The time is ripe: Mark Hix's strawberry dishes
Our man in the kitchen gets into the season with an array of summer recipes to tempt fruit devotees.
We are well into strawberry picking season and I've been finding delicious varieties of the fruit in shops and markets. There are lots of tasty dishes – and drinks – you can make with them, from traditional meringues to more adventurous efforts with pastry.
If you know where to find wild strawberries growing, grab some, as they're even better for delicate dishes like the coupe.
A couple of years ago I planted a few seeds from white wild strawberries. Last year they didn't manage even to produce a flower, let alone fruit, but this year they are full of flowers and starting to show signs of fruiting – so fingers crossed. I might get easy access to a great ingredient.
This can be done with just strawberries or a with a mixture of seasonal soft fruits, if you prefer a little more variety.
An important note on making meringue: the bowl and whisk must be absolutely clean as the slightest evidence of fat will prevent the whites from whipping to a stiff consistency. Clean your bowl and whisk with boiling water and washing detergent and rinse well before making meringue.
For the meringue
3 egg whites
100g caster sugar
1tsp white wine vinegar
200ml double cream
A few drops of good-quality vanilla essence
1tbsp caster sugar
200-250g strawberries, leaves removed and sliced or halved depending in size
100-120ml or so of strawberry purée (see Bellini recipe below)
Preheat the oven to 120C/gas mark 1. In a mixing machine with a whisk attachment, mix the egg whites until stiff – you can also do it by hand but this will take a while. Add the caster sugar and continue whisking until they are really stiff and shiny. Add the cornflour and vinegar and whisk again for about 30 seconds.
Spoon the mixture on to a clean baking tray, lined with silicone or greaseproof paper, into 4 round domes, making an indentation with the back of the spoon in the middle of each. Alternatively you can make one big meringue.
Cook in the oven for 1½ hours so the meringue is crisp on the outside and soft in the middle, but don't let the outside colour – you want it nice and white. When you're happy it's ready, remove from the oven and leave to cool.
Meanwhile, whip the cream with the sugar and vanilla essence. To serve, hollow out the meringue by carefully pushing the centre in with the back of a spoon to make room for the cream. Fill the cavity with cream and scatter over the sliced strawberries, then finally spoon over the strawberry purée.
This is a take on a classic Bellini, simple and summery and a great outdoor celebratory tipple. I've put a full bottle of fizz into the ingredients list here as I'm sure a second glass will be required.
1 bottle of proscecco, chilled
Leave aside four strawberries with the green leaves on, but remove the leaves from the rest of your batch and blend those in a liquidiser until smooth to make the purée. To serve, spoon a couple of tablespoons of the purée into champagne or cocktail glasses, place a strawberry in the glass, top up with proscecco and serve. Simple.
Wild strawberry coupe
Coupes come in all sorts of guises and can be easily adapted to suit your taste. If you can't get your hands on wild strawberries then normal strawberries will do. I also got my hands on some pine berries as well, which adds a little different twist, but they aren't essential. This is nice served with a light biscuit, like a tuille or brandy snap.
100-120ml strawberry purée (see previous Bellini recipe)
8 balls of good-quality vanilla or strawberry ice-cream, or a mix of the two
100ml double cream, lightly whipped with a tablespoon of caster sugar
100g wild strawberries
A few shavings of white chocolate
4 biscuits like a brandy snap or similar, or even some crushed meringue
You can arrange the ingredients for this coupe however you wish but I suggest spooning some purée into four coupe glasses or bowls. Put the balls of ice-cream in next, then spoon the cream in. Pour some more purée over and around everything, then scatter the wild strawberries in. Lastly, scatter some chocolate shavings or place a biscuit on top – whichever you prefer.
Pastilla aux fraises
This is a sweet version of the savoury Moroccan pie which is made with pigeon and almonds. If you can find wharka pastry then go for it – if not, filo leaves are fine.
10 leaves or so of wharka pastry, or filo
12-14 strawberries with the leaves removed
Icing sugar for dusting
For the custard
A third of a vanilla pod
300ml single cream
5 egg yolk
60g caster sugar
Split the vanilla pod in half lengthways and scrape out the seeds with the point of a knife. Put the cream, vanilla pod and seedsf into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for about 10 minutes.
In a bowl, mix the egg yolks, sugar and cornflour together. Remove the vanilla pod from the cream and pour on to the egg mixture; mix well with a whisk. Return to the pan and cook gently over a low heat for a few minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until the custard thickens; don't let it boil though. Remove from the heat and whisk it one final time, then transfer to a clean bowl.
To assemble the pastilla, first take a straight-sided tart or cake tin with a removable bottom, measuring 18cm to 20cm across by 5cm or 6cm or more deep. Brush the bottom and sides with some of the 60g of melted butter. Lay a square of pastry on the base. Then lay on another 5 sheets all round the tin, overlapping the central sheet on the base, then going up the sides of the tin so half the sheet overhangs the edge – ready to be folded over later.
Spoon in the cooled custard and then push in the strawberries. Cover both with 4 more leaves of pastry. Brush with butter and fold the overhanging sides up and towards the middle, then cover with 1 more sheet, securing it firmly with your hand.
Bake the pastilla in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes until golden brown. Carefully run a knife around the edge of the pastilla to loosen the sides and place a flat plate upside down over the tin. Carefully invert the pastilla on to the plate and then slide it back on to a baking tray.
Brush all over with melted butter and return to the oven and cook for a further 5 minutes. If the pastilla is browning too much then cover with foil and turn the oven down. Serve dusted heavily with icing sugar.
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