July 22, 2013

Strawberry Fool

Some foods are just made for one another. Take seafood and lemon, beef and red wine, pretzels and mustard, chocolate and coffee, tomatoes and basil, even peanut butter and jelly. To those immortal pairs I add strawberries and cream, a combination I come back to time and time again.

You can't run out of ways to enjoy these flavors. It can be as simple as a bowl of fresh strawberries topped with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream. You can bake a batch of biscuits and create a strawberry shortcake. Or make a vanilla cheesecake and top with strawberry glaze. Strawberry ice cream and milkshakes do the job too. 

Recently, I learned a new twist on this classic combination. It's a British dessert called strawberry fool. Yes, the name's a bit weird, but it could be worse — Toad in the Hole, Bangers and Mash or Spotted Dick, anyone?

Strawberry fool is similar to strawberry mousse, but it's made without eggs. You simply fold pureed strawberries into sweetened whipped cream. That's it. Just strawberries and cream. A perfect combination.

Finely chop strawberries.

Toss with sugar.

Let strawberries sit until they give up their juices.

Puree half of the strawberries and their juice.

Return puree to the bowl with the chopped strawberries. (You want to leave some chopped strawberries as is to give the dessert some texture.)

Whip the cream with sugar and vanilla until it holds stiff peaks.

Gently fold the berries into the cream...

... until combined but not overmixed.


Strawberry Fool

Recipe by Mark Bittman

1 pint strawberries
1/2 cup sugar, divided (adjust depending on the sweetness of your strawberries)
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract

1.    Hull strawberries, then wash them and chop into 1/2-inch pieces.

2.    Toss with half the sugar. Wait 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they give up their juices.

3.    Place half the strawberries and all the juice in a blender. Puree. Pour puree back in bowl with chopped strawberries.

4.    Whip the cream with remaining sugar and vanilla until cream is stiff and holds peaks easily. Gently fold berries and cream together.

5.    Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to two hours.

Serves 4

July 1, 2013

Caprese Pasta Salad

Every summer I grow small pots of herbs in my backyard. Every year its the same assortment: Italian basil, Thai basil, thyme and chives. One container of each. And every year the same thing happens. The Italian basil grows and grows. Almost overnight, ten tentative leaves seem to multiply into hundreds.

But I hesitate to pick them. I worry that if I use too many, too soon, I won't have enough for later in the summer. Usually, I wait too long. The strong summer sun wilts the leaves. The stems start to dry up. I quickly start to use basil in every dish I can think of. But inevitably some of the beautiful basil goes to waste.

This year I decided to try a different strategy. I planted two pots of Italian basil instead of one. That way, when the leaves started to bloom, I wouldn't worry about saving enough for later. The strategy has worked, even better than I expected. I have so much basil that I'm using it one way or another practically every day. 

This caprese pasta salad is a great way to use up some basil. It takes the traditional ingredients of a caprese salad -- tomatoes, basil and mozzarella -- and transforms them into a pasta salad. The basil takes the form of a vinaigrette. It's similar to a pesto, but without the cheese and nuts.

The salad is perfect for a summer lunch or light dinner. I bulked it up a bit by adding a can of white beans. The beans nicely absorb the tangy vinaigrette, especially if you let the salad sit overnight. And it gives the salad some heft without making it heavy.

Cook pasta in salted, boiling water until just cooked (but not al dente).

Drain and transfer to a bowl. Set aside to let it cool.

For the vinaigrette, start with fresh basil.

In a blender, combine the bail, salt, garlic, lemon juice and vinegar. Pulse a few times.

Then blend, while slowly drizzling in olive oil. Blend until smooth. Set aside.

Now back to the pasta. Add beans...


and grape tomatoes.

Toss to combine.

Pour basil vinaigrette on top.

Then toss again until everything is coated with the dressing. Chill overnight to allow the flavors to meld. Serve chilled or at room temperature. Enjoy!

Caprese Pasta Salad

Recipe adapted from bake.love.give.

1 lightly packed cup fresh basil leaves
1 tsp coarse sea salt
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
1 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp sherry vinegar
6 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3/4 pound mini penne or other small pasta
1 15-ounce can white beans, drained and rinsed
8 ounces fresh mozzarella pearls, drained
1 pint grape tomatoes

1.    Cook pasta in salted, boiling water until just cooked.

2.    Place basil leaves, salt, garlic, lemon juice and vinegar into a blender or food processor.

3.    While blending, slowly drizzle olive oil into mixture and continue to blend until a smooth dressing is formed.

4.    In a large bowl, toss together cooled pasta, beans, mozzarella, tomatoes.

5.    Add vinaigrette and mix until everything is lightly coated.

6.    Chill for a few hours or overnight, to allow flavors to come together. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Serves 6 as a light meal.