Strawberries and cream are synonymous with Wimbledon, so much so that retailers are putting images of racquets and tennis balls on strawberry punnets to nudge consumers. Sneaky but effective! Even if you’re not a sporting fan, by the finals, most people are rooting for their favourites with great fervour but strawberries in summertime is the real win for me.
I’m more of a rugby and cricket fan, but I can totally get behind supporting strawberries, whatever the occasion. Irish strawberries in particular are uniquely sweet and luscious, the best I’ve ever tried! The weirdly symmetrical giant strawberries with the white tips might be very good looking, but they lack substance. Like the good-looking, muscled hunk on the beach with no personality, they’re not satisfying.
The versatility and sheer deliciousness of strawberries means I constantly develop new recipes for these sweet and juicy summertime berries. One of my favourite random facts is that the original strawberry is thought to be a jungle fruit, preferring dappled light and a warm, muggy environment. This might not sound very pleasant, but it explains why pockets of Ireland grow super strawberries. Plus other factors, such as soil, that create special little micro climates for growing fruits and vegetables. The other extremely important fact is, that for the local market, Ireland can grow softer, juicier varieties that don’t have to travel far.
I can eat a punnet of strawberries just as they are. But it is a good idea to have a few uses up your sleeve to make the most of this amazing fruit. They are terrific as a sweet of course and also work really well in savoury dishes. Try little twists such as serving with black pepper, like they do in Italy. Here are some ideas that are great for breakfast and packed lunches for work. It’s always nice to have a tasty fruit snack or fruit lunch idea to look forward to, even better when the weather is good and you can sit outside and picnic.
Strawberry Brie Bites
As a chef, my preference is to make big, hearty platters of food to feed friends and family. I find canapés really fiddly and time consuming. For the work put in to what you end up with, it makes me flinch when I see people demolishing them in seconds. So the perfect solution is create canapés with a short list of ingredients where one or two ingredients shine and require little faffing. For summer nibbles, simply take a round of Brie or similar cheese, cut into cubes and top with a slice of strawberry and a fresh basil leaf, held together with a toothpick. Drizzle over balsamic vinegar reduction and you’re done – très chic with minimal fuss.
Pimm’s and Pseudo Pimm’s
Pimm’s is a quintessential summer drink, normally served with lemonade and a full fruit salad of garnish: strawberries, cucumber, orange slices, fresh mint and and ice. At 25% alcohol by volume (ABV), Pimm’s is much lighter than your clear spirits which are usually around the 40-45% mark. I find I can get a similar taste using ginger ale in place of Pimm’s, served with the same fruit salad, if you want a mocktail. Both are a little spicy and very refreshing on a hot day.
BBQ Chicken Salad
If you’re doing some grilling during the good weather, throw on a few extra pieces of chicken. Baste with a mixture of balsamic vinegar, light olive oil and fresh rosemary. Shred the chicken and serve on a bed of baby spinach leaves with sliced strawberries, cucumber and a little feta cheese. You can add nuts such as flaked almonds or pecan nuts or a sprinkling of chia seeds. The juicy strawberries offset what can often be dry, over cooked chicken.
Give your chips ‘n dip a complete makeover with one of my favourite dips: 2 cups diced strawberries, 1 diced avocado, half a seeded and finely chopped chilli, juice of 1 lime, 200g ricotta cheese and a small bunch of chopped, fresh coriander. Season well with salt and pepper and mix lightly. Don’t over mix as the chunky texture is part of the charm. Add the chilli to your taste as the other ingredients are delicate, light and fragrant plus more subtle in flavour.
As a healthy alternative to jam, juicy strawberries make a surprisingly good toast topper. Start with layer of ricotta or cream cheese and top with mashed or sliced strawberries. Ricotta is a lovely light, low calorie cheese in comparison to cream cheese so might be better if you’re having a big lunch or dinner. For a sweet treat, a smear of nut butter (like almond, cashew or plain ‘ol peanut butter) on rye or sourdough bread with sliced strawberries is wonderful.
Whether it’s muesli, cereal, toast or porridge, there are many traditional breakfast foods that can be boosted by adding fresh strawberries. I find that if I include fruits or vegetables at breakfast I’m more inclined to make good food choices for the rest of the day – especially during a busy working day. It’s seems to work for most people, as behavioural studies have shown. In all my reading on developing good habits, willpower is like a muscle that gets stronger with use and your movements become more automatic.
Almost any smoothie is improved by adding delicious strawberries. The only caveat is that they don’t freeze fantastically so I wouldn’t do that unless I’m making a frozen dessert such as sorbet or ice cream. But smoothies are great for overripe fruit that might not be so pleasant to bite into. There are always one or two in the punnet that seem to be ahead of the pack. According to berry farmers, you should also not wash your berries as they have a natural acid mantle to ward off bacteria. And washing them does make them turn quicker. So blitz away!