strawberry season

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the strawberries in this town are ridiculous. i don’t know if it’s just trader joe’s, or southern california, or maybe the entire state, but every box i’ve bought recently has been filled with berries that are ripe and sweet and flavorful. i was slated to bring dessert for a beach picnic yesterday, and had decided to bring some white chocolate-dipped strawberries. but as i was washing them into a colander in the sink, i popped a couple stray ones into my mouth, and they were so sweet and delicious straight out of the box, it was almost painful to dip them and disrupt the taste with a melted chocolate coating.

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but obviously i did anyway.

now i am inspired to make more of this strawberry season. i made a detour to the market earlier today to pick up more boxes of berries, and this evening i am making that strawberry pie that i posted about earlier. it piles a couple pounds of fresh fruit in a crumbly cookie crust, unadorned except for a saucy glaze made of more strawberries. the pie is for my dad, because today is his birthday.

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over the last couple months, i’ve found cooking is my ticket back home. i returned a while back and spent an afternoon in the kitchen with my mom, relearning how to make the fried rice and dumplings that had been so present in my childhood… and relearning how to talk to my mother. and now perhaps it’s my dad’s turn. i remember saying that this would be the year i’d remember to be a daughter, and for once i feel like i’m starting to do things right. strawberry season is magical in all sorts of ways, i suppose.

sweet, soft, saucy

pie is a great remedy for that ho-hum feeling you get in the middle of the work week. i took some time the other day to make a couple, then called over every good friend i knew to come and help eat them.

today: a portrait of the fresh strawberry tart.

i’m not a big fan of using the usual flaky pie pastry as a base for a fresh fruit filling, and i didn’t think a graham cracker crust would hold up too well either (though in any other pie situation, my heart belongs to crusts of the crushed-cookie-plus-melted-butter variety). so i went back in my files to retrieve a tart shell recipe i used last year. it comes from maury rubin, chef-owner of city bakery in new york, via this la times article. the tart dough bakes up to be rather firm and almost cookie-like, with a texture that crumbles finely in your mouth. i found it to be a lovely complement to the mound of sweet, soft, saucy berries.

to keep the strawberries from sharing too much of that sauciness with the delicately textured crust, i used a handy trick i picked up from my many years of eating store-bought tarts. i stuck a smattering of white chocolate chips in a bowl and melted them down, then used a pastry brush to apply a thin, sauce-proof layer of chocolate along the bottom of the tart shell after baking it. and that, my friends, put an end to my mushy-crust anxieties.

for the filling itself i turned to my dog-eared, thumbed-through betty crocker cookbook. to make the (luscious, glistening) sauce, a handful of strawberries were mashed down to a cup’s worth and thickened over the stove with some sugar, water, and cornstarch, into which i splashed about a tablespoon of lemon juice. i pushed it all through a sieve, then gave the strawberries a good tumble in the warm sauce. and then we had this:

and all of a sudden, wednesday night got interesting.

Fresh Strawberry Tart
adapted from Betty Crocker’s New Cookbook

Baked tart shell (recipe here)
about ¼ cup white chocolate chips, melted
1 ½ quarts strawberries (about 3 1-lb. containers)
1 cup sugar
3 Tbsp. corn starch
½ cup water
1 Tbsp. lemon juice

  1. Prepare baked tart shell.
  2. Use a pastry brush to brush bottom of tart shell with melted white chocolate.
  3. Mash enough strawberries to measure 1 cup. Mix sugar and cornstarch in 2-quart saucepan. Gradually stir in water and mashed strawberries. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and boils. Boil and stir 1 minute; cool. Stir in lemon juice. Pour mixture through sieve, pressing with a spoon to squeeze out all the liquid; discard solids.
  4. Put remaining strawberries (washed and dried very well) in a large bowl. Pour cooked strawberry mixture over top and turn gently until all strawberries are coated. Fill tart shell with strawberries. Refrigerate about 3 hours until set. Refrigerate any remaining pie.