Wednesday 28 September 2016

Strawberry fields forever... for Rachel Allen

Irish strawberries are perfectly in season now, and Rachel Allen finds plenty of uses for her favourite summer fruit. Photography by Tony Gavin

Published 01/06/2015 | 02:30

Rachel Allen finds plenty of uses for her favourite fruit, strawberries. Photo: Tony Gavin
Rachel Allen finds plenty of uses for her favourite fruit, strawberries. Photo: Tony Gavin
Rachel Allen's strawberry muesli

Called 'the queen of fruits' in Asia because of its many health-boosting qualities, the strawberry is, without doubt, the quintessential flavour of summer for me. It's the nostalgic flavour that seems to remind me most of summer days when I was little. I can still see, in my mind's eye, my favourite yellow dress, with strawberry stains all down the front!

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Strawberry's versatility knows no bounds, being only too happy to be transformed into everything from jams and jellies to crumbles and cocktails. There's nothing quite like a bit of seriously good strawberry jam on a croissant or a slice of brioche; or ever-so-slightly mashed strawberries folded through broken meringue and softly whipped cream, a la Eton Mess. Even a quartered strawberry bobbing about in a glass of bubbly feels quite special in a lovely, sunny, celebratory way.

The regal strawberry has a wonderful ability to complement, and indeed be complemented by, lots of other fruit too. A classic pairing is that of rhubarb and strawberry - which nature happily facilitates, as the end of the rhubarb season coincides with the start of the strawberry season. Matched together in a compote - as in the recipe on the opposite page - or in a cobbler or a pastry tart, this is a perfect example of a great food marriage.

Strawberries also adore peaches, as showcased here in the strawberry and peach crumble recipe which is, for me, one of the best desserts of summer.

The imported strawberries that we have in the shops in the winter, however, are like a completely different fruit. They look like strawberries, they feel like strawberries, but they just don't taste like strawberries. So while they're in season, now is the times to make the most of this glorious, antioxidant-packed, heart-shaped red berry.

Peach and strawberry crumble

Serves 6.

The combination of peaches and strawberries is so good, but feel free to replace the strawberries with raspberries or blueberries; or the peaches with nectarines or apricots. This crumble  can be made earlier in the day and just popped into the oven to cook when you want it. It can also be frozen and then thawed before baking. I sometimes add nibbed almonds, chopped hazelnuts or rolled oats to the crumble — just add about 25g (1oz).

For the fruit base, you will need:

300g (10oz) peaches (about 4 peaches), stoned and cut into quarters, then eighths

200g (7oz) strawberries, halved and quartered

1 generous tablespoon sugar

For the crumble, you will need:

100g (3½ oz) flour

50g (2oz) sugar

50g (2oz) butter, chilled and cubed

To serve, you will need:

Lightly whipped cream (optional)

Vanilla ice cream (optional)

Preheat the oven to 180°C, 350°F, Gas 4. You’ll need a one-litre-capacity pie dish or six large ramekins. Place the stoned peach eighths and the quartered strawberries  into the pie dish or the ramekins, whichever you’re using, add the sugar and gently mix together.

To make the crumble topping, place the flour and the sugar in a bowl. Rub in the cubes of butter, but not completely — the mixture should still be nice and coarse. Scatter the crumble topping over the fruit and refrigerate the prepared crumble until you need to cook it.

Cook it in the preheated oven for 30-40 minutes (or 15-20 for individual ramekin dishes) until golden and bubbly. Serve the crumble on its own or with a dollop of lightly whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, if you are using them.

Strawberry and rhubarb compote

At Ballymaloe, we make this delicious compote a lot at this time of year. It’s great with everything from meringues with softly whipped cream to buttery shortbread biscuits.

Serves 4.

You will need:

225g (8oz) rhubarb

110ml (4fl oz) water

110g (4oz) sugar

225g (8oz) strawberries, sliced

Wash and trim the rhubarb, then cut it into 1cm (½in) slices. To poach the rhubarb, combine the water and the sugar in a saucepan, stir, and bring to the boil. Then add the sliced rhubarb, cover the saucepan, bring it to the boil, and boil it for exactly one minute.

Turn off the heat and leave the poached rhubarb in the covered saucepan until it is almost cool. Transfer it to a bowl to finish cooling.

Once the poached rhubarb has cooled down, gently stir in the sliced strawberries and leave the compote to sit for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Strawberry muesli

This recipe comes from the original  Swiss Bircher muesli, where porridge oats are soaked in a little water, then sweetened with delicious seasonal  or dried fruit, and sometimes nuts and seeds too. Strawberries and raspberries work particularly well in this muesli recipe, as does grated apple, to which you could also add a smidgen of ground cinnamon.

The recipe was created in the early 1900s by the Swiss physician Dr Maximillian Bircher-Benner, who knew that a diet rich in nutrients was essential for the recuperation of the patients in  his hospital.

Serves 2-3.

You will need:

75g (3oz) porridge oats

150ml (5fl oz) water

110g (4oz) strawberries

2-3 teaspoons light agave syrup or honey

To serve, you will need:

Cream and brown sugar (optional)

Natural yoghurt and toasted chopped hazlenuts or almonds (optional)

Place the porridge oats in a bowl with the water. Allow the oats to sit for 10 minutes, then add in the strawberries. Mash with a fork before adding enough light agave syrup or honey, whichever you’re using, to sweeten the mixture.

Serve the muesli on its own, or with cream and brown sugar; or topped with natural yoghurt and toasted, chopped hazelnuts or almonds.

Strawberry Jam

Makes 4 jars.

You will need:

1kg (2lb 4oz) granulated or caster sugar

1kg (2lb 4oz) fresh or frozen strawberries, hulled

Juice of 2 lemons

Preheat the oven to 180°C, 350°F,

Gas 4. Put the granulated sugar or the caster sugar, whichever you’re using, in an ovenproof bowl and put it in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes to warm through, stirring it once or twice during that time. Place a small plate in the freezer — you will use this later to test the jam to see if it has set.

Meanwhile, put the fresh or frozen strawberries, whichever you’re using, and the lemon juice in a large, wide saucepan set over a medium heat. Using a potato masher, mash the strawberries to the desired consistency — either until they are smooth or, if you prefer, leave some fruit pieces whole. Turn up the heat, bring to the boil and cook for two minutes until juicy.

Add the warmed sugar to the strawberries and lemon juice mixture. Stir until the sugar has dissolved, then boil for another six minutes, stirring frequently. If there is any scum on top (a pale-pink froth, from dust or impurities in the fruit), skim it off with a tablespoon, and discard it, as this could cause the jam to go off.

When the six minutes is up, test to see if your jam is set by putting a teaspoonful of it on the chilled plate you put in the freezer earlier, and setting it aside for one minute. When the jam is cold, run your finger through the ‘blob’ — if a wrinkle forms in the skin on top, then the jam is set. If the jam hasn’t set, boil it for a minute more and test it again on the chilled plate; repeat this process until the jam is set.

Once the jam has set, remove the pan from the heat, and put the jam into sterilised jars — see my Tip, above left, on how to sterilise your jars. Cover the jam jars with lids or jam covers while the jam is still hot.

Rachel recommends

Close your eyes and imagine the most divine-tasting strawberry ever: sweet, juicy and loaded with tangy red-berry flavours. Well, readers, this perfectly describes the punnet of Irish strawberries that my sister-in-law picked up for me at Mahon Point Farmers’ Market in Cork last Thursday. They came from Rose Cottage Fruit Farm in Co Laois, a family-run business which has been growing lots of different varieties of fruit for over 20 years. The fruit can be found in many other locations around Ireland, including farmers’ markets in Limerick, Clare, Tipperary and Laois. In a few weeks, they’ll have loganberries, raspberries, blueberries, gooseberries and cherries at the markets too!

Rose Cottage Fruit Farm, Rose Cottage, Trumera, Mountrath, Co. Laois,

tel: (057) 873-2666, or see rosecottagefruitfarm.ie

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