You'll also find the recipe in THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK: Recipes & Traditions from NC's Barrier Islands.
I've increased the filling to fit my tart pan a bit better. I like to use a removable-bottom tart pan for its ease in serving, and follow the sweet pastry dough recipe given by Julia Child in THE ART OF FRENCH COOKING. If the strawberries are large, slice them in half. Or use just small, whole berries placed bottom up.

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, cut into pieces
4 tablespoons heavy cream
1 9-inch pie crust, baked
1 quart (4 cups) whole,fresh strawberries, hulled (large ones halved), rinsed and dried
2 tablespoons strawberry or red currant jelly (not preserves)
1 teaspoon water
confectioners' sugar,sifted
sprigs of lemon verbena or mint

1. In the microwave or a double boiler, slowly melt chocolate and butter together, stirring frequently. When thoroughly melted and mixed, stir in cream and beat with spoon until combined.
2. Spread mixture into the baked tart shell.
3. Immediately place small berries with bottoms up, or large ones sliced in half with rounded side up, starting in the center, in a patterned circle covering the chocolate.
4. Melt jelly and water together in the microwave,stir, then brush the tops of each strawberry with that mixture so that the berries will glisten. Be careful not to allow jelly mixture to pool on the chocolate.
5. Refrigerate for about an hour or two, or up to six hours. Remove from fridge about 30 to 45 minutes before serving so that the chocolate layer can be sliced. Sprinkle confectioners' sugar over the top of each slice, and garnish with the lemon verbana or mint.