Strawberries and Mascarpone
The “wow” moments of shopping at farmers’ markets come when you try a sample at a grower’s table that you think you have tasted dozens, maybe hundreds of times before, and the morsel you just tried makes you re-evaluate every previous bite. Strawberries in June, straight off the vine picked shortly before arriving at the market, are one of those crops. Some varieties are super sweet, some a bit tart, some plump as the juice drips down your arm because they are too big for just one bite. They become the annual signature taste of the transition to the first 80-degree days that are needed for them to fully ripen to their peak flavor before harvest.
It’s well worth enjoying a few strawberries virtually every day during their brief season. If you don’t, you will wish you did when they vanish from the markets. Proper storage is especially essential to fragile crops like berries.
According to the University of Wisconsin Extension Service, strawberries should be cooled immediately after harvest. Spread them out on a flat baking sheet or large plate and place in refrigerator to quickly cool. Do not wash before storing. Adding moisture would encourage rotting. Store in vented bags and store in the low humidity produce drawer. Then, rinse before eating.
Slice them into your water, sparkling water, or lemonade. Top your crispy green salads or grain bowls with strawberries. Add them to your morning food even if it’s simple yogurt, granola, frozen toaster waffles. Try them on toast with almond butter or mascarpone cheese. For a light dessert, top cookies such as ladyfingers or shortbread or a treat from your favorite bakery like a biscuit, cornbread, or croissant with strawberries, a dollop of mascarpone, and a light drizzle of maple syrup or honey.
Strawberry season can serve as an introduction to the use of mascarpone cheese, an Italian cheese vaguely a cross between cream cheese, but not as dense, and sour cream, but not as sour. It is sold in a tub like sour cream. The expiration date, a sell by date, is often 60 days out. Mascarpone cheese can become a welcome addition to the refrigerator for us who prepare solo meals because it can have multiple uses. It can serve as a substitute for things like whipped cream, cream cheese, heavy cream, and ricotta cheese.
Stir it into roasted vegetables, spread it on flatbread pizza, toss it into pasta, scrambled eggs, or mashed potatoes. Since it can be used in both savory and sweet ways, it is often used in desserts like the classic Italian tiramisu.
If you wish to freeze some strawberries, rinse them and cut off the green stem tops. Lay out on flat sheet and place the sheet in freezer so the berries will freeze individually. When they are solid, pull and quickly transfer to freezer bags while they remain separately frozen. Strawberries, and other berries, will be soft when you thaw them but will still be delicious. Create your own strawberry shake in your blender with yogurt, milk, almond milk, or coconut milk. Taste, then if needed, add a bit of maple syrup or honey and a dash of cinnamon. Pour into a tall glass then reminisce about your farmers’ market discoveries.