Valentine’s Day may fall on a Monday this year, but die-hard romantics won’t let that dampen their spirits. No doubt there will be celebrations during the preceding weekend—which partner perfectly with a Saturday morning shopping expedition to the farmers’ market. (Don’t forget the flowers!)
Due most likely to their vaguely-heart shape and brilliant hue, strawberries have long been associated with Valentine’s Day. Technically it’s still winter, but early strawberries make their debut at the farmers’ market this month. After weeks of gray, everyone yearns to see red. Unfortunately the berries that show up in supermarkets are often a big let- down—pretty on the outside, but dry and flavorless within. Rest assured that farmers’ market berries won’t disappoint, for they are grown locally and ripened naturally, just as nature intended.
I’ll wait a few months, when prices are low and flats of fragrant berries are piled high at the market, before I make jam and extravagant strawberry desserts. For now, I’ll make the most of a precious few, enjoying a sneak preview of what’s in store for this coming spring and summer.
The following two-part spread is a study in contrasts: rich, oozy cheese topped with cool, sweet-tart strawberries; accentuated with the bite of fresh ginger, the heat of jalapeño, and the refreshing sensation of lime and mint. Best of all, it feeds a crowd.
Instead of baking a wheel of cheese as directed, you may choose to make your life easier still by simply spooning the salsa over a room-temperature log of fresh goat cheese. Alternatively, double the salsa recipe and serve it as a dip for tortilla chips; alongside an omelet or quesadilla; or as a condiment with grilled or roasted pork, poultry, prawns, or salmon. More adventurous souls may even want to try it over chocolate ice cream for dessert. If you are determined to stick to your New Year’s diet, however, this salsa is no less delish when served with cottage cheese.
Berry Good Things to Know
- A shiny berry is a fresh berry. Once picked, strawberries lose their natural sheen in a matter of days.
- Fresh green caps, intense perfume, and vibrant, uniform color are other qualities to look for in strawberries. Avoid those “white shoulders” that mean the berries were picked before their prime. Also remember that bigger is not always better!
- When stored properly, farm-fresh strawberries last 1 week or longer in the refrigerator. (Oh yes they do.) Here’s the secret: Line a plastic container with a paper towel to absorb moisture. Gently pile in the unwashed strawberries with their green caps intact. Top with another paper towel, seal with an airtight lid, and refrigerate.
- Never rinse strawberries or remove their green caps until just before using. Rinsing berries removes their naturally protective outer layer; and their caps prevent water from soaking into the strawberries, diluting the flavor and altering their texture.
- To clean strawberries, place them in a colander or large sieve and rinse quickly under a gentle spray of cold water. Pat dry with towels; then remove the green caps, if desired.
- To hull strawberries (i.e., remove the green caps), use the sharp tip of a paring knife; the pointed end of a swivel-bladed vegetable peeler; or a strawberry huller—an inexpensive tweezer-like gadget available at most cookware shops. This removes not only the leafy green cap, but also the tough little core beneath it.
- 1 cup of halved raw strawberries weighs in at around 49 calories. They are a good source of vitamin C, and also contain potassium, iron, and folic acid.
- Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lime
- 1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1 small jalapeño chile pepper
- 1 1/4 cups hulled and coarsely chopped strawberries (about half of a 1-pint basket)
- 1 or 2 green onions (scallions), thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh mint leaves
- 1 (5-inch) wheel of brie (about 15 ounces)
- In a bowl, mix together the lime zest, lime juice, ginger, honey, and salt.
- Wearing rubber gloves, remove the stem, seeds, and ribs from the chile pepper and chop finely. Add to the lime mixture; then gently stir in the strawberries, green onion(s), and mint to combine. Cover and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes (or up to 6 hours) to blend flavors. This makes a generous 1-cup of salsa.
- About 45 minutes before serving, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the cheese on a heatproof serving dish and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the wheel is soft when touched in the center but still hold its shape. Spoon the chilled salsa over the hot cheese and serve at once with plain unsalted crackers (water biscuits), wheat biscuits, or fresh or toasted baguette slices. Serves 10 to 12 as an appetizer.
The Danville Certified Farmers’ Market, located at Railroad and Prospect, is open every Saturday, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. For specific crop information call the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association at 1-800-949-FARM or visit their web site at www.pcfma.com.