Friday, July 5, 2024

Berries, Balsamic and Basil


Oh what to serve for dessert? I just casually extended a last minute invite to Hot Dog Night. The oven has been broken for a week and the cupboard is essentially bare except for the aforementioned hot dogs and a bag of potato chips which shall be served as the vegetable accompaniment to this lavish meal. 

Thankfully, it's just the beginning of summer and the local strawberries are plump and juicy. Around here you can pick your own at Andrews Farm or snag some at a roadside farm stand. And if you are especially brave to battle the crowd on Thursday afternoon at the Falmouth Farmers Market you may be able to find them there. Luckily I arrived early enough before the berries were sold out. Although I was incredibly anxious as I waited in the line that snaked around Pariah Dog Farm's tent and watched as those ahead of me grabbed 1 No! 2 Oh No! 3 pints at a time. I watched in fear as they slowly emptied the table display. Would there be any left by the time it is my turn? 

Berries safely in hand, my brain goes to how to serve them? Of course, I could offer these beauties naked on a plate as a super chefy move...barely doing anything to the fruit. Really? No. Short cake is out of the question- no oven and grocery store bought anything with these berries? Nope. Hmmm. Strawberries and cream? Maybe. Strawberries and ice cream? Perhaps. The best of both worlds combining macerated strawberries from the short cake recipe and something creamy sounds about right. But add a twist, something unexpected: balsamic vinegar? OK. Now something green, herby. Basil? Yes.

I learned this simple combination from someone at the farmers market years ago but I can't exactly remember who. An idea presented in a conversation with the farmer or another strawberry fan? It has never been written down by me which I find to be surprising since this super easy and irresistible recipe is my yearly go to when the strawberries are so ripe and delicate that they must be eaten within a 24 hour window. Sliced berries, a few tablespoons of sugar, a pinch of salt and a dash of balsamic vinegar. Mix together just before sitting down for dinner. The berries will have released their juices to create a luscious syrup by the time your are ready to eat dessert. Serve this magical concoction over vanilla ice cream or my favorite: vanilla bean flecked Greek yogurt. Garnish with torn fresh basil leaves. 

Aside from all the stress of the broken oven and worry over purchasing local berries, Hot Dog Night is as simple and easy as one can imagine. And this dessert is no exception. Grill the dogs, toast the buns, open a bag of chips and settle at the table. As long as I have mustard, relish and ketchup (heavily back stocked in the pantry year round), the earth will continue its rotation around the sun at least for this evening. Enjoying fresh berries that can only be found at this time of year signals summer and all of its promise of lazy days at the beach, hydrangea blooming, dining on the deck and a certain lightness that can only be felt right here right now.

Local Strawberries with Balsamic and Basil

1 pint local, ripe strawberries
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (don't use the super fancy stuff)
1 pinch Kosher salt 
5-6 torn basil leaves
4 scoops vanilla ice cream or 16 oz. vanilla Greek yogurt

Slice the berries into a small mixing bowl. Add sugar, balsamic vinegar and salt. Allow to sit for 15 min-
1 hour to let the strawberries macerate and releases their juices.

To serve, tear basil over strawberry mixture. Spoon ice cream or yogurt into 4 dessert bowls. Top with strawberry mixture and enjoy immediately.