Strawberries again. What can I say? They are still deliciously cheap. This is one of my favourite desserts. I like to pretend its healthy, but that’s basically a lie. I also don’t measure anything anymore, so this is a bit of a best-guess scenario.
For those of you who looked at the title of this post and thought, ‘Oh, here we go. It’s the garlic fudge all over again – Catherine has completely lost the plot,’ well, firstly your scepticism wounds me, it truly does, and secondly, it’s entirely misplaced. Strawberries with sugar and a splash of balsamic vinegar is actually a traditional Italian dessert, and while it is phenomenal when you have really good strawberries and balsamic vinegar, it’s also a good way to improve rather average strawberries – the sugar adds sweetness and juiciness, and the vinegar adds a sharp tang, and the result is strawberries that taste even more like strawberries.
Traditionally, these strawberries are served with mascarpone. I have at least ten different ways I serve them, including on top of pavlova or puréed and made into icecream, but mostly I like to layer them into a big, tall Sundae glass with mascarpone, grated chocolate, and maybe a wafer or two to finish them off. Delicious.
Your shopping list500 g of the nicest strawberries you can find – small strawberries work best for this 2 tablespoons of caster sugar 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar (again, use the nicest you can find) 200 g mascarpone 20 g dark chocolate wafers, meringues, lattice biscuits or chocolate teddy bear biscuits (why not?), or any other nice crispy thing to garnish
Now what will you do with it?
Wash and hull the strawberries. Slice the larger ones in half or into quarters, and put in a glass bowl. Sprinkle over the sugar and vinegar and toss to coat. Leave for at least half an hour, but probably not more than two hours.
Grate the dark chocolate and mix through the mascarpone.
Get 3 tall sundae glasses, and put a spoonful or two of strawberries at the bottom. Top with a dollop of the mascarpone, then more strawberries, and continue layering until you run out of everything. You may have a smidge too much mascarpone. Drizzle a little of the syrup over the top. Garnish with wafers, lattice biscuits, or chocolate teddy bear biscuits, and serve.
Eat while celebrating spring!
So many things you can do with this! For starters, I strongly recommend messing with the proportions of sugar and vinegar until you get something that tastes right to you. I sometimes use raspberry infused vinegar instead of balsamic, which works really well (but does give more of a sharp bite). You can also use different kinds of sugar. I sometimes add raspberries and blueberries and stir them through at the end of the marinating time (they are too soft to marinate without collapsing). I also sometimes make crazed towers of lattice biscuits, mascarpone and strawberries, or put the strawberries and mascarpone into brandy snap baskets, meringues, or chocolate cases. Or serve them with plain mascarpone and lemon cake – so much tanginess!
My current favourite variation is an Italian version of Eton Mess (Sbando all’Etono?), which is basically the recipe above, only with gratuitous crushed meringues through it. You really can’t go wrong with strawberries, meringues and something creamy. Also, if you’re into making ice-cream, I can highly recommend making your favourite strawberry ice-cream with strawberries that have been marinated with balsamic vinegar and sugar – just make sure you clean the ice-cream maker really well afterwards, as I learned the hard way that balsamic strawberry ice-cream can eat its way out of a metal basin over time. And of course these strawberries are lovely on pavlova.
In terms of dietary requirements, the strawberries themselves are of course vegan, gluten-free and nut-free, and also low fat. (I’m not sure about the glycemic index, but I don’t think it’s too bad – both strawberries and balsamic have a low GI, and there isn’t too much added sugar). If you want to keep them vegan and gluten-free, try serving them with soy ice-cream and meringues. Nobody will complain. If you want a lower-fat version (note that I am not claiming that this is low fat, just lower fat than the mascarpone version), the mascarpone can be replaced with mixture of greek yoghurt and ricotta, and the strawberries will still taste fabulous.